There Is More to John Cena Than His (Beautiful) Muscles

The joke is that John Cena cries.

I mean, yes, that is the running joke in Blockers, which aims to subvert the wrestling stars image by casting him as an overly emotional dad. But its also the reality. John Cena cries. Hes a manthe manliest among us, reallyand if theres one thing he wants known, its that men are complicated. They contain multitudes. They cry, just like John Cena.

Its actually the first thing we see him do in Blockers, the R-rated comedy out this week about a trio of teenage girls pact to lose their respective virginities on prom night, and their parents attempts to foil the plan. He plays Mitchell, an emotionally brittle dad who cries in that first scene, a flashback to his daughters first day of school, then again when she walks down the stairs on prom night, and again when they bond over how shes matured into such a bright young woman near the end of the film.

Mitchell is an amplification of the type Cena played in Amy Schumers Trainwreck, a man so earnest and woke to his emotions that hes not even able to engage in dirty talk during intercourse. I think he cries in that movie, too.

In addition to his burgeoning acting career, John Cena is one of the biggest wrestling stars on the WWE circuit, and has been for over a decade. So when Cena, a 250-pound monolith of bulging muscle and bulging veins cries, we know what the joke is supposed to be. Were meant to find it unnatural or nonsensical, like Axe body spray with a lavender scent, or Fireball served as a spritzer.

Right now in culture as a whole, everyone is kind of screaming at the top of their lungs that you what you see doesnt define them, he says. As a 250-pound man, its OK for me to have feelings, to have emotions. I dont have to brush everything off like I have granite shoulders.

Thats the thing, though. Those shoulders. Theyre like two chaise lounges, broad enough for you to recline on. That body, the one thats made him a 13-time WWE Champion, the one built for throwing other 250-pound men around a ring for sport, is on full display in Blockers, first in a riotous scene in which hes convinced to bend over and try butt-chugging while at a high school party, and another in which hes stumbling around naked and blindfolded during sex play with his wife.

Theres the body, and theres the voice, a bass that practically shakes my desk while we talk on the phone about his career and the surprisingly nuanced and timely message of Blockers, a film about antiquated gender dismissal, sexual agency, and consent that is perfectly timed to our Times Up cultural moment. Cena talks about all of that, passionately, eloquently, and is, generally speaking, disarmingly warm and upbeat while we speak.

It was a long commute to the office today, but a good one! he practically chirps, in so much as his deep voice can, as he recounts flying from Atlanta, where he filmed WWEs Monday Night Raw, to Los Angeles for the Blockers premiere the night before. Hes excited to talk about it all, he says. Maybe now people will stop seeing him as John Cena, and start seeing him as John Cena. Just a guy. A guy who cries.

Just because of what I do in the WWE, I walk into a press conference or interview and I cant tell you how many times Ive been challenged to a fight, or someones said, Therell be no cage match today, talking me down from being violent, he says.

In real life, hes kind of a gush. He gushes over his fiance, fellow WWE star Nikki Bella, whom he asked to marry him a year ago this week and she said yes and instantly made me a better man, he says. He recently watched the Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour on a plane and wept the entire way through. Hes not sure why. He just did.

Theres something comforting about talking to Cena, who, by the way, is very good in Blockers, holding his own against Leslie Mann and Ike Barinholtz, no small feat in a R-rated comedy. Hes not exactly a laugh riot, but hes breezy and surprisingly easy to talk to. He calls me brother, and each time he does I get closer to signing up for CrossFit. Thats the thing about John Cena, and what our assumptions about him represent.

Hes not meant to be cool or a badass. Even in Blockers, hes mocked for dressingshort-sleeved button-up tucked in to khaki shortslike a youth minister. But he is meant to be aspirational of a certain kind of manliness: a gentle, dignified one. Hes clean cut and clean shaven, an all-American guyalbeit one who could send you dancing with the angels with one spring-loaded punch from his wrecking-ball sized fist. Hes the kind of man who is selected to host a television series called American Grit because that is exactly what he is.

And hes careful about how he uses that image.

On WWE, he says, hes always set himself apart from the other wrestlers, who trade in machismo and ego, blaming losses on the other guy cheating, demanding rematches, being sore losers. Im one of the few superstars, if not the only one, who time after time went out there and addressed the crowd saying, I gave it my all. My all wasnt the best. I was beaten by a better performer, but Ill get back up, do it again, and keep going.

Thats the John Cena effect. Hes empowering. It's not that thing where you leave a conversation with him psyched up to destroy things, the way it is with other macho stars. But it's a thing where you leave ready to be your better self. No, not your better self. Your actual self, because that's pretty good already. John Cena thinks so.

In many respects, its kind of important that Cena, for all the assumptions you have about him and his masculinity, is in Blockers, a film from a female director, Kay Cannon (as he is the first to champion), that raises distinctly important conversations about our attitudes towards women and sex.

I dont think the point needs to be made with young women, Cena says. They know whats going on. I think the people who need a little bit of an education are the blockheads like me.

Cena grew up in Massachusetts as one of six boys, eventually going to high school at a private prep boarding school. (He missed his prom, he says, in order to pick up an extra shift at his on-campus job.)

As a young man growing up, as far as sexual awareness, maybe in a wrong sort of sense, I sort of hit that curve at a very early age and became comfortable with it, he says. I think if you discussed more deeply love and commitment and that sort of thing, it took me until much later in life to realize the value of a relationship and the value of someone you care fors company and commitment.

As a 250-pound man, its OK for me to have feelings, to have emotions. I dont have to brush everything off like I have granite shoulders.
John Cena

We wonder out loud if hes experienced a little bit of whiplash promoting this movie, where one conversation will veer from talk about female consent and the #MeToo movement to the mechanics of consuming alcohol through ones rectum in a matter of seconds. Im smiling on the other end of the phone, he says. Because thats art.

I mean, sure. It is.

Yes, I am naked in this movie, he says. [Editors note: Hell yeah he is.] I am exploring my sexuality. I am making sacrifices no matter what cost, not matter how humiliating. Its a movie about what parents do for their kids, and young people taking control of their sexuality. Youll laugh a lot. But you leave the theater talking about something more in-depth.

For all the scoffing at a generation that purportedly values avocados over homeownership and is born with screens in their hands, Blockers is a movie that rides a changing tide in the wake of the Parkland teens fortitude and gives you hope and confidence in the potential of todays youngsters. Even if they do things like butt-chugging.

For every person who swallows laundry detergent, theres so many more folks out there who have greater perspective of what they want to do, Cena says. Honestly I think the people who try stuff like butt-chugging, most of them are the folks who are like, Never doing that again! Learned a lesson from that! Ive done so many stupid things in my life, and I very rarely do them twice.

Learning lessons is a big thing for John Cena. Its the perspective from which hes approaching his blossoming movie career, because its his second shot at it, and he knows how rare that is.

Back in 2004, observing the ring-to-screen success of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, the WWE positioned Cena to be the next great action star. But the two films he starred instars-and-stripes stinkers The Marine and 12 Roundswere critical and commercial bombs. It wasnt until he made the left-field decision to co-star in Fred: The Movie, about a web-famous YouTube star, that his movie career pivoted into comedy and started to take off.

This is my second run at this, he says. I had that shot 13, 14 years ago, and had the strategy of OK, this is an algorithm and I need to be an action hero, I need to do this and I need to do that. It failed because my heart was into the algorithm but it wasnt into the material.

Later this month, Cena will turn 41. We ask whether this past year, a turning point in his career that happened to coincide with turning 40, felt different to him. I could waste your entire day to tell you how wonderful it is to be where I am in life, he says. And you know what? We believe him.

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