Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, as the Gershwin tune goes. These are definitely carefree days for the Young Rock team as they’ve completed two seasons to great acclaim and are headed into their third season starting in November.
Just like Dwayne Johnson, of course, SlamWrestling.net never rests as we cover the show. For an appetizer while waiting for the main course in November, we spoke again with the show’s resident Macho Man, Kevin Makely, to hear about performing in an expanded role in season two, how he approaches Randy Savage as a character, and why he stopped production cold one day until he got what he wanted.
Looking back to learning that the show was going to be extended to a third season, Makely notes that he, like many of the cast and crew, hear that news along with the general audience – and he was pumped about getting pumped again.
“We heard rumblings (about being renewed again), but we pretty much find out when everybody else finds out,” Makely begins. “You learn in this business that you don’t get your hopes up until the cheque clears. I used to say until the ink dries, but that’s old school. And even when the cheque clears you don’t know if you made it to the final cut, so you never really know until you see it.”
“When I got the call for season one, I had about six weeks to be in Randy Savage shape,” he recalls. “I generally stay in pretty good shape, I’ve been lifting weights since I was 14. Got the word for season two, and I got in a lot better shape. I had a little bit more time.”
As he began getting back into Savage shape, of course, out came the voice and the mannerisms again, prompting his wife to ask, “Am I going to have to live with Randy Savage for the next two months?”
Makely’s response: “Yes, totally.”
Just a reminder for context, in case you missed our SlamWrestling.net interview with Makely during the first season (don’t worry, you can catch up here): Kevin Makely is a bonafide Randy Savage superfan.
“I grew up in Poughkeepsie, NY, where Randy had his first WWF match,” he recalls excitedly. “The Mid-Hudson Civic Centre was the biggest place between Manhattan and Albany – it was a major hub. They did a lot of the WWF TV taping at the Civic Centre, and I met Macho Man and Vince McMahon at a diner one time.”
“I’m living the dream,” he continues. “There are two dreams here. One is I’m a working actor. Only one percent of everybody that’s going for it can sustain themselves as actor. And I’m playing my childhood idol, so I’m living a double dream.”
As Makely returned to the character for the second go-around, he wanted to explore portraying Savage beyond the in-ring work and promo-style dialogue. Not that he didn’t still love doing that, mind you – he just knew that there was more to bring to the screen.
“As far as the character, I definitely wanted to work on more of what his personality was,” he explains. “I call him a character because it’s a version of Randy Savage. I’m not him and I’m not trying to do my impersonation of him – I’m not trying to bring a caricature.”
Part of the expansion of Makely’s role in season two was putting Savage into more situations completely outside of wrestling to imagine see how the eccentric character would react.
“We turned him into a bit of comedic relief, without disrespecting Randy at all,” Makely offers, recalling a specific side story from the tenth episode of season two. “He’s like the Kramer of the show, right? How do you exist in that character and not be funny? Opening up Sears and being so infatuated with the department store that has tools, books, camping supplies, and food, like this is blowing (Savage’s) mind. I guess the rule of thumb for season two is they trusted me enough with the character to give me all of these different aspects.”
“I would go as far as to say they took the leash off. It was a blast.”
Even with those expanded comedic opportunities, and more serious moments that show Savage being a source of friendly advice to Rocky Johnson (played by Joseph Lee Anderson), Makely knows full well that he’s primarily there to bring the Macho Man to life in the ring. While his first season’s experience was about learning the basics of wrestling under the watchful eye of stunt coordinator Chavo Guerrero, Jr., and culminating with delivering a top-rope elbow, season two now had the pressure and challenge of finding new ways to work in the ring.
“Chavo has 100 percent control,” Makely acknowledges. “He takes all of your notes and suggestions and tries to stick to the script. We can change it on the fly, with his trust and camaraderie. He’s a true wrestling professional.”
This kind of give-and-take approach to laying out the matches for the show allowed for Makely to confidently chime in when he thought the spots could be shaken up a bit. “I think last year I got thrown over the ropes like four times,” he recalls, prompting him to suggest some different moves the second time around. “Not everybody is paying attention to that bit of detail, but I am as an actor.”
There was another match in which Makely felt very strongly about the booking, especially as this match introduced Miss Elizabeth (played by Sarah Gattellari) into the mix – and that changes everything according to Makely.
“Elizabeth is on top of a lifeguard tower, and whoever climbs a ladder gets the mistletoe and gets to kiss Miss Elizabeth, that’s the schtick,” Makely details, in reference to a match that aired in the between-seasons episode “A Christmas Peril”. “I said to Chavo: ‘You know this would never happen.’ Schtick or no schtick, they would have to kill Macho Man before somebody got the mistletoe and got to Elizabeth. So everybody takes a turn on me. André (Matt Willig) smashes me to the ground. As I’m getting to my feet, Rocky Johnson picks me up and bodyslams me. I start climbing up the ladder and André rips me down. Sika (Fasitua Amosa) suplexes me. They’re beating the crap out of me the entire time so I don’t have a chance.”
Offering input on the matches was naturally easier to put out there with season one under his belt and a comfort and familiarity with the other actors in the ring. While there were new wrestlers joining the cast, most everyone that Makely worked with the first time around were back and their bond was as strong as ever when they reconvened in Australia to undergo a similar quarantine experience as the previous year.
“You do a TV show, and you never know what you’re going to get,” he explains. “I’ve done a bunch of guest star stuff, and you go on set and the cast is usually established, and lot of times there’s a hierarchy. This show isn’t like that. From the producers and creators of the show down to an extra that didn’t have any lines and is clapping in the audience – we all had to go through this thing together so it kind of changed the dynamic. We became very close.”
“The chemistry behind the scenes is like nothing I’ve experienced in my whole life.”
This doesn’t mean, Makely is quick to explain, that the newcomers had a hard time fitting in. They did, however, have to quickly acclimate themselves to the work ethic that had been established.
“A lot of the people that get cast are real wrestlers and they’re just impressive, and they’re all fanboys too so they’re happy to be there,” Makely says. “You take your lumps and you don’t complain. You do the work and you make everybody feel safe. It’s very testosterone-driven – it’s a bunch of guys trying to be the coolest guy in there. But it’s not about you looking good, it’s about you making your opponent look good, right? That’s what wrestling is all about.”
“I’m the one getting suplexed, but it’s more nerve-wracking for the actor that’s suplexing me.”
The pride in performance exuded by Makely for both himself and his fellow actors and wrestlers is palpable over the phone, and he credits everyone’s commitment to giving their all for roles and moments big and small.
“I’m also a producer, and I produce independent movies,” Makely offers. “The way that we approach independent filmmaking is that I don’t care what I’m acting in, I treat them all the same. The same integrity, the same work ethic. I don’t care if I’m playing Macho Man in NBC’s biggest comedy, or if I’m playing Cop #2 in my buddy’s movie that I’m getting paid 20 bucks to do. Same thing for these guys. It doesn’t matter if they’re in Madison Square Garden or in a bar in Queensland. These guys bring it.”
The final piece of the puzzle for Makely’s dream of bringing Macho Man to the screen arrived in the aforementioned form of Sarah Gattellari’s Miss Elizabeth. Knowing his deep-rooted appreciation for all things Randy Savage, it’s no surprise that his fanboy fever reached “madness” level.
“It was a dream to me, I get emotional thinking about it,” Makely offers. “For me, when I was a kid, it was always Macho Man and Elizabeth. I know the Dark Side of the Ring and the bad stuff, but none of that played when I was a kid. Macho Man and Elizabeth is like the love story of the century.”
“We do the Brawl-B-Q episode (episode nine of the second season), and I’m like, ‘You gotta hold the ring ropes open for me,’” Makely recalls, giving cues to Gattellari. “I’m going to lean over and you gotta give me a kiss. Every chance I got, if she was there I got her to stand by me.”
All the while, as he sought to recreate the classic dynamic of Savage and Elizabeth from the late ’80s, there was one particular moment that Makely was committed to recreating – not for the show, but for himself, and it was this:
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“As soon as I knew Elizabeth was going to be in (this season), all I could think was: I need to get that shot,” Makely explains, giddy as recalls the quest for the picture. “I’m literally chasing that shot the whole time, and you can only get it sweaty in the ring. When we shot the Brawl-B-Q, it was such a busy day – it’s the last time I’m in the ring as Savage with Elizabeth there. They’re ushering me out of the ring, and I literally shut down production. I said ‘I’m not leaving this ring until I get that shot’. I wish I’d had the photo on me to recreate it exactly, but this was from memory and it’s pretty close.”
“(Sarah) was cool to do it,” Makely continues. “I think Chavo was taking the picture, then the whole place started erupting in photos. Out of all of it, first season, second season — that’s the highlight for me right there.”
While Young Rock is a prime focus for Makely, he has plenty on the go through his company Papa Octopus Productions. “I’m working on a slate of horror films,” he says. “Papa Octopus just acquired a bunch of horror comics, and I have a fantastic book that’s being developed into a script called Don’t Mess with Travis by Bob Smiley.”
And, of course, stay tuned to SlamWrestling.net for episode reviews and more interviews with the cast and crew.
- Slam Wrestling’s Young Rock Story & Interview archive
- March 2, 2021: Kevin Makely has a savagely good time portraying Macho Man in ‘Young Rock’
- Kevin Makely’s Papa Octopus official website