With a penchant for pyrotechnics and Hollywood flash, John Hennigan (a.k.a. John Morrison during his WWE tenure) is a true American original. He’s known for dazzling audiences around the world with his lightning fast reflexes and innovative high-risk aerial maneuvers.
As a member of MNM with Joey Mercury and Melina, and later tagging with The Miz, Hennigan captured numerous WWE championships, from the World Tag Team belts to the ECW and Intercontinental titles.
Since leaving WWE a few years back, Hennigan has been traveling the world, wrestling on the independent scene while pursuing a career in acting. “The Guru of Greatness” has also developed a new revolutionary fitness program called Out of Your Mind Fitness.
Add to that, “The Shaman of Sexy” has joined the brand new wrestling promotion Lucha Underground, which debuts October 29 on El Rey Network.
That’s why SLAM! Wrestling recently caught up with “The Prince of Parkour,” who will be running seminars at Santino Marella’s Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga, Ontario, this weekend, and appearing on the Bad Dreams wrestling card at the Don Kolov Arena on October 26.
Below is part two of our interview in which Hennigan delves into action movies, storytelling, and the secret to Santino’s success.
SLAM! Wrestling: You star in the new movie Hercules Reborn, released this week on DVD in Australia. Tell us about that.
JOHN HENNIGAN: It’s the third Hercules movie to come out this year, and it’s the lowest budgeted of the three. There’s one that was maybe a $30-million movie, and then The Rock did a blockbuster, maybe $100-million, and then our movie which was way, way less than both of those. It came out about a week before The Rock’s and I was tweeting about it and tweeting pictures of me with the sword. And I saw The Rock at the gym a few weeks ago and we had a funny little Hercules moment where he goes, “Yeah, how’s your movie goin’? I saw stuff on Twitter about it, it looks like fun.” And my movie was strategically released a week before his in theatres, and we were laughing about it. I asked him if anybody ended up going to see his movie after mine was already out (laughs). So yeah, we had a good laugh about it.
SLAM! Wrestling: Did you watch a lot of action movies growing up?
JOHN HENNIGAN: Oh yeah, I used to ride my skateboard to the movie theatre in San Pedro three times a week to watch movies. I watched Rumble in the Bronx five times in the theatre when I was a kid. And before I got into pro wrestling, I was a film major at UC Davis because I wanted to make action movies. My heroes growing up were Jackie Chan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Jet Li, The Bushwhackers when I was really young, and both Van Dammes.
I’ve been a lifelong fan of two things, wrestling and movies. In college I was studying all aspects of film, acting and production and stunts. Action acting, like the stuff Jackie Chan does is tits! I wrestled in high school and in college, but didn’t consider a career in pro wrestling until I saw Tough Enough. Like I said, I’d been preparing for an action acting career, making kung fu movies with my roommates like The Foot of Death, a flick about a man with a very dangerous foot. Then there was Kung Food, a fast food restaurant where kung fu happens frequently (laughs).
SLAM! Wrestling: So you were in the midst of making kung fu films when you first discovered WWE Tough Enough?
JOHN HENNIGAN: Yeah, and I was also training in martial arts and movement based skill sets like break dancing and gymnastics. I was doing all that when I saw Tough Enough season one, and I was like dayum! Pro wrestling is the perfect combination of everything I wanted to do my whole life. I’d dreamed of being in the WWF when I was a kid, but seeing Tough Enough on MTV is what made me think of my dreams as a kid as a tangible career path.
Wrestling is entertainment, so are movies, so is theatre. So as far as what influenced me to get into acting? I like to tell stories. I like entertaining. And acting is necessary to share my stories with people.
SLAM! Wrestling: What kinds of stories tend to hook you when it comes to action movies?
JOHN HENNIGAN: I find films that deal with the question of identity interesting, especially given my career as a professional wrestler. A lot of times in wrestling, you find that the performer and the character start to overlap. I know several wrestlers that has happened to. I noticed it happening to myself at times.
Freddie Blassie wrote about the phenomenon in his book, thinking about a time before he started wrestling, and how he would just be nice and polite to everybody. And then during his career, he’d go to diners and get pissed and yell about waiters messing up his order. “These pencil neck geeks aren’t fit to shine Freddie Blassie’s boots!” he’d yell. It became a reflex, a reaction that he’d done so often in character that it was tough to let go of. It’s rare that a performer in entertainment plays the same character for decades, the way some wrestling personalities do. So it’s an interesting thing to think about if you play a character over a long period of time and then notice what it does to your identity.
SLAM! Wrestling: Are you exploring those themes in your current film project, Boone the Bounty Hunter?
JOHN HENNIGAN: I am. I explored that concept while writing Boone. But more than just a meta exploration of identity, Boone is exactly the kind of movie I would have loved when I was 14 years old. It’s a bad ass action comedy — Rumble in the Bronx meets Big Trouble in Little China meets The Three Amigos. A powerful trifecta.
But specifically, Boone the Bounty Hunter is a narcissistic reality show bounty hunter who does parkour to catch his bounties. What Boone wants more than anything is to be a real hero. And when his show’s ratings start to fail, he realizes that the problem is he’s “Booning,” a.k.a., he’s arresting celebrities and it’s too easy. So he decides to take a real case, a real challenge, and when he does the case turns out to be bigger and bigger and bigger until Boone and his reality show are up against a real drug cartel.
We shot last month in and around Los Angeles, and the production value is ridonkulous! The action is off the chain and it has amazing talent: Rampage Jackson, Spencer Grammar, Kevin Sorbo, Lorenzo Lamas, Dominique Swain, Jonathon Lipnicki, Osric Chau, Richard Tyson, Leslie Fera and then some. Everyone involved killed it.
SLAM! Wrestling: Whether it’s Boone the Bounty Hunter, Hercules, or The Foot of Death, what makes a good fight scene?
JOHN HENNIGAN: A good fight scene should tell a story. If you look at a movie like Enter the Dragon, yes, Bruce Lee is an icon and the film is action packed, but it tells an incredible story too. Everything goes back to storytelling. Every form of entertainment from film and television to theatre and books. Even good songs can bring on emotions and make you think about your life and how you relate to the lyrics and the tone and the melodies you’re hearing. So a good fight should tell a story, and it could be a simple story or a complicated story. That’s what interests me about movies and putting together a great fight scene, specifically.
SLAM! Wrestling: What do you think of the pace of storytelling on WWE programming these days?
JOHN HENNIGAN: I think with someone like Rusev right now, they’ve got it right in the way it’s a nice slow build, defeating one opponent after another as they get bigger and bigger.
But I think for a while there, that approach to storytelling was kind of lost as it felt like WWE was scrambling every week, trying to figure out what they were going to do on TV. So they would give somebody a slow build but then two or three weeks into the slow build they would change the plan. So stuff never came to fruition, which I thought was frustrating for me as a performer, for sure, and I think our viewers as well, not seeing all the storylines through. Because there’s no payoff and then slowly you stop to care about it and it doesn’t feel good. It’s like you’ve invested all this time in something that never finds closure.
SLAM! Wrestling: Congratulations on carving out such a successful career for yourself in wrestling and film-making on your own terms, post-WWE. It must feel very empowering.
JOHN HENNIGAN: It does feel awesome. It’s like all the pieces of the puzzle of my life sort of fitting together at this point to make this big picture, that I’ve been working on all these years. It really feels that way. I feel like I’m really lucky. I just followed things that I was passionate about and I never thought about necessarily being rich or famous for the sake of money or fame. I just wanted to be the best that I could be at pro wrestling, or the best actor I could be, or the best stunt fighter. So pursuing stuff that you’re really interested in, for me has worked out really well. Because the stuff you’re passionate about, you dedicate yourself to it. So for me it’s been pretty rad.
(Long pause) It’s tough because a lot of times when WWE trains you, I mean, not purposefully, but while they’re training you to operate like a bad ass, they’re also creating a little bit of a mindless drone. If you think about it, working for WWE, you’re not sleeping much, you’re constantly sore and you’re pouring your heart into four or five matches a week. And when you’re home you’re doing laundry, you’re paying bills, you’re trying to keep up your personal relationships and stuff just starts slipping through the cracks. And if you don’t have a solid understanding and grasp of who you are outside of wrestling, a lot of times you start to lose that part of yourself. Then when you stop wrestling, you’re left with nothing.
The crazy thing about wrestling is, it’s so short lived often times that the end happens when you’re not expecting it. Because if you’re working for a corporation, presumably building skills or working in management or data analysis or something, you could perceivably do that job for 10, 20, 30, or even 50 years. But in wrestling, the pounding you take physically isn’t something that’s sustainable for that long and a lot of times you’re left unable to do the stuff that you love the most, which is perform.
It’s got to be about the journey. Santino [Marella] gets that.
SLAM! Wrestling: In WWE, you traveled around the world with Santino Marella. Let’s bring this chat full circle and tell us a bit more about your friend Santino.
JOHN HENNIGAN: Santino is one of my favourite guys ever to travel with. Every time we were on a European tour or sitting on a bus, he’d be one of the dudes telling funny stories and making everyone laugh. He could be singing songs or talking about growing up and competing in judo tournaments, or telling us about fighting guys as a kid. Everyone would be telling awesome stories and laughing and having a good time, and Santino would be right in the middle of it with his tremendous spirit. Like I said, he appreciates the journey, I believe.
He has a lot of interests in life. And it was so cool and inspiring to see him set his mind to succeeding in the WWE, especially since he started later than most people start. And I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but he was told, “No,” by a lot of people, definitely. People who didn’t think he would succeed. And then he became one of the biggest stars of modern times who was constantly over with the fans. I’m talking everywhere he went, it didn’t matter where the show was, the people absolutely loved him.
He’s one of my favourite people to watch. And he just figured it out. Knowing that, I can’t tell you how cool it is to be able to check out his Battle Arts Academy this weekend, which is something he’s so passionate about.