Imagine for a moment, during the 1950s and Hollywood is bigger than its ever been, that as a way to pull audiences in even more, studios suddenly started to hire boxers like Muhammad Ali in starring roles.
Any film like that would have been laughed off screen long before opening night. So why do we tolerate nowadays?
Since the late 1980s, Hollywood has certainly been hiring many wrestlers and martial artists for leading roles in their films. One of the first instances I can think of is Roddy Piper taking the star role in John Carpenter’s 1988 film “They Live.” This would eventually lead to acting careers for people like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and many others.
Most of this came about when filmmakers realized that professional wrestling was, shock-of-all-shocks, fake. The fights were scripted and pre-planned far in advance, with most wrestlers having to memorize lines for speeches and pretending to have actual emotions and feelings towards other wrestlers.
To Hollywood, this screamed that wrestlers had acting potential. If they could pretend to fight in the ring, then why couldn’t they pretend to fight on camera?
Here’s the thing: While a good wrestler might be great at reading lines, that does not make them actors. A wrestlers job is to put on a good show; to entertain the audience while they are on stage and to contribute to the atmosphere of wrestling.
The job of an actor is far different. An actor should not just entertain or please the crowd, but convince the audience that this is an actual person, with flaws, needs, wants, strengths and a past that we should care about. They are not just putting on a persona, like a wrestler, but stepping into the shoes of another life.
Something like that is tricky to pull off and even more difficult to make the audience care and relate to this person. The sign of a great actor is when you believe you are no longer watching someone pretend to be another person, but that this is the other person. Tom Hanks does a wonderful job of this in many of his roles, including “Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Saving Private Ryan.”
While I don’t expect a wrestler to ever reach the level of acting of Tom Hanks, I do expect a certain level of quality acting when I watch any movie. I’ve yet to see any former wrestler give a decent performance in any movie.
In the case of any performance by Dwayne Johnson, his acting is stilted, unnatural and often comes across like he’s filming a commercial instead of a movie, with him playing towards the camera as if he’s trying to break the fourth wall. Other wrestlers, like Hulk Hogan or Roddy Piper, just give cringeworthy pieces of dialogue that either make me squirm or laugh at the movie instead of with it.
The only times I remember wrestlers being halfway decent actors is when they’re playing wrestlers, like Randy “Macho Man” Savage playing Bonesaw in the first “Spider-Man” movie. His exaggerated facial expressions match with an over-the-top performance to give us a fun little scene. It only lasts a few minutes but it is a hilarious few minutes.
Outside of those types of roles, I do not think wrestlers should ever be used as actors. Performing to a crowd and performing for a camera are two very different things. If someone is able to pull both of those off, that is outstanding. I’ve yet to see a wrestler make the transition to cinema and make it work.
Unless they have a history of acting classes, they should just stay in the ring.