thumb wrestling
Courtesy WTF

John Hennigan Talks Film & Thumb Wrestling!

Thumb wrestlingAdmit it — you thumb wrestle. We all have thumb wrestled at one time or another, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on WTF, a mockumentary on thumb wrestling that co-starred John Hennigan, who wrestling fans might know as John Morrison, Johnny Mundo, Johnny Impact and Johnny Nitro.

WTF: World Thumbwrestling Federation was directed by Enrico Natale and produced by Los Angeles’ MORE Productions. It’s a funny, yet absurd, story that follows a group of competitive thumb wrestlers who take the sport way too seriously. A documentary crew follows the Brussel brothers to the annual thumb wrestling tournament, the “Thumble Rumble”, and their goal to defeat the hated Mr. Venom, revitalize the thumb wrestling sport, and to restore their father’s legacy.

They know it won’t be an easy task, but with the combination of the brothers’ enthusiasm, drive, and their “secret weapon”, they hope for victory and to bring justice to the thumb wrestling world.

I had the chance to talk to John about his role in the movie and what else he’s up to right now.

Did you ever thumb wrestle when you were a kid?
I feel like everyone thumb wrestled when they were a kid. I loved wrestling…actually I’ve wrestled and thumb wrestled my sisters. They’re both little sisters and I usually beat them at both.

You play Sergeant America in WTF: World Thumbwrestling Federation. What made you want to be in this movie?
It was pretty hard to say no to a role named Sergeant America. I’ve done two other projects with Enrico Natale and that’s probably why it turned out good because it’s so much fun making movies. I helped produce the movie too.

You studied film at the University of California but went into wrestling. How did you get the acting bug back?
Entertainment is entertainment, whether it’s wrestling or movies, TV, theater, all of it really, boils down to emotion and storytelling. I wrote a bunch of short action movies when I was in college; wrote, produced, directed and edited a feature in college that was terrible that I could never show anyone, it was so bad.

Then wrestling happened and my career took off like a rocket. The storytelling canvas happens to be a wrestling ring. In a short film or film, you have less limitations as far as where you want to have your story go — ultimately it boils down to that one word, emotion.

Do you take acting lessons?
I took acting all through college and, when I was still with WWE, I started taking at least a class every other week while on the road, because your schedule is so hectic. Acting is like an art like wrestling is. You’re never perfect at it, you just kind of evolve over time.

John Cena, The Rock and Dave Bautista have all moved from wrestling to acting even though Cena still does a little bit of both. What have you learned from watching what they’re doing? Do you want to get your career to their level?
Level is a tricky word because what I really want is to make art and I don’t feel like I’m aspiring to make $100 million or $200 million. Although, I certainly wouldn’t say no to that. It’s the most interesting to me to be able to write action and star in one or two movies a year. I like the budget range of $2 million because it feels like, where I’m at right now when you start getting up into the bigger budget ranges, the action and design become more about wire work and CGI and guns and lasers and superheroes. I like the Jackie Chan-realistic action.

It looked like you had so much fun making Boon the Bounty Hunter? Was that the most demanding project you’ve ever worked on in terms of time and your skill level?
Without a doubt.

It took me about five years to write it, get it made and then finish it; because you’re responsible for everything, and if you’re asking for favors, and you’re shooting with a low budget, you have to be the driving force. For Boon, I wanted to make a movie about Parkour and just wanted to use the simple concept of doing a movie about parkour (a military training) with a guy who used it to get, instead of using it to get away, used it to chase people. So I started there, and then made it into kind of like this man-child, goofy, naïve, yet over-confident realty star bounty hunter. I feel like that kind of character comedically and dramatically, is something that I thought would be fun to do. The movie is out now, it’s available on DVD. It just came out recently on DVD on Amazon, at Dollar General and Walmart. You can see it on BRB, on iTunes and Amazon in the US and Canada.

You have this happy, balanced film and wrestling career. Will you continue this way or eventually give up the ring?
Change is inevitable. There’s nothing as cool as wrestling, just because it’s this unique form of performance art with your energy, plus your opponent’s energy or tag team partner and tag team opponent’s energy, and the referee, and the energy of the crowd. It creates this electricity in the air that I really haven’t found a replacement for. You know immediately if you had a good match because the people respond to it. You can hear their responses in the moment.

That being said, I know I can’t wrestle forever. I take really good care of myself. I train every day. I do functional training, started even doing DDP yoga for the injury prevention, balance stability, coordination so that I can continue to wrestle for as long as possible, but I can’t wrestle forever.

Film is awesome because the possibilities are endless, especially when you look at it from the standpoint of a creator. You can write pretty much anywhere, anytime and it doesn’t cost anything to write a script. So, if you have an idea, you can put it on paper and share it, and that in and of itself is rewarding.

Who were you watching as a kid that turned you on to this whole process?
Jackie Chan. Everything he does is real. A lot of his action was shot in wide so you can see things unfold and the storytelling with the acting scenes is more than just physical comedy. He usually puts his story forward so you don’t just have a fight for no reason. That’s part of what always attracted me to filmmaking and all the Jackie Chan movies, Rumble in the Bronx especially, The Young Master, Super Cop, Police story … on and on and on. Movies like Bloodsport, Big Trouble Little China, a lot of the Stallone stuff, Rocky, Rambo, Schwarzenegger movies, Terminator, and Predator.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given career-wise?
Believe in yourself. Because if you don’t, nobody else is. That’s from my dad. Two, this is from Matt Cappotelli, who said this to me when we were on Tough Enough; “Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, but the things you can control, make sure you’re kicking ass in those departments.”

Do you still watch WWE?
I watch it when I can. I watch the big Pay-Per-Views. What is there like 10 hours of WWE programming made every week? And now I’m on Impact on Thursdays. I’m on Lucha Underground on Wednesdays. That’s another hour but come on, nobody’s got time to watch hours of wrestling every week.

I’m excited about Lucha Underground Season Four. I’m really excited about Impact. I’ve got a really cool digital series coming out called Ninjak VS the Valiant Universe. I play the Eternal Warrior, which is the character for Valiant Comics. It’s gonna be a really cool series.

Thanks John!  Hey fans, make sure you watch the thumb wrestling mockumentary WTF.



About Lisa Iannucci

Lisa Iannucci has been interviewing professional athletes and Olympians, sports writers and film/tv personalities for more than a decade. Her book, A Film & TV Lover's Travel Guide is now available:

About Lisa Iannucci

Lisa Iannucci has been interviewing professional athletes and Olympians, sports writers and film/tv personalities for more than a decade. Her book, A Film & TV Lover's Travel Guide is now available:

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