John Cena has taken quite the journey over the past two decades, from becoming WWE’s biggest superstar to making the leap to Hollywood where he’s become a favorite in both action and comedy. He’s not the first to make such a move, but he’s among the few to do it rather seamlessly and so successfully, as it can be difficult to shake free from the identity one creates in the ring to do more outside of it.
Cena has succeeded in doing just that, in part by not shying away from his WWE roots but also by putting in the work to be so good on the screen that, despite his physical presence, you buy into the character he’s playing and not just think “that’s John Cena” the whole time. This year during the Super Bowl, Cena will be making his presence felt as part of Mtn Dew’s Super Bowl ad campaign, as they launch their new Major Melon flavor with a fairly simple and straightforward contest.
Uproxx Sports got the chance to talk with Cena about that upcoming spot, the work that’s gone into his acting career, how his endless curiosity has guided his career path, and how it feels to be a Boston guy watching Tom Brady in Tampa.
How are you feeling watching Tom Brady go to a Super Bowl with another team other than the Patriots?
Oh, I think it’s very interesting. I think it’s extremely exciting and a wonderful story. It’s an amazing testament not only to Tom Brady’s ability, but the team that Tampa Bay has built around Tom Brady. I think that was a big reason for Tom’s choice to leave New England and go to Tampa – then again I’m speaking for him, I don’t know that to be true. I think it’s extremely interesting, and he’s the first quarterback to have a home game for the Super Bowl. I think all that stuff makes this big game even more interesting.
You and Brady broke into your careers around the same time in 2000-2001. Do you see any mirrors and similarities in the way you guys rose to stardom in your respective fields and the longevity that you both have been able to have?
Well, allow me to start by saying you are essentially comparing apples to frying pans [laughs]. It’s two very different entities, but if you strip away all of the extra stuff and get down to its core, I think the one piece of connective tissue that Tom and I share is persistence. The inability to give up. Never giving up. Tom is known for his work ethic. He’s known for being a student of the game and known to lean into needing more work, needing more practice, monitoring every aspect of his health to the extreme. He’s a football player. That’s what he loves doing and that’s what he’s invested in. And I find the same with myself. I only get involved in things I’m passionate about, and those things I’m passionate about I will invest myself and I’ll do the work necessary to try and do the best I can.
I wanted to ask about that, because there’s so much work you had to put in to get to the level you did in professional wrestling and now in the acting world. How was that transition for you and what’s the work that people don’t see that you’ve done to take the strides as an actor? For example, Blockers is one of my favorite recent comedies and we see what comes out on screen, but I know there’s more that goes into it.
I appreciate the question. I don’t know how important that is for folks. I think what we do, regardless of the entities is entertain people, but if people want to dive into the minutiae of how the Statue of Liberty disappears, that’s their prerogative, but I think a lot of people just want to see it and be wowed and be entertained. I’m super grateful to be able to transition from one avenue of entertainment to another. It’s wonderful, because I think that for me was what I realized that connection in that space was. It’s entertainment. There’s storytellers.
Why do I feel super comfortable out there in a 20 by 20 ring telling a story in front of a live audience, and I don’t feel as comfortable with the cameras in a closed set and ultra quiet, where the smallest motion means the biggest? And I had to begin to ask myself those questions, and at the time when I didn’t feel really comfortable filming, it was because I was still new to WWE and on this wonderful rollercoaster ride and there’s nothing like the energy you get from a performance. Ask anybody who crossed over, I think they’ll tell you the same thing. There’s just no equivalent to being in front of the WWE audience.
So as a young man, I wanted to be there and as somebody who has now been in it for awhile and gained a little bit more wisdom, I realized it is just storytelling. And the reason I have so much passion for the WWE and stay in it is, I love to see performers take chances and I love to take the chances myself. But you get to do that every day on a movie set – it isn’t the same instant gratification, but man do you get to take chances. And you have to challenge yourself and really be vulnerable, because if you protect your emotions then you look too cool for school and nothing gets accomplished. No one is entertained. I really enjoy the fact that it’s all entertainment at the end of the day, and I finally got over my own preconceived notions of what I thought it was and just relaxed and realized I was given an amazing opportunity and try to make the best of it.
I remember seeing an interview with Daniel Bryan a few years ago where he said he really enjoys conversations with you because you’re so interested in learning so many different things. How has that curiosity guided your career beyond wrestling and where you’ve put your effort and intensity outside the ring?
That’s an easy one to answer, but it’s very hard to apply. Curiosity means you’re interested in knowing about something. So if you rip away that layer, it means you’re comfortable saying I don’t know everything. And that is really difficult to apply. We want to be, as a 20-year veteran in the WWE, I want to kick my feet up and be like, “Ah, they’re all doing it wrong. I know everything and they don’t.” But I’m curious every single time I see WWE, every single time I step into an arena, every single time I do something as simple as a voiceover in WWE. I’m curious about who we’re trying to reach, what we’re trying to accomplish, how can I be better, how can I learn, who am I working with and how can I learn from them.
And now I’m in this different pool with all these new minds and all this new information, and I think the important thing is to simply stay curious. Because once you lose curiosity, it is essentially the fact that you’re apathetic or you believe you know it all. In either situation you’re not going to progress. You’re apathetic about something? That’s it. That’s the end of the journey. And if you think you know everything? That’s also the end of the journey. So I think it is as simple as staying curious but that’s very, very hard to do.
Who are some of your biggest influences? Who are people you’ve been able to pull from both in your WWE career and your acting career?
The one that sticks out the most is Vince McMahon. And that’s an all-encompassing one. There isn’t enough time, there isn’t enough – I just don’t have a way to express how much he, just by being himself, has effected the decisions I make in my life. There’s so many more in there, but I’ll keep it short and keep it with him and even to this day. His ability to continue to take chances and not fear failure, to be great, to be bold, to try and be on the cutting edge, to handle criticism, to handle negativity, to continuously move forward. No one is perfect. Absolutely no one is perfect at all, but him being himself continuously guides me.
You’re partnered with Mtn Dew for their Major Melon launch and this Super Bowl ad. How did that partnership come about and what excites you about being part of a Super Bowl commercial? Because it is such a unique thing and Super Bowl ads have become part of the American cultural zeitgeist of sorts because people remember those iconic ads.
That’s a multi-tiered answer. First of all, Mtn Dew as a brand is responsible for some really ground-breaking Super Bowl commercials. So you talk about a Super Bowl commercial being in the zeitgeist, when Mtn Dew asked me to be part of the Mtn Dew Major Melon Super Bowl campaign, I already know I’m going to be in a relationship with a brand that takes bold chances to make a memorable campaign. And then, I go and do my due diligence on the brand and find out that we do share this common thread – myself and Mtn Dew – is we invest in passion. The areas that you’ll see Mtn Dew invest in – eSports, extreme sports, the auto space – these areas I can relate to very much as a WWE superstar, because you have your fans that are so into it. And then the people you don’t know really have false premonitions of what it is, but Mtn Dew’s brave enough to look past all that and invest in passion.
That’s what drew me to Mtn Dew as a brand. I think we have a correlation, we share joy in investing in passion. And then when Mtn Dew Major Melon told me about the Mtn Dew Major Melon spot and the commercial itself, and the bold chances they’re taking on the commercial, which is groundbreaking and I think is going to create an entirely new game within the game of the Super Bowl. Man, what a special thing to be a small vehicle in this Mtn Dew Major Melon campaign that is going to change somebody’s life.
Yeah, there’s a million dollar prize attached to the spot. How are folks going to be able to get involved with this and try to make some money?
Well, so this is where it gets awesome. Mtn Dew Major Melon isn’t asking any Super Bowl fan to do anything they aren’t already doing, which is watch the game and watch the commercials. And when the Mtn Dew Major Melon commercial comes on, just count all the Mtn Dew Major Melon bottles on the commercial, post what you think is the total number tagging Mtn Dew’s Twitter handle, and if you’re right you could win a million bucks. That’s real money. That is life-changing money. That’s a number that can give you a whole different perspective on things, and all you have to do is what you’re doing anyways. I think it’s a great way to get an event we’re all passive fans, we can now be active in this event. We can post a bunch of times with Mtn Dew Major Melon totals and you’ll get out of it what you put into it [laughs].
If you’re really dedicated in your activity, you can go for it and give yourself a chance, and if you don’t do anything, you don’t have a chance. You’re gonna be watching the game anyway. You’re gonna be watching the Mtn Dew Major Melon commercial. Why not take a chance, make a post and tag Mtn Dew’s Twitter handle and you could win a million dollars?