NEW YORK — WWE heavyweight champion John Cena has fought the meanest, dirtiest and most ruthless grapplers in the ring. So why was he shaking in his combat boots at the thought of going one-on-one with Kelly Carlson from "Nip/Tuck"?
Because instead of a headlock, he had to keep her in a lip-lock.
"Believe it or not, the thing I had the most trouble with is making out with Kelly Carlson," said Cena, who stars as Carlson's heroic husband, John Triton, in "The Marine," which opens Friday (October 13). In the movie, his character (he's the Marine, of course) ducks bullets, drives a roofless police car that flips over and is almost killed in a fire. But Cena said doing all his own stunts was nowhere near as scary as kissing his co-star. He was a little shy.
"I was as nervous as a kid going to junior prom," he smiled during an interview Wednesday. "I'm meeting this girl for the first time, and the next day we walk into work and I'm making out with her. It was great because she's smoking hot, but at the same time, I'm thinking, 'Am I a good kisser? Is it gonna be OK?' "
Cena says Carlson was very reassuring. "She just wanted to make a relationship between us seem real," he explained. "She made everything easy. I had really never watched 'Nip/Tuck,' but to her, [the kissing scenes were] nothing. She did stuff on 'Nip/Tuck' that trumps that 10 ways to Tuesday."
Over the past year, Cena has become the face of Vince McMahon's multimillion-dollar money machine, World Wrestling Entertainment. He's been a staple in the main events with some of his biggest wins happening at this past Wrestlemania against Triple H. He also wrestled in a Pay-Per-View match that allowed the use of tables, ladders and steel chairs. Cena beat his longtime foe Edge, regaining his title after climbing a ladder and taking the belt, which was hung several feet above the center of the ring.
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"I'm a special-forces Marine who in the very beginning of the movie gets discharged for disobeying a direct order," Cena said. "I'm getting sent home, and because I'm a lifelong Marine, I don't know what to do with my life. My loving wife, played by Kelly — this is PG-13, guys, it's not gonna be as wild as 'Nip/Tuck' — suggests we go on vacation. The bad guys, led by Robert Patrick, steal some diamonds, it goes horribly wrong, they shoot up some cops. We both stop at the same gas station, there's a shootout. They take a hostage. Who do they take? My wife. Not a good move by the bad guys, 'cause I escape from the exploding gas station and spend the rest of the movie chasing them."
Cena said going against Patrick was like dealing with a particular wrestling icon. "He's a cool cat," he said. "He's like the Undertaker — very smooth and stern, intimidating at times, very wise, very well-respected. He took what I thought was a very stale character on paper and turned it into his own and ended up stealing the show."
Cena said that not only did he do every one of his own stunts in the film, he also took time to learn about the art of moviemaking when he wasn't in front of the camera.
"You never get a second chance to do your first movie," he said. "I really wanted to be as active as I could in the movie. I learned about the amount of abuse you take doing your own stunts, what it's like to not only be an actor, but I got in touch with the director of photography, the director, the sound guys. I really wanted to know as much [as I could] about how a movie is made. In our business, when you have your first match, the more you know abut the product and how we make TV, the better you can show yourself. Essentially this was my first match all over again. I went into it with an open mind and wanted to be as active in the movie as I could."
Unlike some of his in-ring peers, such as Rowdy Roddy Piper, the Rock and Hulk Hogan — who took off considerable time from touring with WWE (or, as it was formerly known, the World Wrestling Federation) to tackle Hollywood — Cena refused a hiatus. He wanted to do both at the same time, working virtually seven days a week, traveling back and forth from Australia, where "The Marine" was being filmed, to wherever the WWE was having a night of matches.
Even while spreading the word of the movie, he's still active in the ring. Next week he'll be in the main event at another Pay-Per-View match. This time Cena, who wrestles primarily on the WWE show "Monday Night Raw," will be taking on the two champions from McMahon's other main wrestling programs: "Smackdown" victor King Book and "ECW" winner Big Show.
"I said, 'Hell no,' " he remembered. "They wanted me to take the whole month of September and October off [to promote]. I said, 'Screw you, I'm not going away.' That would drive me crazy if took time off. This is my home."
Cena is certainly no stranger to keeping a full plate. In May 2005, he released his debut rap LP, You Can't See Me, and performed concerts Wednesday through Friday, then fight Saturday through Tuesday. He was even able to sneak in a day recently to head over to Paris Island, South Carolina, where real-life Marines train. Cena did one day of basic training, which he said was a killer.
"They broke me in less than a day," he admitted. "I came in there as macho as ever, like, 'I can handle anything.' Nope!"
Cena had to run a confidence drill called "The Crucible," for which, in addition to going through a realistic war scenario, he had to carry a mock victim across a 500-yard field of dirt, transport and fire weapons and repel from a 47-foot wall made of nylon rope.
"I had a lot of fun, but they whipped my ass a little bit."
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