Q&A with WWE’s Randy Orton
I conducted a phone interview last week with WWE star Randy Orton, who will face CM Punk at WrestleMania XXVII Sunday.
Orton, who weaved in and out of character during the conversation, talked about whether he is comfortable working as a babyface, his thoughts on Punk as a performer, his TV wives and more.
You’ve been working as a babyface – although you’re certainly not a traditional babyface – for about a year now. Are you feeling comfortable in that role?
Absolutely not. I’m definitely growing as a good guy, as a babyface. I’ve got to walk a fine line, Kevin, because as a bad guy, as a heel, I go so comfortable in that role, I think I eventually earned the respect of the fans. And it wasn’t some master plan to become a good guy one day. I was dead set on being a heel the rest of my career. I figured there’s no way I’ll ever be a good guy. But the fans, they’re powerful, and when they speak together like they did, I started getting positive reactions. I’d be in the ring with a babyface as a heel, but they’d be chanting for me. It’s just one of those things where I just had to make the switch. But I think where I succeeded this time, where I failed back in’04 after I became the youngest champ in history and became babyface, I didn’t change too much. I think that’s very important. That respect I earned from the fans as a bad guy, I don’t want to lose that. And if all of a sudden I’m coming out and I’m trying to be like John Cena, that typical white meat babyface, kissing babies, hugging grandmas, slapping high-five swith everybody in the front row, that’s not going to work. If I come out pumping my fist and smiling, it’s going to make people want to barf. So I really had to walk that fine line and change, but just change enough to where it works for me and my character.
You’re working with CM Punk in a match at WrestleMania that is a little lower on the card than some of the matches you’ve been involved in at past WrestleManias. Do you feel less pressure not being in a main event, or do you relish being in that pressure-cooker?
It’s a good question, but I believe in every Mania, every pay-per-view, Raw, Smackdown or live event I’m in, my goal – and I would hope that everyone else’s goal on the roster – would be to the steal the show, and the pressure is always there. Whether it’s a stage like WrestleMania or another pay-per-view or just TV or a live event, you’ve still got the same fans out there. The WWE Universe is watching and you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to live up to the expectations that you have laid out. Me and CM Punk, we’re not fighting for a title, but if you look back, we’ve got a three-year story line in the making. I cost him the WWE championship back in ’08 when I was returning from a collar bone injury just after the birth of my daughter. I remember it vividly. I punted him in the back of the head backstage on a day when he was champ and was going to defend the title at a pay-per-view. He wasn’t able to even perform in the match because I kicked him in the head, cost him the title. If I was him I would have done the same thing. He came back at the Rumble, cost me the title, but as far as I’m concerned, that made us even. Anything after that, I’m sorry, Phil Brooks, CM Punk. I’m going to destroy him April 3 at WrestleMania XXVII. That’s just how it’s going to go.
Punk was a guy who wasn’t given an immediate big push in WWE. He basically had to earn his stripes and gradually work his way up. What are your thoughts on him as a performer?
That’s true. He was already known – he had done a lot of the Ring of Honor and local independent-type stuff in the Midwest, and he had done some traveling. He was somewhat well-known on an independent level, and I think when he first got called up, he had a lot going against him. He had to prove his worth – we all have to. Some of us have it easier than others. My father got my foot in the door, but eventually it’s up to the performer to prove themselves, and he definitely proved himself. He’s a multiple world champion; he’s got the background; he’s got the dedication. He won the Money in the Bank years before, and he cashed it in, won the championship – he’s done well for himself. But when it comes to CM Punk, I think as far as talent goes, as far as determination on setting a goal and accomplishing that goal, he is nothing – nothing – compared to me when it comes to getting the job done and performing at that level. I have way more experience than he does performing in front of these kinds of crowds, and I’m going to have the crowd on my side, so he’s got the odds against him going into this thing no matter what way you look at it. And not only that, he’s not going to have the rest of his team – The New Nexus – which is pretty much not even in existence anymore. I have completely put that to an end. But it’s just him; no one has his back at WrestleMania XXVII. And that’s going to be good for me because it’s just man to man, toe to toe, me and CM Punk in the ring, nobody else, no interference, and it’s going to go my way.
There was an angle on Raw recently that involved the tour bus that you travel in. I’ve heard that a lot of the top guys have tour buses now and travel with their families, which, obviously, is a lot different than what life was like on the road when your father and grandfather wrestled. Are the tour buses saving marriages?
A lot of guys actually don’t travel by tour bus ; there’s five of us. I think to be able to be at a point in your career where you’ve earned it and you can afford it, I think anyone would be stupid not to do it. What the tour bus does for me – my family coming with me, that’s just the cherry on top – I don’t have to travel 200 and 300 miles a night driving till 3 or 4 a.m. looking for that Denny’s that’s open or that drive-thru at McDonald’s and getting a couple chicken sandwiches and taking the bun off and shoving it down my throat. I got a kitchen, king-size bed, a couple TVs, a washer and dryer, a shower, a bathroom, deep sinks – I’m set. I can travel anywhere around the country, and I can get flat after a match. I think the biggest thing when it comes to injuries and stuff, travel has a big part in that. Because after a match, guys hit the road and they’re in a sitting position. They’re not able to ice up or do whatever they have to do therapy-wise. Being in a car driving like that, it’s just not good on your back, and our backs take a lot of abuse with all the bumps we take in the ring. Our body in general takes a hell of a beating, and that bus allows me to recover – that’s the biggest thing right there. It’s worth every penny because I’m able to recover more than I would in a rental car. Waiting in lines, looking for hotels, reserving rental cars, just plugging in an address into your GPS and hoping that address eventually leads you to a gym and not some middle of the subdivision where the address was wrong. There are lots of things that go into that bus that make it worth its weight in gold, but the No. 1 thing for me is the recovery time that I get having the bus that I didn’t have in the rental cars.
I know that you have a movie coming out soon with WWE Films. What was that experience like?
Well, first of all, I was surrounded by great actors. Ed Harris, of course, was in the movie and so was Amy Madigan. Most of my scenes were with Amy Madigan, and she was great. She was like one of the boys – she cursed like a sailor, was just really cool. She made it really relaxing for me to be able to do the movie. It comes out next month. It was my first time doing anything like that, and I have to say that it was a great experience. It’s definitely different than what I’m doing in the ring. If anything, I’m overacting in the ring because of the facials and the body language. I want the guy in the cheap seats to be able to see what I’m thinking, the expression on my face. But when you’re filming a movie, it could be a two or three camera shot, and you’re doing it over and over and over again. It’s not live TV, it’s a lot different. But they pick up every little expression on your face. You have to actually hold back a little bit. That was my biggest learning experience with the process – learning the whole acting game. Taking the acting classes and learning the craft, getting some acting skills and applying them. I’m proud of what I did. The movie is doing well even before it’s come out. It was featured at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was a centerpiece feature, which was great. It was midweek, all the media was there, and it premiered in a 2,000-seat theater, and it was 90 percent packed and got a really good response, and the reviews were good. Even my role got good reviews, so I’m very proud of the project and would love to do more stuff like that in the future.
A lot of observant fans have noticed that your wife seems to look a little bit different every time she’s on TV. Is that sort of a running joke at this point?
That’s a tricky question. Obviously, that’s not my wife. Some guys feel differently about having their wife on camera. Obviously, Shawn Michaels’ wife used to be a WCW Nitro Girl, so she had the experience. Rey Mysterio’s family was involved in a story line that he was in with CM Punk. And, of course, Stephanie McMahon. I don’t mind my family being at the Hall of Fame and the media being there and a few snapshots here and there, but as far as bringing my wife and especially my 3-year-old daughter onto the screen, I’m not ready for that. I don’t think that’s their place, and I don’t want to expose them to that. I think it definitely impacts negatively what we’re trying to do, but it’s a tricky question and I really don’t know how to answer it. I don’t want to say, “Oh, well, that was my wife,” because obviously two years ago when Triple H did the whole home invasion angle, I had a different wife. I haven’t been married three times in the last two years, that’s for sure [laughs]. It’s tough, but if they want to do something where I have a wife there, then they’re going to have to hire me a wife, I guess. I think a lot of the fans know who my wife is. She’s got more hits on Google and Yahoo than some of our Divas [laughs]. But I don’t want to ask that of her. If she was comfortable doing it, it might be a different story, but that’s not really what I want my family to be involved with.
Photo courtesy of WWE