Before asking Chris Jericho to talk about his upcoming stage performance in Opening Night, his various other projects on the go, and his feeling that he is really starting over in the acting in the acting business despite his years in the ring, Slam Wrestling felt compelled to ask Chris to weigh in on a far more timely issue.
“It was awesome,” he said of the Edmonton Oilers’ series win over the San Jose Sharks in the NHL playoffs. “My cousin was down at my house in Florida from Edmonton the last week so we got to watch the first four games together. It was like being up in Canada again.” As the son of former NHLer Ted Irvine, Jericho is no doubt further over the moon with the Oilers inching closer to the Stanley Cup finals.
Of course, Jericho will be up in Canada again before too long. In June he will be rehearsing for his leading role in Canadian playwright Norm Foster’s comedy Opening Night. Obviously, live performance has become something of a specialty for the famed wrestler, but playing a 40-year-old varnish salesman is a little different than strutting his stuff as ‘Y2J’.
The goal to establish himself on the stage is not one that Jericho is taking lightly, nor has he entered into it without preparations. “I thought it would be a great way to expand my acting and I thought it would be great thing to get under my belt,” he says of the opportunity, “I was studying acting for about a year before I left the WWE. I want to be an actor because I want to be an actor. I don’t care about a million dollar grossing movie.”
Not to say that he would turn down a role in a million dollar grossing movie, either, but Jericho is trying to avoid to natural comparison people will make between his career choices and those of The Rock. “He’s just one of those guys who was in the right place at the right time, probably a little bit lucky, and took advantage of the chances he was given,” Jericho explains, without a trace of competitive envy regarding his former in-ring co-worker.
It’s not to say that Jericho doesn’t have the drive to reach the top of the mountain in the acting business just as he did in the wrestling business as the first undisputed World Heavyweight Champion of the WWE — he just has his goals set within arm’s reach for now. “I always considered myself to be a Roddy Piper of the new generation, and acting-wise I think it’s a good comparison too. He had some great parts in big movies, but he wasn’t like the biggest star in the world, like Rocky is now. I think you have to set your goal to something a little more attainable.”
Still, the jump from being a top-draw performer in the ring to a top-draw performer on the screen or stage should be natural, if not easy. Not so, considering there’s still a stigma attached to being a wrestler, or being a wrestling fan for that matter. “A lot of Hollywood producers don’t care about wrestling, but it doesn’t make sense because wrestling is show business boot camp — you learn a little bit of everything,” Jericho explains, with a certain resigned disappointment in his voice. “There’s a certain mindset in Hollywood that wrestling fans are bumpkins, rednecks and farmers. I think it’s because movies like Ready to Rumble portray wrestlers and wrestling fans as idiots. You almost have to deny your wrestling past in order to embrace it when you finally get your chance. It’s not that I’d ever turn by back on wrestling but sometimes, especially out here, you have to promote yourself that way because when they see ‘wrestler’ they don’t care. I don’t think it will ever change.”
Knowing the rules of the game has allowed Jericho to spread his talents and his notoriety throughout a widespread variety of genres and media outlets. Hours after he spoke to Slam Wrestling, Jericho was onstage in Los Angeles with an improv group called The Groundlings. He has performed with them in the past and has an open invitation to step up on stage with the comedy troupe whenever he’s in town. “I’m doing the same show that Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman and Lisa Kudrow did,” he says, clearly excited to be able to put himself in a grouping with those comedians. For him, it’s a chance to be recognized as Chris Jericho the comedian, not as a wrestler trying his hand at comedy for a lark.
He’s also known for his XM Radio show The Rock of Jericho, and producing it hardly feels like work at all. “It’s just another venue for me to entertain people,” Jericho explains, “It has nothing to do with wrestling, nothing to do with acting, it’s just about Chris Jericho and the music that I play.”
Add to this his appearances on various VH1 shows that prompts Jericho to say that a lot of people know him simply as “The VH1 Guy”, and he clearly takes pride in knowing he can reach people beyond his considerable fan base built up from his wrestling exploits. “I went to see Julia Roberts do Three Days of Rain on Broadway a couple of months ago, and to me it was hard to imagine her as anybody but Julia Roberts on stage reciting lines,” he confesses. “My challenge is that I want to do a part where people will know it’s Chris Jericho but forget that it’s Chris Jericho.”
In that way, with Opening Night, Chris hopes to further cement himself as a performer that doesn’t gain attention simply by virtue of his past accomplishments. He approached his stage acting in with the same attention to preparation as when he started wrestling, and considers taking acting classes as his full-time occupation these days.
He has worked with highly regarded acting coaches Kirk Baltz (most famous for his role as the tortured cop in Reservoir Dogs) and John Kirby, and has been working in the pseudo psycho-analytical therapy vein of method acting where the focus is on emotionally relating and attaching oneself to the character, rather than simply playing the part outside of your own personality. In short, Jericho realizes that serious goals require serious commitment, and says that he’s enjoying the work as much as anything he’s ever done, “To nail something in front of ten people in class is just as exciting and just as rewarding as having a great match in front of 10,000 people to me at this point.”