Step aside John Cena and make some room Dwayne Johnson. WWE Superstar Dolph Ziggler is the latest professional wrestler to headline in a movie, starring in Countdown (Lionsgate/WWE Studios), which was just released on Blueray and DVD. The good-looking athlete uses his acting chops to portray Ray, a wayward cop haunted by the loss of his son who defies his captain and takes matters into his own hands when a young boy is kidnapped by a madman. Now, he is in a desperate race against time to save an innocent child.
“When they presented it to me they told me the idea of the movie and that it’s a down-and-out, going-through-some-hard-times cop,” says Ziggler. “Whether that’s actually part of me or not, there are a lot of similarities in the character and myself. I immediately said yes, this will be a fun project.”
In the ring, Ziggler has portrayed both heel and face characters, which fans may not realize is an acting gig in itself and helped Ziggler add some depth to the character. “I’ve been a bad guy before and I’ve also been a reluctant good guy, which is much closer to the character in this movie,” he says. “It’s a guy who goes above and beyond to get things done. I’ve always wanted more and I’m always willing to push the limit and sometimes you get in trouble as long as it’s something you believe in and you want to get accomplished. That was very similar to this role.”
Ziggler, who also a standup comedian, took acting lessons before and decided to return to hone his craft for this more serious role.
“Of course, anything I do I want to be the best,” he says. “I know that’s not easy to do, even in wrestling, but I told them that if they thought I could do it then I’m going to go 24 hours a day until we do it. I was going to make this just like any match that I have where everything I have will go into the character.”
Filming for the movie — which also stars Kane, another WWE wrestler, and Katherine Isabelle – actually took place during live WWE events in Vancouver. “I had a chance to go through the crowd in money drop scenes, but it was all filmed during a WWE live event,” he explains. “The fans were filing in the doors and there was filming in-between matches, it was really cool. For them to play the role in this movie plus all the WWE superstars making cameos makes it an extra fun, never-been-done before WWE movie.”
Although this has been his biggest role to date, Ziggler did have a cameo in the movie Me, Him, Her, which was written and directed by Max Landis, who is best known for writing Chronicle, American Ultra, and Victor Frankenstein.
“It was also cool to be around someone, even when I wasn’t filming, who has been around the movie process for years and see how his mind works and why he did certain things,” says Ziggler. “Watching other people who are great at their craft is the best way to improve yourself.”
The 35-year-old wants to sink his teeth into a few more roles. “Maybe a slightly different role, or something in comedy which I lean toward, but when it comes to WWE there’s a lot of drama involved every single day on our show with how you get hurt and how you react,” he says. “It’s fun to show everybody how well rounded you are as a character, an actor, and someone who lives their life to be the best as an entertainer.”
Ziggler isn’t the first WWE wrestler to take on movie roles. Cena and The Rock have appeared in multiple big screen movies and Ziggler says he’s had a chance to pick their brains on occasion. “A lot of times John and I, when it comes to wrestling or sports entertainment, don’t always see eye to eye, but it’s also great to have someone whose been through that attitude era and we get to talk about his movies and getting better at wrestling,” he says. “It’s very motivational because it’s all positive and they’ve been through it all. Those guys going through it is only good for all of us and just gives us a chance to get our foot in the door.”
Looking back, Ziggler has always loved movies, especially Beetlejuice, which starred Michael Keaton, and Fletch, a 1985 flick starring Chevy Chase. Fletch goes undercover as a homeless man when a businessman offers Fletch $50K to kill him.
“Fletch is still one of my favorite movies now,” says . “I’m a big reader so I found the 1970s detective series Fletch (by Gregory Mcdonald) and it’s really good. I can relate in a lot of situations to Chevy Chase being in those situations and always having a quick comeback or being quick at a drop of a hat and always being one step ahead of people. Anything that’s smart and funny and makes you think is so attractive to me. I enjoy watching it and I’ll research stuff instead of watching something that I think is dumb.”
It’s been 12 years since Ziggler’s debut in WWE, especially since his cheerleader persona in the “Spirit Squad.” Since then, he has carved a nice career for himself, which has also included winning the WWE heavyweight championship belt.
“When you come into a business and hope that you can get any chance that there is to make it to the main roster and then you make it to the main roster as either a golf caddy or a cheerleader, it’s is a little disheartening,” he says. “You know the hard work that went in, you know the 20 years of collegiate experience that you have of breaking records. You can show up like The Shield for two years and beat everybody up, talk about how great you are every single night and then the world knows you as the guys who win all the time and who are great at talking. You can come on as me, whether you’re a cheerleader or a caddy, and you get beat up all the time and lose every single night and you have to overcome that to be taken as a credible threat on our show.
“But it also drove me for years. It made me become that much better. Now I don’t need to be motivated, I already am motivated.”
Follow Dolph Ziggler on Twitter at @HEELZiggler