John Cena’s ‘second chance’ at Hollywood: the F9 actor on starring in DC Comics’ The Suicide Squad as the ‘ridiculous’ Peacemaker – interview

US actor and wrestler John Cena poses on the red carpet ahead of the world premiere of DC film The Suicide Squad in Los Angeles, California, on August 2 – part of what he calls his ‘second chance’ in Hollywood. Photo: EPA-EFE

Star of The Suicide Squad, now hitting cinemas across the globe and on HBO Max, John Cena says he is making the most of his “second chance” in Hollywood.

After two decades in a pro wrestling ring, Cena’s no stranger to uniform commitment. For years he entertained thousands wearing jean shorts, ball caps, throwback sports jerseys, Reebok Pump basketball shoes and occasionally a padlock chain around his sizeable neck.

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From left, David Dastmalchian, John Cena, Idris Elba and Daniela Melchior in a scene from The Suicide Squad. Photo: Warner Bros/AP
Still, it’s quite a surprising sight when the 44-year-old wrestler/actor, who’s amassed a considerable fortune from his appearances in and out of the ring, hops on for a video chat interview clad in the shiny silver helmet, blue gloves and tight, dove-bedecked shirt of Peacemaker, his patriotic super jerk in The Suicide Squad.

“I’ve locked myself in this hotel room because people chased me up here thinking I was some sort of performer on Hollywood Boulevard,” Cena deadpans before heading to an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in LA with Squad co-star Margot Robbie and writer/director James Gunn.

From left, David Dastmalchian, John Cena, the character King Shark, Idris Elba and Daniela Melchior in The Suicide Squad. Photo: Warner Bros/TNS

Why is he wearing a Peacemaker outfit in public whenever he can? “We have a wonderfully beautiful, absurd movie that nobody is ready to see but everybody needs in their life,” Cena says of Squad.

After recently wrapping up the first season of the HBO Max spin-off series Peacemaker (premiering in January), Cena’s now back in wrestling gear: WWE’s “Summer of Cena” has him working shows and getting ready to take on Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam on August 21.

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Cast and crew including Nathan Fillion, Storm Reid, Margot Robbie, John Cena, James Gunn, Michael Rooker, Jai Courtney and Daniela Melchior attend the Warner Bros. premiere of The Suicide Squad at Regency Village Theatre on August 2, in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Always a good guy when he’s in the ring, on screen is where Cena gets to play the heel. In F9 this summer, he played the antagonistic little brother to Vin Diesel’s franchise anti-hero. And in Squad, Peacemaker is one of several supervillains running black ops missions for the government.

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Peacemaker is “so ridiculous”, Cena admits, thanks to his cocky, often clueless attitude. In one scene camped out in the jungle, the squad wakes up in the middle of the night when one teammate tries to eat another one, and everybody’s wearing battle gear – except for Peacemaker, showing up in his tighty whities underwear. It’s the kind of revealing physical comedy that Cena’s gleefully embraced in films, like his hilarious sex scene with Amy Schumer in 2015’s Trainwreck.

Professional wrestler/actor John Cena and wife Shay Shariatzadeh at the premiere of The Suicide Squad at the Regency Village theatre in Westwood, California on August 2, 2021. Photo: AFP

Performing for the WWE half-naked in jean shorts didn’t ready Cena for those moments – it was years of heckling fans. “There’s two ways you can go when you’re told you suck every day,” he says. “You can wallow in that shame and believe that opinion, or you can look yourself in the mirror and realise you are enough. That [self-love] allows me to do things that are a little bit obscure in some sense, most of the time wearing very little clothing.”

All Cena is hearing in the ring these days is cheers. But he also knows his role now is more of a WWE supporting act and mentor figure than star player. “Man, I wish there was some sort of fountain of youth where I could be a full-time contributor,” he says. “The longer they continue to bet on an ageing prospect, that makes [WWE’s] future a little bit less stable.”

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In films, he’s still maturing, learning from the likes of Squad mates Idris Elba and Robbie who “really went full tilt with everything”, says Cena, now in his “second chance” at the movie business. In the 2000s, he admits he made a lot of “bad films” – including action films like The Marine and 12 Rounds – struggling with the change of pace between a relatively slow movie-set existence and his fast-paced wrestling life.

Cast member John Cena poses at the premiere for the film The Suicide Squad in Los Angeles, California, on August 2. Photo: Reuters

“I used to chastise people for not working as efficiently as the WWE. And as a young man, I failed big,” Cena says. “I was judgmental and I was apprehensive and I wanted to be back in the ring because I loved that immediate gratification.”

It wasn’t until Trainwreck and “a chance for me to be weird” that he discovered an appreciation for filmmaking. “I’m very grateful that I was at least self-aware enough to know that I was really effing up big time.”

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Directing a movie and then the HBO Max show starring Cena, Gunn saw up close how he’s both teacher and student. “John simply has more integrity than almost anybody else I’ve ever met in my life,” the filmmaker says. “I absolutely adore the guy.”

In the past year, Cena’s Twitter feed has become a “mini journal” of wise self-help missives for himself and his 13.1 million followers. “I’m speaking of what’s going on in my own head, but I’m also talking to folks out there,” he says. Cena also married Shay Shariatzadeh in October, though he’s less revealing about getting hitched during a pandemic: “That’s a story you’re going to have to earn the right to hear.” (Gunn reports their relationship “is just really a beautiful thing”.)

John Cena enters the ring for WWE’s 2017 live show in Shenzhen, China. Photo: Handout

Cena does confess that working on his “emotional fitness” and looking out for his mental health has become important.

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“There’s a lot of shame involved with openly saying, ‘I need time for me’,” says Cena, who next stars in the spy thriller Argyll with Henry Cavill and Dua Lipa. “People view that as selfish, but if you’re running correctly, then you’re just easier to deal with and everybody around you is going to feed off that energy.

“I just love what I do so much. I want to make the most of it.”

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  • Appearing alongside Margot Robbie and Idris Elba in The Suicide Squad, the WWE wrestler bounced back from his ‘bad’ 2000s films in Trainwreck with Amy Schumer
  • In the ring for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam, in 2022 he will star in HBO Max series Peacemaker, and thriller Argyll with Henry Cavill and Dua Lipa