Q&A: Actor John Cena makes time for wrestling, Hollywood

FILE- John Cena celebrates his win during Wrestlemania XXX in New Orleans on April 6, 2014. Cena has been revealed as this year's WWE 2K23 video game cover star. The wrestling game is out Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE, File) (Jonathan Bachman)

With a wave of his hand in front of his face, John Cena built a WWE career trash talking his opponents by telling each one, “ You Can’t See Me.”

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The 45-year-old ubiquitous Hollywood heavyweight can be spotted pretty much everywhere these days, from studio lots to the squared circle. Cena just wrapped a role in Peter Farrelly’s new comedy “ Ricky Stanicky,” played the flawed DC Comics superhero in the “ Peacemaker ” series and will voice the brutish rhinoceros Rocksteady in the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.

Wearing his trademark jorts, Cena hasn’t forgotten his wrestling roots. He returns to fight WWE United States champion Austin Theory next month at WrestleMania at SoFi Stadium and can be seen — and played — as the cover boy for various editions of the WWE 2K23 game, with the WWE 2K23 Deluxe Edition and Icon Edition out Tuesday and the standard edition and Cross-Gen on Friday.

What’s a wrestling game without a shocking twist? Cena guides gamers in the “You Can’t Beat Me” 2K Showcase mode through some of the biggest losses of his career to wrestlers such as Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle, rather than highlighting all his championship wins.

“Perseverance is a core value of mine,” he said. “Never give up is written on all my stuff. I like the fact that it walks you through my toughest opponents, my toughest losses. That’s very much a personal touch of mine and I’m glad 2K was very receptive to that."

Cena, not much of a gamer, calls the cover “a tip of the cap” from 2K for building a game around his 20-year body of work.

“There’s been some very important moments where I didn’t live up to the hype,” Cena said.

In a recent phone interview with The Associated Press from Georgia, where he was filming “ Grand Death Lotto,” the Hollywood heavyweight discusses wrestling retirement, his starring role in the “WWE 2K23” video game and his relationship with embattled WWE boss Vince McMahon. Answers have been shortened for clarity and brevity.

AP: What did you mean in your tweet after your return to WWE last week when you wrote, “ it might be the last time.” Are you nearing the end of your WWE career?

CENA: I tried to put it in words in Twitter. I guess I didn’t explain myself correctly. It was the first time I came out into the arena knowing that this has a definitive end. Normally, you come out, you get all excited, OK, this is the next one and I’m waiting for the next one. I’m not done, of course. I made that statement accepting a match at WrestleMania so I know I have at least one more in front of me. But what I was trying to convey was, that was the first time I looked at all that excitement and energy and realized this is the twilight of that journey.

AP: Why come back to feud with Austin Theory?

CENA: You would be surprised at my answer. Because that’s what I was told would happen. I don’t do that. I don’t say, I want to do this. I want to work with that person. I don’t ever do that. I’ve never done that. I just try and do what I’m told to do and do it to the best of my abilities. Instead of dictating my terms, I often just try to make the performance the best it can be. What I don’t do and what I’ve never done is curate the direction of the narrative. I don’t pick opponents, but I love to tell stories. I didn’t pick Austin Theory but I certainly spoke from the heart (on RAW).

AP: How do you feel about the fact WWE could be on the market?

CENA: That’s way above my paygrade. I just don’t know what’s going on with that. I love Vince McMahon. He’s everything you could want in a great friend, business partner, father, mentor. I love the man. But his business dealings are his business and what he shares with me, that’s between us. But I don’t know what’s going on with the corporate structure in the WWE or the creative direction of the WWE. But when I’m there as a performer, it’s (WWE champion) Roman Reigns’ show. In my mind, he needs to be in the conversation, and in my mind, he’s the greatest of all time.

AP: Is it tough to reconcile the feelings you have toward Vince McMahon with the sexual misconduct accusations made against him?

CENA: No. I mean, everyone has the right to have their perspective. I have the right to have mine. When you love somebody, you take them as imperfectly perfect as they are. We all make mistakes, we all have poor decisions. Lord knows I’ve made my collection of poor choices. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to love somebody. There’s no way I can go on record and say I don’t love Vince McMahon.

AP: You have WrestleMania coming up and a slew of acting projects including “Grand Death Lotto.” Has the pace of your schedule ever become too much?

CENA: I’m feeling my age, so to speak. I could use a little bit of rest, but all my choice. These are wonderful things to be a part of. This one I’m really excited for because this movie does not stop. It is going to be action from the opening credits. We have a great team that mixes action and comedy. I’m also trying to do my best to, I hate the term work-life balance, but I’m trying to do my best to not fall into the trap of workaholism where I just hide in my work and I’m not a fully open, vulnerable human being to the people around me, the people that I love. I haven’t yet sacrificed my relationships for my work. I’m at a pretty good pace right now where I can hit on all cylinders.

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