A Conversation with John Cena

John Felix Anthony Cena, adored by fans as his wrestling persona—though he uses his real name in the WWE— characterized by his famous catchphrase “you can’t see me” and winner of 16 world championships. Yet the star’s talents are not restricted to the squared circle.

As the now-46-year-old conquered the world of wrestling, so Cena began a seamless transition into Hollywood, proving his mettle as an actor with a slew of noteworthy roles. Some of his most prominent include The Marine, 12 Rounds and a comedic appearance in Trainwreck.

He also proved his versatility by joining the ensemble cast of the Fast & Furious franchise, and continues to evolve his career with the release of Matthew Vaughn’s spy vehicle Argylle at the start of 2024—also teasing that it could be the launch of a series of connected films.

“I think that when you observe Matthew’s approach to projects and his unique way of setting the stage, it’s evident that he has a distinctive storytelling style,” Cena initiates. “I greatly admire the depth and emotion he brings to his characters, even while pushing boundaries.

“Understanding that Apple recently acquired this, coupled with Matthew’s overarching vision, gives me confidence in the project’s direction. I believe this is just the beginning for the Argylle series.”

It’s obvious the actor has a lot of respect for the Londoner Vaughn, celebrated for his dynamic and stylish filmmaking through blockbuster hits like Layer Cake, X-Men, The Kingsman series, and more.

Known for revitalizing genres with his unique vision and innovative storytelling, the director has a flair for blending humour, action and character depth. These were all key attributes and hallmarks that attracted Cena to the project. “The Kingsman series is obviously the recent standout material, but I remember watching Layer Cake back in the day.

“It’s funny how so much of the fallout from that film now comes down on Daniel Craig, as the movie that really won him the Bond place; yet at the same time it was the start of the story for Matthew—his first film as director, writer and producer.

“What I like about his style is that he uses such careful selection of projects—he hasn’t gone crazy or overboard,” Cena says sincerely. “I was genuinely excited to collaborate with Matthew. Given what’s written, I saw nothing but immense potential. It’s going to be a great journey.”

The American says that he loves working with gifted artists and is always taking on new ideas and material. He’s even happy to modify his appearance to do so, such as his appearance as a mermaid in Barbie!

The actor admits: “I’m consistently immersed in reading, always aiming to collaborate with talented individuals on projects that align with my abilities, yet still offer a sense of challenge.

“What draws me to a role isn’t necessarily its magnitude or franchise potential, but rather the intrigue of the story itself. My passion lies in entertaining and immersing myself in captivating material. I strive to ensure that in my work, even if it involves ‘playing dress up’,” laughs Cena.

Back in the high-energy and raucous atmosphere of the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise, Cena has been a huge part of its storylines and action for two decades.

Though he proudly and loudly revels in the adulation he receives from the WWE fandom, his biggest impetus from the very beginning has been the validation of his father.

“When I first signed with the WWE in June 2002, my contract was just $12,000 annually. I quit my previous job the very day I got the offer. In perhaps the only career move that truly amazed him, my father was ‘beyond proud!’ Even now, his pride remains evident.

“For the longest time, my motivation was seeking approval, especially from my father. His recognition served as my primary driving force, but eventually, I realized it was a double-edged sword. You satisfy one person but need to keep making yourself proud—it’s difficult sometimes.”

The demands of such durability means that the ‘R’ word —retirement—is one that has crept up on him in the last few years. “I’m aware that it’s approaching,” he says, sighing slightly. “Every opportunity I have to step out there grows increasingly precious. I can’t ignore that I’m 46, nearing 47, and have been a part of the WWE family for more than 20 years.

“Physically, I’m robust, agile and in excellent health, both inside and out. Yet after considering a full-time touring role at this juncture I felt that it might lead to more loss than gain and I needed to confront that reality honestly.”

He continues: “The inevitable is on the horizon. To be honest, when you’re deeply absorbed in it on a daily basis, your focus often shifts to what lies ahead… but I’ve not got any concrete news for anyone just yet. Rest assured, I’m not going to fade away and when the time is right to make that decision, I will let everyone know.”

It seems that wrestling was almost the screen test for his Hollywood dalliance—which now seems to have blossomed into a marriage. Cena beams: “I couldn’t concur more. These characters we portray, they’re larger than life. Take The Undertaker, for instance, who was honoured in the Hall of Fame last year. Only now is he beginning to show his true self and it’s unsettling for many.

“When I decided to let my hair grow, I was unsure about its styling or length. Yet, just seeing me with a fuller mane led to a flood of comments on social media. People exclaimed, ‘You’ve destroyed my memories’ or ‘How could you?’

“All I was doing was changing my hairstyle,” he restarts. “I was just embracing what’s left of it! Though, any deviation from the familiar seems to unsettle fans.”

In an almost 360-degree about-turn to his normal jokey and positive self, Cena let’s his own mask slip ever so slightly when he briefly looks back to a time in his past where he may have begun to question his activity in his career—then, quickly gets back on track.

“I had a period, around 2010 to 2012, where I thought: ‘I’m more than just this character; I deserve recognition as an individual’, but those days are behind me now.

“Time goes on and you come to terms with how you are perceived,” says Cena, who currently resides in Tampa, Florida, with wife Shay Shariatzadeh.

In September 2022, Cena set a new Guinness World Record having made over 650 wishes come true via the Make-A-Wish Foundation, positively changing the lives of young people through generous acts; something he has been doing since the turn of the Millennium.

“It has given me enormous pleasure to be able to help others,” he says. “I’m not doing it for any other reason than to spread positivity and love to those who need it. Obviously it makes me feel good inside too, but I’m not doing it for me.”

Going back full-circle to the stage on which his fame was built, Cena concludes: “Just because some people physically wear masks within the WWE, it doesn’t mean that young people who don’t aren’t also putting on an act. There are real kids, real people underneath the surface, so always be kind, always talk, always try to understand the people around you, and care for them.

“We all need help sometimes.”

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