Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the best wrestlers-turned-actors

With news that The Rock's going to be playing Hercules in 2013, we take a look at some other notable grapplers who've made their marks in the world of film

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Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the best wrestlers-turned-actors
Written By
Tom Cole

Former WWF/WWE champion Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will be reverting to type in 2013, as he’s signed up to play the super-strong half man/half god Hercules in a new film.

The recently-announced flick is based on a graphic novel called Hercules: The Thracian Wars, which was first published in 2008, and it’ll be directed by X Men: The Last Stand’s Brett Ratner.

It’s an adroit bit of casting, I’m sure you’ll agree, especially if you’ve seen The Rock’s Atlas-like physique in his recent films. And, unlike previous big-screen Herculeses (Herculi?), who were essentially just muscle-bound bodybuilders transplanted straight from the gym to the studio floor, thanks to his background in wrestling, Johnson’s had more chance than most to practice playing a charismatic, godlike character.

In fact, a career in wrestling can be a useful primer for individuals hoping to make the jump to Hollywood. Now that the days of morbidly obese grapplers like Yokozuna, Earthquake and the One Man Gang are over, wrestlers all look like leading men and get the chance to practice their acting skills in front of huge audiences without the pressure of (much) critical scrutiny.

And, while wrestling’s often derided as a joke in the media, it’s worth remembering that WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Federation/WWF) is a multi-million dollar company with fans all over the world, millions of whom tune in to the company’s TV shows every week. Wrestlers are, in fact, bona fide celebrities.

So it’s no surprise that many grapplers have capitalised on their existing fame and tried their hands at acting. Some have been more successful than others, granted, but these fellows have done their damndest to create some Rock-like mainstream appeal for themselves…

Dave Bautista

Six-time WWE world champion Dave “Batista” Bautista has gone into both mixed martial arts and acting since bidding the world of sports entertainment goodbye. As well as starring roles in the straight-to-video House of the Rising Sun and The Scorpion King 3, Bautista’s recently made the leap to mainstream theatrical movies with a role in RZA’s upcoming martial arts opus The Man with the Iron Fists.

In a Collider interview, Bautista confessed that he finds it “so intimidating...to be on this little intimate set” after years of wrestling in front of thousands of fans every night, but with Iron Fists in the can and a role in the upcoming third Chronicles of Riddick film, it won’t be long before such worries are a thing of the past.

Kevin Nash

As Diesel, Kevin Nash was the longest-reigning WWF champion of the 1990s and he became one of the biggest draws in the now-defunct WCW promotion under his own name. Since then, though, he’s taken his imposing presence and used it to score roles in a raft of different films.

True, most of the films he's appeared in have been in cult affairs like Almighty Thor and The Punisher, but Nash has also been in some proper mainstream stuff too: he played Tarzan in Magic Mike and was also Tom Cruise’s bodyguard in the recent big-screen hair metal musical Rock of Ages.

Roddy Piper

The kilt-sporting “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of the most charismatic individuals ever to step into the squared circle and spent the 1980s as wrestling’s top heel (read: bad guy). While he’s never really left the wrestling world, Piper’s also acted in more movies than most full-time actors.

His best known role was as the star of John Carpenter’s 1988 thriller They Live, in which he played a drifter who acquires a pair of sunglasses which enable him to see the world as it really is (i.e. populated by hideous aliens in disguise). Elsewhere, he’s appeared cult movies like Alien Opponent, the more seriously dramatic Clear Lake and, best of all, a film entitled Hell Comes to Frogtown.

Al Snow

If you watched WWF during the late ‘90s, you probably remember Al Snow as the vaguely demented-looking longhaired grappler who carried a mannequin head with him to the ring. He didn’t win very much, but thanks to his unique gimmick he’s never been forgotten by wrestling fans.

And fans of low-budget movies will probably get to know Al better over the next few years too, as he’s carved himself a niche in the world of film of late, playing everything from a hitman in the 2011 horror/comedy Overtime to a philosopher in Underground TV: the Movie. While he mightn’t have attained Rock-like levels of stardom yet, he’s in another three films due out next year, so he’s not doing badly.

Jesse Ventura

The former Governor of Minnesota enjoyed an in-ring career which lasted for a decade from 1975, during which time he won a number of regional tag time titles and enjoyed a memorable spell in the WWF. After his in-ring career came to an end, he provided commentary on wrestling matches for years and also broke into acting.

Indeed, before he felt the pull of politics, Ventura not only had the best line in Predator but also livened up the already colourful Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Running Man as the spandex-clad, moustache-sporting hero of the airwaves, Captain Freedom.

Andre the Giant

The gargantuan Andre Roussimoff was quite literally one of the wrestling world's biggest stars. In his time, he was (briefly) a WWF champion and famously fought Hulk Hogan in front of a record-breaking crowd at Wrestlemania III.

Away from the ring, Andre's unique size and mass-appeal made him a dream casting for movie-makers. As well as a turn in Conan the Destroyer, Andre is fondly remembered as Fezzik, the kindly giant in The Princess Bride. Sadly, Andre died in 1993, and his final cinematic role was as a circus giant in the family comedy Trading Mom.

Jerry "The King" Lawler

Having been wrestling since 1970, the King has amassed 168 championships over the course of his career and still dusts off his singlet every now and then for a bout in the WWE. Best known as one of the company's colour commentators these days, Lawler's also enjoyed a number of big-screen roles too.

As well as appearing in Life with Mikey and Girls Gone Dead, Lawler's biggest ever role was playing opposite Jim Carrey in 1999's Man on the Moon. The film was about the maverick entertainer Andy Kaufman, who actually wrestled Lawler back in the 1980s. Thanks to staying in trim over the intervening years, Lawler was able to appear as himself in the movie and battle Jim Carrey both in the ring and on David Letterman's chat-show.

Ultimately, then, it seems as though wrestling might be some of the best training a budding actor can have. And it must be a relief for those individuals who make the leap from the ring to the screen too. After all, if there’s one thing no-one ever asks actors, it’s whether or not their movies are “fake”.

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