John Cena’s Acting Skills, Sense of Humor Explained by His Director in ‘Freelance’ | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors
With the decorated career he’s had in wrestling, John Cena cemented his status as a bona fide WWE Hall of Famer years ago. But his future on the silver screen was never as certain.
The 16-time world champion stepped away from the squared circle in 2015 to try his hand at acting and gradually transitioned into a part-time wrestling role in the process. Fast-forward over eight years later, and he’s one of the most recognizable and successful wrestlers-turned-actors ever, second only to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
His latest project, Freelance, was released in theaters last Friday and sees him play the part of a former Special Forces operator named Mason Pettis, who is tasked with protecting a journalist caught in the middle of a military coup. Alison Brie, Juan Pablo Raba and Christian Slater are also among the star-studded cast.
Its release coincides with Cena’s latest stint on SmackDown, which only came about as a result of the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. His upcoming clash with Solo Sikoa at Saturday’s Crown Jewel is expected to mark the end of his current run.
Speaking with Bleacher Report, Freelance director Pierre Morel, whose other work includes Taken and District 13, discussed what fans of Cena can expect from the film.
“It’s an action comedy that takes place in the jungle for most of it, with fantastic actors,” he said. “John Cena, who we all know and who I knew as that massive beast of a man with an amazing physique—he’s hilarious. He’s a comedian. He’s a natural-born entertainer. Unlike most movies I’ve done before—dark, intense and emotional—this one is a fun ride.”
Morel previously worked with Raba on Peppermint and thought he complemented Cena and Brie exceptionally well any time they shared the screen.
Cena’s Strengths as an Actor Explained
Cena has proved time and again that he’s far from the one-dimensional, superhero-esque persona he portrayed on WWE television for so many years.
The 46-year-old has shown more range as an actor than he did during his time on top in wrestling and continues to turn heads with his performances, with Freelance being no exception.
“How professional he is and how his timing is perfect with his sense of humor,” Morel said when asked what surprised him most about Cena. “I think it comes from his WWE years, but he has that sense of timing so things land exactly when they need to land. He has dry humor, and in real life, once we cut the camera and sometimes don’t cut the cameras, he starts ad-libbing and improvising and he’s just hilarious. He’s a fun guy.”
WWE fans have been exposed to the sillier side of Cena in recent years as he’s taken himself a lot less seriously and isn’t concerned with protecting his image. That much has been evident with some of his antics as of late on SmackDown, going so far as to simultaneously serve as the host of September’s Payback pay-per-view as well as a backstage correspondent.
He also has a tendency to get serious when needed, whether that be in terms of trash-talking or taking it to another level in the ring against an archrival.
Morel recognized this trait of Cena’s on the set of Freelance and believes it’s one of the advantages wrestlers-turned-actors bring to the table. His ability to go outside his comfort zone was mainly why he was such a perfect fit for the role of Pettis.
“I think that’s part of those few actors who come from the wrestling world: They have that capacity to somehow make fun of themselves,” Morel said. “They give a little distance. They are what they’re supposed to be: Macho, muscled-up-type guys. They know how to play with it, and John has that, too.
“He brought a lot of emotion to [Freelance],” he added. “[Mason is] that guy whose family life is completely ruined and he’s unhappy, and then we transition into that funny, cynical guy, forced to do things he didn’t want to do. Even with the slightest facial expressions, he can express so much. He brought so much. Combined with the other three, I think the magic works.”
Credit: Harry Aaron
Morel revealed that the shootout scene from the end of the movie was his favorite to film, with thousands of bullets being used for it. Cena’s experience in The Marine, 12 Rounds, Peacemaker and the Fast & Furious franchise made him a natural in that setting.
The action was the only similarity Freelance shared to other projects the Frenchman has been attached to. The comedic flare adds an all-new element that he’s excited to explore further following Freelance.
“I wanted to combine action with comedy because it’s a genre we don’t see much anymore,” Morel said. “You don’t shoot action for comedy the way you would shoot action for action. It’s a different approach. You don’t push the limits the same way. I learned a lot from doing action movies before and translating this into an action-driven thing, which is all about the comic relief in this situation.”
The film’s overarching theme of striving for something more meaningful makes it relatable for all audiences and even for Cena himself. Through wrestling and acting, he’s discovered his true purpose and managed to excel in both.
Cena calls WWE home whenever he has the chance to return, but Hollywood has become a second home of his for the better part of the past decade. Fans are fortunate that he’s willing to split his time between the two professions.
For as influential of a figure as he is and everything he’s accomplished, Cena remains in pursuit of purpose much like Morel.
“Isn’t that everyone’s struggle for life? Finding your balance and your purpose and a happy balance between your professional life and your achievements and being happy with your friends and family?” the director said. “I think that’s everybody’s journey. Until you get to that level of wisdom, you’re still trying. I’m still trying! But I’m getting there, hopefully.”
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.