During the week, Dylan Summers is a gentle man who enjoys reading history and doting on his wife and three children. On weekends, however, he travels the world as an indestructible, barefoot hillbilly who likes to punch people square in the face. No doubt, professional wrestling creates strange dichotomies in the lives of many of its performers. But few undergo a more severe character transformation than Summers, aka the Necro Butcher. If you've seen The Wrestler, you'll remember Necro as the chap who stapled Mickey Rourke's chest and then stapled a dollar bill to his own forehead (he's the one bleeding in the picture below.) The harrowing sequence earned the independent wrestling star a mention at the Oscars, something he could never have imagined in all his years of crashing through panes of glass, falling off balconies and taking stiff kicks to the chin. Wrestling might feature pre-determined outcomes, but the pain Necro absorbs and inflicts is all too real (you can see him work for Ring of Honor on June 12 in Manassas, Va., or on HDNet.) With The Wrestler about to come out on DVD on Tuesday, the Butcher agreed to a phone interview with the Toy Department's Childs Walker. Keep in mind that this madman of the ring was gently comforting his crying 10-month-old daughter throughout.
TD: Were you a wrestling fan growing up in West Virginia?
Necro: Yeah, certainly.
TD: Did a lot of shows run in that area at the time?
Necro: Not at all. I mean, back then, there was independent wrestling. When I say the word independent, I mean something other than the stuff you see on TV. But you never heard about it. The only stuff that I knew about was WWF and NWA, because they were on like Saturday afternoons and Saturday mornings. I remember when we got WTBS, they had wrestling on like Saturday morning, Saturday night and Sunday night, so that was like the most. Now, wrestling is on four or five times a week.
TD: I read that it was something you used to do with your dad?
Necro: Yeah. Can you hang on one second, I have an angry 10-month-old. She doesn't care what's going on (for about a minute, the only sounds are a screaming baby and Necro saying, "I need you to come down here.")
TD: Do you need to break away?
Necro: No, I got my wife on the case.
TD: So what kinds of performers connected with you growing up?
Necro: Well, I don't know. When you're a kid, you don't really get into too many off-the-wall characters. Everybody likes Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and those guys. You remember the villains but you don't really get into them. You know, like the Iron Shiek and just the classic WWF characters.
TD: So you were sort of the classic kid fan, pulling for the heroes and booing the villains?
Necro: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
TD: Mike from ROH mentioned that you graduated high school at 15. Were you kind of a studious kid?
Necro: I did not go to sixth or seventh grade. I went straight from fifth to eighth. I guess even in first grade, I had reading class with the older kids or math with the older kids. I don't know what the official reason was. It just sounded like a good idea. You ask any 10-year-old kid, "Hey, you want to go to eighth grade?" and it's like, "Sure!"
TD: Were you a physical kid growing up?
Necro: I was teeny-tiny. I remember, cuz wrestling wasn't so badly exposed in those days, you remember [longtime announcer] Gordon Solie? Well on Saturday mornings, Gordon Solie, who had a very straight, play-by-play method of calling the matches, would say, you know, for all the people who ask how to get into wrestling, "You gotta get into high school wrestling and amateur wrestling and get a good background." So not knowing that there was such a thing as wrestling schools, I thought, well, if that's what Gordon Solie says I need to do, that's what I need to do. So I think my freshman year, I wrestled the 98-pound weight class. Sophomore year was 112. But you've got to keep in mind, I was not as old as these kids. I was 12 years old as a freshman. So anyway, my junior year, I wrestled 126, so I didn't really start gaining any weight until I got out of school. I always thought that maybe I could be an announcer, so I learned the names of all the holds. I learned who was from where, who had had what titles, all the history and stuff. I figured hell, maybe I could be an announcer, because I thought I was too small and never gonna gain any weight. Then, when I got out of school, I finally hit my growth spurt.
TD: What prompted you to join the Army?
Necro: Well, I was living in New Martinsville, West Virginia, which was not exactly the best economic area of the country, and minimum wage was a whopping $4.25. I was married, had two kids at the time and I lost my job. So I had four years of working for minimum wage at this grocery store. I had worked my way up to a whopping $6 an hour. And then when I lost my job, I couldn't find anything that would even come close to paying our bills.
TD: And you're not wrestling at that point?
Necro: Oh, hell no. When I got married, all that went out of my mind. I got married when I was 18, so it was time to settle down, have a family, have a normal life. We're faced with the prospect of going on welfare, getting food stamps, all this government assistance crap. So I was like, well, I don't know what to do. The Army didn't sound like anything fun. It didn't sound like anything I wanted to do at all. It just seemed to me that I had dicked around for six or seven months trying to find a job, and I had found nothing that was gonna allow us to pay the bills. So the Army was kind of like my last resort.
TD: So how did you look with a buzz cut? That's hard to picture.
Necro: Laughs. Well, there's videotapes out there. I'm not going to tell you where to find them.
TD: So when did you finally get the idea to try wrestling?
Necro: Well, a little trip in the time machine here. This was before DirecTV and DISH network, so if you had a satellite dish, you had the great, big wire mesh thing. I was always a fan. I thought this would never be something I'd be a part of, but I sure do like to watch it. I was in the Army, and I had this great, big satellite dish. And I got a computer so I got on the internet. I had a little bit more money so I started buying more toys, and I would record this wrestling from different areas. A lot of independent wrestling, some Mexican wrestling, different things, and I would record them on VHS tapes. I got involved on the internet, trading tapes with people. Like I'd go and get older tapes, maybe Japanese tapes, some programs I couldn't get with the dish. It was very easy to get all kinds of wrestling and trade with people all over the world. Through the course of tape trading, I began trading tapes with some guys in Dallas, which was maybe four hours North of where I was in Texas. Through the course of e-mail conversations with these guys, it was like, "Hey, you should come up and try out. You should come up and give it a shot. You're in the Army. You're probably in shape. Blah, blah, blah."
They just wanted to take my money, but I didn't know that. It was oh, these wrestlers want me to come to Dallas and try out with them! They just wanted to beat me up and take my money. Back then, they wanted a a big down payment and then beat the crap out of you. And if you came back, well, OK. Well, that's what happened. I went up and they beat the snot out of me for like four hours, all kind of stuff. I didn't know what was going on. I just tried to survive it. And then at the end of all this, the part that I wasn't prepared for. They asked, "Well, are you coming back next week?" And I was like, they asked me! I didn't even think they'd ask me. I thought it was assumed that as bad as I was looking, as embarrassed as I was at getting tossed around, as much damage as these guys were doing to me, what business do I have coming back up here? So I thought hell, if they're going to ask me, sure, I'll come back up here. That went on for a good while. Every Saturday, I'd drive to Dallas and they'd beat the crap out of me. And they'd ask, "You coming back next week?" And it was always sure, I'll come back next week. I never thought anything would ever come of it. I was in the Army. That was paying the bills, and we were doing OK. This was pretty fun, getting in the ring with real wrestlers. And they're trying to get me to quit, and I won't quit. So this is pretty cool, and I'll keep doing it. And before you know it, I had a match and then another one and then, this is over a period of time, I'm driving to shows far away and doing like two shows in one day and two or three shows a weekend. And then sometimes, I'm on TV and sometimes I'm wrestling in front of big crowds. You know, I just kept getting lucky break after lucky break.
TD: Describe your style and character at the beginning?
Necro: Back then, it was completely different. I had the short hair. I was a lot thinner. I was maybe about 195-200 pounds. I was in pretty good shape from running every day. In the Army, you run every day, which I don't do anymore. Laughs. But I did what I was taught. I did the holds and the basic moves and the basic counters and what not. I just did what my teachers were instructing me to do. Of course, they said, "You're in the Army, so it's only natural for you to be an Army character." Which was f---ing horrible because that was my real job and wrestling was supposed to be an escape from that. On the weekends, I was somebody I wasn't. These days, kids, before they even step in the ring, say, "This is what my name's going to be, this is what costume I'm going to wear. This is going to be my music." They have it all planned out. But back then, you just did what you were told. You know, so I was Private Dylan Summers and I handed out little American flags and wore camouflage, and I'd carry artillery shells to the ring. It was the cheesiest stuff ever, but I was in no position to say anything. I just did what I was told.
TD: So how does one get into death match wrestling?
Necro: Well, I was doing the Army gimmick and I was wrestling, probably once every couple of months. Sometimes more than that, but a couple of the guys who were helping with the training were doing this little show, and I guess now, you'd call it backyard wrestling. But back then, we didn't know what the hell backyard wrestling was. It was outside in the middle of Forth Worth. It was a ring. They charged admission. They sold the VHS and DVDs. It was just like indy wrestling only it was outside. Some other decent name wrestlers were doing it, so I thought I'd give it a shot. And best-case scenario, it would be some decent ring time for me. Worst-case scenario, no one will see it, so if it's horrible, who gives a crap? But they had this idea for a character they wanted me to play. I still had the short hair and I was kind of thin, but they had me paint my face all crazy and act a little off the wall. Of course, that was the Necro Butcher gimmick [though it has changed since] and that's when I started doing that.
TD: So you picked up the name at that point?
Necro: It was given to me. Back then, you didn't decide what you were or who you were.
TD: So who gave you the name?
Necro: It was a little company called Insane Hardcore Wrestling. It was just the guys in charge of that. So I thought who the hell cares? If this is crap, at least I'll get some ring time. I'll paint my face up, I'll act all crazy, I'll do this Necro Butcher stuff just to get more ring time. As fate would have it, 20/20 was doing a special on backyard wrestling, and they just so happened to pick the first show I did to come do their story. So other promoters watched this stuff on 20/20 and they saw this Necro Butcher guy. And then, no one wanted to book Private Dylan Summers on their shows. They wanted this Necro Butcher guy. So slowly, the phone stopped ringing for Private Dylan Summers and started ringing for this Necro Butcher guy. And it snowballed into something that I never, ever thought was possible. This was just supposed to be ring time. And now, I've got movies and Japan and Ring of Honor. It's just unbelievable. Sometimes, I just sit back and it takes my breath. It really does.
TD: Is there sort of a philosophical underpinning to the character or is it something that just evolved naturally?
Necro: Well both. Any kind of profession you do for any length of time, you're going to figure out the best way to do things. The position I was put in, I spent a few years down in Texas working the Necro Butcher gimmick. Then, I moved to the Midwest in Louisville, Ky. and started working for a company called IWA. It's a real blood-and-guts promotion, but a lot of top guys from around the country were converging on these shows, a lot of talent. I went there. I was always first or second match, always losing, not making very much money. And I saw the guys on the upper card were doing the light bulbs and the fighting out in the crowd, you know the thumbtacks and barbed wire and just crazy stuff. I thought if that's what the guys in the upper echelon of the card are doing, that's what I need to do to get where they are. I just waited my turn, and somebody no-showed a main event or something. They said, "Hey, you ready to do this match?" It was called something like a lumberjack light tube match. If you were thrown out of the ring, it was surrounded by wrestlers who would just rain fluorescent light tubes down on you. But this was my chance to finally be in the main event, so I went a little crazy and did some things I probably shouldn't have done. I didn't have any serious injuries, just some minor cuts. But it was a lot of dangerous stuff, and the promoter responded really well to it, the fans responded really well to it. And I thought hell, I'm on to something here. Maybe if I can do this and that's something different than a lot of other people are doing, maybe people will notice me. And that's exactly what happened.
TD: Do you think creating a wrestling character is similar to creating, say, a recurring TV character?
Necro: It's the same in the fact that it changes over time but you try to keep some of the core issues the same. But it's different in the fact that you're in control of yourself and that's it. When you're wrestling a certain opponent, you might think, "What can I do to make this guy look good or bad?" But you're really not in charge of anything but yourself. When you get farther along, you lose control. Like the stuff you see on television, those guys don't have very much control over what they do in the ring or what they say. It's just like a movie. They're portraying a role. The stuff I do; I have a little more creative control of where I go, what I do.
TD: So what's the weirdest thing you've ever been hit with in a ring?
Necro: Like most painful or weirdest?
TD: However you want to define it.
Necro: I think the most painful thing I've ever experienced in terms of things that did not belong in the wrestling ring was a cactus or cacti, I guess. Now, they had done a match like this in Japan. I was in Houston in probably 1999, and the promoter was really worried that the fans would look at these cacti and think, "Oh, those aren't very painful." So he went out and got the most gnarly, horrible, dangerous-looking cacti he could find. And I mean, it took a good, probably three hours after the match to pick all these needles out of different parts of my body. Even for like a couple of weeks later, they'd still be working their way out. It was a pretty bad idea overall. As far as weird stuff, I've done a lot of stuff where they call them "fans bring the weapons" matches." That's where it's kind of like the creativity of the fans, so you can get some really weird stuff there.
TD: You might be one of the few people on earth who can answer this. Does it hurt more to fall off a delivery truck, get run through a pane of glass, get stapled in the forehead or just get kicked or punched right in the face?
Necro: I've done like all those things at once. Laughs. I don't know, sometimes, when there are a lot of people around and they're making a lot of noise, you just concentrate on doing your job. You don't really start hurting until you walk back through the curtain and sit down. That's when it's liked, "Oh man, I'm f---ed up." You know, you just try to do your job and entertain the people. Some stuff, you do notice when it happens. But a lot of stuff, I really don't until after.
TD: Do you have a high pain tolerance or do you sort of meditate and get yourself in a mindset where it's not going to bother you?
Necro: I'm in pain right now sitting here, talking to you on the phone. I'm pretty sure I don't have a high pain tolerance. I just think it's all about how you deal with it. When you're out there, doing what you're supposed to be doing, you don't have time to say I'm hurt and lay there for 10 minutes. You can't do that. Pretty soon, they'll stop paying you.
TD: So it's not that you're getting yourself in some particular state of mind before? It's more just I'm doing my job?
Necro: I mean, if I know there's something with barbed wire, for instance, I'll not so much meditate but I'll keep my mind focused on what's about to happen so I'm not surprised. What could happen here? What's the worst that could happen? What will probably happen? What has happened before? What's never happened? You just try to think of the scenarios so you're not surprised. It kind of makes it a little easier if you visualize them and think them through in your head, if that makes any sense.
TD: What do you think draws people to deathmatch wrestling?
Necro: It's just completely something different. Same reason there's action movies and suspense movies and comedy movies. Same reason there's what, 32 flavors of Baskin Robbins? There's something for everybody. You know, some people appreciate it, some people don't.
TD: There are some pretty fierce debates online about your quality as a performer. Do you read them and if so, what do you make of it?
Necro: Well, one thing you have to understand about these online debates is that these online debates are being held by people who've never gotten in the ring and will never get in the ring. They're just fans, so you can't make everybody happy all the time. Some people have a certain idea of what they want to see and anything that doesn't fit their criteria, they're gonna crap on it. I look at it as, my job is not to go out there and do textbook arm drags and seven or eight kinds of suplexes or backflips. That's not my job. That's somebody else's job. My job is to go out there and do what I do, and I try to do it as best I can. The bottom line is how the people watching the show think and if the promoters think you're a good asset to their company. That's the bottom line. The online debates will go on and on and on as long as we have electricity.
TD: Were you surprised when the character started to get cheers? You're an extremely sympathetic figure in a lot of places.
Necro: I think that goes back to something you said earlier about the character evolving. For instance, I've been working pretty regularly in the town of Philadelphia, really in the same building, for like seven or eight years now. So the people who come there every month, they see you injured and fighting back from injury and you learn to play off of that. I don't know if it's really admirable, but put me in front of a crowd, and I can make them feel sorry for me pretty easily. Laughs. Or I can make them feel sorry for the other guy. That's just part of the job--manipulating the crowd and trying to get the correct reaction out of them.
TD: So how did you become involved with The Wrestler?
Necro: Well, it was kind of an accident and kind of on purpose. What happened was we were doing a show in Manhattan, and the director, the producer and a few of the assistants were looking for different wrestling companies to work with. Because as you know, the match he had with the Ayatollah was filmed at a Ring of Honor show. And there was some stuff at a CZW show and a Jersey All-Pro show. They were looking for different independent companies to film these scenes in. So they were there, looking for people they wanted to use in little scenes and what not. They came up and told me they wanted to read for a role. Here's where I got lucky. The role I read for was a wrestler named the Hellbilly Cannibal. Well, the writer had actually based the character off of me. He saw me at a show in Long Island some time ago and just changed the name to the Hellbilly Cannibal. So the director was like, "Why should we get someone to play the Hellbilly Cannibal when we can just get the guy he was based off of?" So I just kind of got lucky.
TD: Now did you actually wrestle a match with Mickey Rourke or did you just do little pieces?
Necro: It was all chopped up. It was even chopped up to the point where the stuff we did was not in sequential order. So like every shot would be different make-up, the props would be placed differently in the ring. It was pretty weird, but it came together nice.
TD: Did Darren Aronofsky give you a lot of direction or was it just like, "You know what you're doing in this setting so do what you do?"
Necro: He told me what he wanted me to do, and I just did what he said. It was pretty simple. He would say, "Could you turn more this way" or maybe just ask me to play off the camera, which I really wasn't very good at. In professional wrestling, you're used to telling your story to the people in the cheap seats. Everybody in the whole building has to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. For a movie, you could really care less about the crowd, and you have to tell your story to this little black box.
TD: What were your impressions of Mickey Rourke?
Necro: Well, he was completely professional. One thing that made really, I don't if it was a good impression or a bad impression, but he didn't seem out of place. We were in the locker room or wherever, he just looked like an old, broken down wrestler. You wouldn't think, "There's an actor, playing a role." If you didn't know what was going on, you'd think, "Who's that old guy over there? What's he doing here?" He did his homework. That's for sure.
TD: How did he take the stapling?
Necro: Well, that was all special effects. I stapled myself. That was legitimate. That's why the staple gun was upside down. I couldn't apply enough pressure. I kept shooting myself in the face with the staple gun, and they kept bouncing off. The dollar wouldn't stick. The third time I was like man, let me try to hold the staple gun upside down and see if that works.
TD: Have you gotten to watch the movie with a regular audience?
Necro: No, I watched it with my wife on a bootleg DVD copy.
TD: I was just wondering because it was interesting watching your sequence with a crowd of normal people. I sort of got the sense that people didn't believe that it was necessariy realistic.
Necro: Laughs. I would've liked to see it that way, but with me, the work schedule is kind of backward. My weekend is the week day and my week days are the weekend.
TD: So did the whole movie feel true to you?
Necro: Oh yeah, way too much probably.
TD: What do you mean by that exactly?
Necro: I don't know, just the thing with wrestling in smaller arenas and sometimes, the promoters would take advantage of you financially. You know, if you get hurt, you're kind of on your own. If you get hurt, you can't wrestle the next night, and then you can't pay your bills. Right now, I'm lucky where I don't have to have a real job. But I've had to have real jobs. Up until like '05, I had a real job, and you ask for time off to go wrestle and sometimes, your boss doesn't really understand what the hell you're doing. So all that. The fact that he didn't really have the relationship with his daughter that he wanted. Things like that are pretty common in my business, actually.
TD: What ran through your head when the Necro Butcher was mentioned at the Oscars?
Necro: Laughs. Actually, I didn't even know it. I was wrestling in Detroit. And my mom gets worried about me when I wrestle certain matches, so she made me promise to call her. So I'd finished my match in Detroit and I called my mom. And she informed me what had happened. Through the magic of You Tube, I got to see it.
TD: You mentioned never imagining a lot of stuff that's happened to you. That would certainly have to go on that list.
Necro: Dude, I mean, for one thing, I never thought I'd have a match, ever. Then, I never thought I'd win a match. Then, I thought I'm never going to get on TV or get a plane ticket to go wrestle somewhere. I'm never going to go to Japan. And all this stuff, over and over and over, one good thing after another keeps happening to me, man. I can't imagine what could possibly be next. I imagine nothing would ever get better than this.
TD: How do you deal with the "What does daddy do?" questions? Do you show your kids your work?
Necro: I don't like keep it away from them. My kids will go to shows with me maybe a couple times a year. I don't know. I don't purposely try to keep them separated. To flip it around a little bit, if I worked at McDonald's, I wouldn't take my kids to watch me work. You know, it's just work. I do something that some people find kind of interesting, but it's still a job. It's a fun job, but it's still a job.
TD: I just didn't know if you worried about some of the stuff being scary?
Necro: No. They see me limping around the house. They deserve to know why their dad can't play with them.
TD: The film showed that you're a quiet, polite, well-spoken guy outside of the ring. Does that sort of contrast with your character appeal to you?
Necro: I never really even thought about it. That's just normal. That's the way I am backstage at the shows. I just acted naturally. I'm just trying to do a good job. I'm like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He wasn't crazy, but he had to make everyone think he was crazy so he could stay there. That's what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to keep a job, man.
TD: So what do you enjoy doing with your non-wrestling time?
Necro: Well, I don't think about wrestling. That's for sure. In general, I don't like to leave the house. If there's something that I can't get from the corner store, I don't want to get it. I just play video games or board games with the kids, watch movies with the wife. Or play with the baby rattle for four hours.
TD: So you live outside of Pittsburgh?
Necro: About an hour North. Pittsburgh is a little too much hustle and bustle for me. I'm up here in New Castle, Pa. and there's not much going on as far as jobs for regular people. But you know, I don't leave the house. Everything's real cheap, because everyone's broke. It's working for us.
TD: As a guy who takes a lot of punishment, do you have sort of longterm fears about how you'll feel when you're 50?
Necro: Man, I don't feel good now. I shudder to think. I don't feel good now. It's not something I think about. I don't think about that kind of stuff in any aspect of my life. My newest little girl is 10 months old, and I don't want to think about her at one-year-old or two years old. I just try to, whatever's going on right now, that's what we're doing and try to make the best of it.
TD: Do you think you'll wrestle for quite some time?
Necro: I would like to work behind the scenes with a company. I've had success at different levels as far as helping backstage, helping guys put things together. I worked for a year in Texas putting together a TV show, and I enjoyed that. I would hope to think that I could get a job somewhere, doing something along those lines.
Necro photo: Scott Finkelstein