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March 30, 2011

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

Posted by Kevin Eck at 8:00 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Q&As


Wait... Punk's real name is PHIL BROOKS?! I would not have guessed that.

Great interview as always, Kevin.

Great interview. I think Orton sets a good precedent for how to do an interview where you break character. I think for one these kind of interviews make them more relatable to the fans but without killing the realism that they need to sell the shows. He doesn't say anything that takes away from the feud with CM Punk and can still joke about his actress wives because its harmless honesty because its really just the silly TV Show aspect of Raw and has nothing to do with the actual wrestling storyline.

Jericho usually does really good with these too. I think the opposite interviews, where they maintain character at all times just makes them sound fake. Like for instance I listened to The Miz on a podcast shortly after he won the title and he could have pulled off THIS type of interview but instead he stayed in character so much it felt like I was listening to a WWE informercial.

Great interview.Randy always gives good interviews.Loved the 'Phil Brooks" line.He should use it at Mania if they interview him before the match.

Interesting article. But I would prefer it if he would just break kayfabe and give his real opinions about Punk.

After Mania 25, I'm fine with Randy never being in another Main Event.

WOW Elevation, why the hating? Or maybe I misinterpret your remarks?

Kevin this was a great interview. You always or often bring so much more out of your subjects, and this is a perfect example.

I am a Randy Orton fan and also a huge CM Punk fan and I couldn't be more excited to see them against one another. They are both brilliant wrestlers and craftsmen but... at this point in time, Randy is better. Even the way he comes across in this interview is an example... the guy really is on a special, untouchable level.

Sorry CM Punk, that takes nothing away from you or your potential, but RKO is the APEX PREDATOR.

I think you have to respect Orton's approach to keeping his wife and child out of the storylines. There are some other notable wrestlers and promoters who could learn a few things from him in that regard.

"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."

Well unlike you he can maintain his heat as a heel, so that's one thing he has over you Randy.

Interesting. :D
I luv Randy. :D

Either in or out of character Randy! I hate when they do that. We aren't stupid.

Ken, my kids and Ihave been hoping that Randy would call out Punk as Phillip. He never does but answering Randall Keith Orton with Phillip Jack Brooks would be classic!
Great interview. It is always fun to hear/read what these guys think behind the scenes!

CM Punk > Randy Orton in every way. Cuts better promos, better wrestler. If only Punk had a WWE legend as a father, he could be in all the main events. This was a nice interview, and Orton did well drifting between real and kayfabe, but dropping Punk's real name when he did seemed odd.

Who do you suppose the other four guys are?

RESPONSE FROM KE: I believe -- but I'm not sure -- it's Big Show, Mysterio, Triple H and possibly Cena.

Will,that was because Randy did such a great job as a heel the fans ended up turning him becuase they appreciated how good he did it.

Punk only wishes he could get heel heat that are on the same level as Orton's face pops are.

I lov to see d lady in d bus.randy said she was is wife.well to be honest d lady is pretty.any man just like punk would have done more.randy u are lucky that never did anythin funny

Please. Orton's approach here is dated. It's not 1986 -- you don't act like the outcome of Sunday's match is up in the air, breaking down the advantages and disadvantages you have going in. I know Randy probably doesn't mean it this way, but it is kind of insulting to the audience that this interview is aimed at to not break kayfabe in 2011. That's especially true when you're being interviewed to the esteemed Kevin Eck, a knowledgable interviewer who does his homework and asks informed questions. This could have been much better, but Orton decided to reduce it to a rasslin' promo.

Kev, what do you make of Randy's recent comments on The Rock vs Cena?

Dave O. I disagree. I can't stand it when wrestlers (or in TNA's case bookers) go out of their way to rub it in the fan's face that there are "sports entertainment" aspects to wrestling, as if constantly undermining our excitement and the emotional investment we have in these larger-than-life heroes is somehow a cool thing to do. THAT is what I find insulting and tiresome.

I consider pro wrestling an art form that combines athleticism with elements of drama, and here Randy Orton, a master of his craft, carefully weaves in and out of the grey areas he inhabits, giving us some inside information while still carefully continuing to build anticipation for his clash agaist CM Punk Sunday. This interview is part of why I am voting Orton vs. Punk as my "most anticipated" match!

randy is soooooo hot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!samantha ur sooooooo lucky!!!!!!!!!!!! : (

Jules B. -- I agree with you when it comes to TNA, but I think there's a big difference between what TNA does and what I'm talking about. TNA destroys the suspension of disbelief by going out of their way to break kayfabe on their own broadcasts. Fans can never get emotionally involved when they're constantly being reminded that the story they're following is a work. I get that. But when it comes to a wrestler (or an actor, for that matter) giving an interview in a venue like this, I like to get to know the person behind the character I enjoy watching each week. For example, I always respected Mick Foley and Chris Jericho, but now that I've read their books and know how hard it was for both of them to make it to the top, I enjoy their characters that much more. Knowing their backgrounds and opinions as people helps me connect with the characters since every good wrestling gimmick is based in part on the person behind the character. This is not a knock on Orton's work by any means, because I expect him and Punk to knock it out of the park tomorrow. I just think the approach of staying in character in an interview like this is outdated and comes off as a bit foolish in this day and age.

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About Kevin Eck
The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Eck blogs about professional wrestling.
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