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CJ “Lana” Perry

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Photographer: Diana Ragland/Hair: Robert Steinken/Makeup: Brian Valentine/Wardrobe: Madison Guest

CJ “Lana” Perry is known as The Ravishing Russian in the ring, and while we find it impossible to discredit her ravishingness (yes, totally a made up word!), The Resilient Russian is just as suitable of a name. The WWE Superstar has been focused, hard working, and tireless in her quest to achieve a career in the squared circle, despite her lifelong struggles with learning disabilities. Passion for the craft and an unwillingness to listen to the naysayers has carried her forward however, and now she’s set to appear at Money in the Bank this Sunday on pay-per-view and the WWE Network, going boot to boot with some of the best and brightest in the women’s division ladder match.

We recently sat down with the ravishing AND resilient CJ “Lana” Perry to discuss her training focus for Money in the Bank, how she never lets go of the WWE butterflies, and why, like life, her career is a marathon and not a sprint.

TrunkSpace: You are gearing up for a very exciting weekend by the looks of it!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes, a very exciting weekend. I’m so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself.

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult to stay focused on Money in the Bank, but then also have to juggle everything else that’s going on with work, and life, and just sort of building towards the event?
CJ “Lana” Perry: There’s definitely a lot going on, that’s for sure. We’re filming “Total Divas” right now on top of everything, so it’s pretty much just go, go, go. I think I have 12 hours home today before I leave tomorrow. But my number one priority is Money in the Bank this Sunday, and training for that. I actually fly out to San Diego tomorrow to train with Daniel Bryan because, it’s not like he hasn’t had any ladder matches, right? He keeps on telling me to keep my feet on the ground. I’m like, “I can’t keep my feet on the ground. I have to climb a ladder!”

TrunkSpace: We get nervous just climbing a ladder to put up Christmas lights! Even when you plan for every possible outcome and scenario, there still has to be some nervousness, right? It’s so high!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, it’s nuts. I’m not scared of heights, but I realize ladders… they’re so unstable, so it’s not just the height. It’s just insane to me. This is going to be Naomi’s third ladder match, so I was able to train some with Naomi. We were using basically an 8’ ladder, and they’re going to be 10’ and 12’ is the big one. It’s the 12’ one that you have to go up to actually grab the briefcase! It’s crazy. When we put the ladder in the ring, it’s even more unstable. Obviously they’re going to be trying to pull you down, and who knows what other shenanigans are going to be happening. So I’m just trying to prepare myself as much as possible for this – lifting a lot. It’s really heavy. People don’t realize how heavy these ladders are. That’s why I was training with Naomi. We went to a ring, she had me doing things outside in her backyard, because she’s insane. She’s the crazy cat lady. (Laughter) Then I’m training with Bryan tomorrow and Friday to prepare for this.

I have to get used to the fact that my feet will be coming off the ground.

TrunkSpace: We would have to imagine that a ladder match requires a different approach to training because, even just the art of falling… it takes on a new artistic point of view from 12’ up!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, for sure. Definitely a completely different approach. Ladder matches are… the risks, the stakes, are so much higher. They’re so much more intense. We’re so much higher! You could fall 12’ at least, or maybe more, depending if the ladder falls onto the outside and you fall out of the ring. You just have to be really, really prepared. You have to be prepared physically, but also mentally. That’s the reason why the first ever ladder match happened a year ago for women, because the stakes are so high, and it is really intense. That’s the reason why this is the second ever Money in the Bank ladder match at the pay-per-view Money in the Bank, besides the rematch that they had on RAW last year, the following week after the pay-per-view. So it’s just… to be a part of a historic moment like this – and the talent in this match, the women, they’re all such incredible talents – so I’m really, really excited, and grateful to be in the ring with such talented women.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, traveling the globe doing what you love. It’s a lifestyle that few people ever get to experience. Do you still experience that same excitement about what you do as you did early in your career?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, of course! I get excitement all the time! I mean, I can’t even tell you how I’ll feel goosebumps. When we went to Santiago, Chile, and the fans were just exploding. It was electrifying. The energy there is just… I could feel it through my entire body. Then I went into the audience and had a hoodie on, and I watched the rest of the show once I finished, because it was just such… the energy was just so exciting. I just love what we do so much. I’m so grateful for what we do. I never lose the butterflies.

I love traveling. I love experiencing new things, new cultures, food, sights, and people, so it’s so exciting. I always try and get out in any of the cities that we are in if we have time. I always try and go sightseeing, eat the food, and just experience it because I’m so blessed to be able to do what I love for a living and travel the world. And I have my husband with me, so it’s really, really, really exciting.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

 

TrunkSpace: Yeah, that has to be a part of it that makes it even more unique – getting to experience it all with the person that you love?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes! I’m so grateful for it. We always talk about that, Rusev and I, how grateful we are that we get to travel the world doing what we love with the person that we love.

TrunkSpace: It was just last month that you won your very first singles match. Have things been altered for you at all – your approach to preparation or training – since that career changer?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I would say it’s been very encouraging, but I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been training. I say it’s the slow and the steady that’s going to win the race, and I am the slow, and I am the steady. I might not be the fastest, or the quickest learner, but I am passionate. I work hard. I am resilient and I work hard to persevere. It takes time to become good. It just takes time to be good at anything. I would say I’ve really only been wrestling on a weekly base for the last year – wrestling at live events every week has been only consistently for a year. It takes years to become great.

One thing is just getting in the ring and training. Another thing is that where you get good is having matches every week. Having matches at least several times a week is the way you become good, and so it’s just been the persevering of, “Okay, yeah I lose, but…” I lost a lot. I think my first win before my singles match was on Mixed Match Challenge. It was with Rusev, and I beat Bayley, which was just, I believe, a miracle, because she’s incredible. Incredible, incredible talent and in ring performer.

I had read – and my dad actually sent it to me because he likes to read the internet – he sent me that I had had 60 matches, and that I had lost 60 times on the main roster. This was my first win. It was 61, and it was on his birthday, and he was turning 61. So it was really cool for me.

I think my story is about persevering and working hard, and that reflects my life. I haven’t always been the best at anything, but I continue to work and persevere, and I will win the race.

TrunkSpace: Everybody needs a dad internet filter because the internet can be a scary place! (Laughter)
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I know! It really, really is. It can be very, very scary.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you’ve been performing in the ring regularly for the last year, but what was that very first moment like when you were standing behind the curtain, waiting for your music to play?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Well, last year was my singles debut at Money in the Bank actually, against Naomi for the title match. I was beyond nervous. I thought I was going to throw up. It was just so much pressure. I wanted to be in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Shane McMahon told me that I hadn’t proven myself yet. Then Naomi wanted to face me because she wanted a match for Money in the Bank, so I really, really, really lucked out that I was able to have my first singles match, and that it was a title match. I got really lucky, but at the same time, it’s like, “Am I ready for a title at Money in the Bank pay-per-view?” (Laughter)

I didn’t deserve that, but those were the cards that were handed to me. So it’s like, “Did I earn that yet?” No, I had one tag match on TV, and that was a year before Wrestlemania. But, life throws you some crazy cards, and you have to play the cards that are given to you. You have to make the most of it. I was so, so nervous. I was just like, “Okay, I know some people might think I do good, but I’m sure half the internet and Twitter trolls are going to eat me up and say I’m the worst wrestler of all time.” It just is what it is. You just have to make the most of it. I was so nervous, but when I walked through that curtain and, I can’t explain it. When I’m standing there, my heart is racing and I’m just trying to calm myself, but once I go through that curtain, it’s just like, “I’m born to do this.” I love it.

TrunkSpace: Like you mentioned, you’re currently filming the latest season of “Total Divas.” How does that fit into your day-to-day life? Is it something that you’re consciously aware of at all times, or does it just kind of exist as a part of your life, going along with you?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I just let it go along with me. I always wanted to do “Total Divas” because I felt like my journey was so unconventional, especially compared to all the other women – all the other WWE superstars. I really, really wanted to show my life, and to show my journey, because my journey to the WWE, and my in-ring journey reflects, really, my life journey. I have had a very, very unconventional life. I’m an American that grew up in Russia. I have Christian missionary parents. I have a lot of learning disabilities, and you’re going to see that in “Total Divas.” I knew I had learning disabilities, but I didn’t realize I had such severe learning disabilities. You’re going to see me deal with that. At one point I wasn’t on TV for 13 weeks and I was just so discouraged. I can get really, really, really discouraged. When you keep on working hard and you keep on trying, you keep on trying to get into storylines, and you just have to wait. It’s a patience game, and it’s about being resilient and persevering. I’m happy that I am able to show these ups and these downs on “Total Divas,” because life is that. If I can share anything with people, to girls and boys and people of all ages, it’s that life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. My career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that applies to all areas of life.

TrunkSpace: Sharing the story of your struggles to overcome learning disabilities could help other young people feel not so alone in their own struggles.
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes. That’s what I hope, to really encourage people. Even if you do have learning disabilities, and you do learn differently, that doesn’t mean that it can stop you from achieving your dreams, and achieving the things that you love. I think that when I realized that, when I saw all the disabilities that I have, I was like, “Wow, I went through college?” Holy freaking moly! I should never have. That’s the reason why I feel like I’m able to persevere in WWE, because it’s kind of like, even with the critics, even with people saying I shouldn’t be here or that I’m not the best or not good enough or not strong enough, it’s like, no, I am going to keep on being resilient and I’m going to keep on persevering.

TrunkSpace: Well, we think you should let your husband keep Rusev Day, and much like how we celebrate our birthday, you should adopt Lana Week!
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I like that! Though I take a whole month for my birthday, so we can do Lana Week and Lana Month! (Laughter)

Money In The Bank airs Sunday on pay-per-view and on the WWE Network.

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Wingman Wednesday

John Hennigan

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It’s time to get Booned!

John Hennigan is a familiar face to fans of professional wrestling, but with an acting career that continues to rise higher than the top turnbuckle of a squared circle, the California native is on his way to giving Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson a run for his Hollywood-making money. Hennigan’s most recent film, “Boone: The Bounty Hunter,” is a hidden gem… a fun, fast-paced film that pits two genres against each other in an epic battle that ends with “comedy” placing “action” in a figure four leg lock. It’s just that good!

We recently sat down with Hennigan to discuss how working on a character in wrestling differs from working on one in film, running the cost of a day’s shoot in your head, and how Hollywood rumors are like… well… you’ll see.

TrunkSpace: So much of professional wrestling is playing a character and you’re doing it over a prolonged period of time where no one is calling “CUT” on you. Did the transition to film take some getting used to because the process itself is different in that you’re not necessarily allowed to just keep going?
Hennigan: No, but that’s an interesting thing that you brought up. One of the things that I first used to come up with the idea for the character Boone was that same concept… that you play the same character for so long in pro wrestling that sometimes you become that character more than yourself. With Boone playing the character Boone on the reality show, which is like this flashy, narcissistic douche baggy guy… he gets into trouble when he starts being that guy more than his real human self. Over the arc of the movie he has to basically get real… be his real self… to become a real hero.

But I guess back to your question as to whether it was a problem for me getting into acting… I think that it helped because ultimately entertainment boils down to the same thing, whether you’re talking about pro wrestling, theater, film, or TV. There’s a lot of carryover and crossover and playing a character is one thing that I think helped.

TrunkSpace: On the wrestling side though, you must sort of feed off of the crowd and in turn, that bleeds into your performance. Whereas in film, even though you’re working with other people in a scene, the energy is different.
Hennigan: Definitely. That’s one of the things that I think is so cool about pro wrestling and why people love it so much. Either watching it or doing it, you have that instant feedback and the adrenaline of doing stuff in front of the crowd. For sure, when you’re doing crazy things in wrestling, you’re amped up because you’ve got an arena full of people watching and your adrenaline is through the roof and the guy that you’re wrestling, his adrenaline is through the roof. You’re in the moment 100 percent of the time. When you’re doing stunts in a movie, and especially on some of the stuff that we did with the skeleton crew… if I’m doing a twisting senton off of a roof and I’ve got to do it 10 times because we’re trying to get a perfect shot, which is not easy to capture sometimes, and there’s nobody there… it is harder. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And that must be a difficult thing to achieve… getting those aerial maneuvers fully in frame?
Hennigan: For sure. In wrestling, you do these crazy stunts and, like on “Lucha Underground,” you’re working in front of eight cameras. With WWE, you’re working in front of 15 cameras. They’re going to capture it. If you’re doing a movie, especially low budget, a lot of times a lot of the sequences we did were single camera. So, that requires doing it over and over again.

TrunkSpace: And a lot of your stunts in the film were outside, so you’re also working with elements that you can’t control as well.
Hennigan: Right. I was so motivated to do this movie though that getting motivated to do that stuff wasn’t that hard. I was visualizing the end product the whole time. It wasn’t like I was afraid of doing stuff in the moment. It was more like, I felt like this insane need to do it over and over again until we got it perfect for the camera so that, at the end of the day, we’d watch it back and everyone would be stoked.

TrunkSpace: What was great about the film is that it surprises people. You expect one thing, and you get something else.
Hennigan: I got a lot of people who saw the movie who said that the movie was way better than they expected. (Laughter) Which is kind of cool, but also it’s kind of like, “Wait a minute, did you think it would suck or something?” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: A big part of that is probably that general feeling of, if a film isn’t in the theaters, it isn’t going to be good. Which, was probably the case years ago, but the way that content is distributed nowadays… that notion is completely squashed.
Hennigan: The one big plus about doing stuff like Boone is that if you want to, and not everybody does, you can tell a story that’s different. It’s not like you have a whole corporation of people that have invested 100 or 200 million dollars into the movie. Obviously it’s not like that. (Laughter) But, when you have that, that’s why you’re seeing all of these reboots. All of these franchises that are constantly rebooted… it’s because they feel like that’s a safer bet. Sometimes those are fun to watch, but when you’re working on something that is completely your own and you don’t have that burden of working for an army of people who are micromanaging your project, you can do something original. You can take some chances and create something like Boone.

TrunkSpace: Usually professional wrestlers are acting in projects that are owned by the companies that they wrestler for, but with Boone, it’s a project that you yourself created and spearheaded. That seems really rare.
Hennigan: Definitely. And I’ve done my fair share of that too. I’ve done 15 or 16 movies that are low budget movies where I was just an actor. Part of my motivation for doing Boone was to want to do exactly that… to be the captain of the ship, so to speak. To be able to say, “No, I want this specific kind of action and if we’re not going to be able to get it on set, I want to have the option of coming back to shoot it later to get it right.” Within reason. Ultimately, that old cliché that time is money is 100 percent right for movies.

TrunkSpace: And you probably notice it a lot more when it’s your money. (Laughter)
Hennigan: Yeah. Exactly! Every day you walk on the set and in the back of your head you’re thinking two things. “Holy shit! Look at this. There’s trailers. There’s extras. There’s all of these people. There’s like 65 people on set.” And then the other part of your brain is thinking, “Goddamn it! This is a $35,000 day!” (Laughter) You’re doing math in your head and you’re like, “All of these people have to eat food. The trailers. The fire marshal. THE INSURANCE!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: So was the idea when you first put the film together that it would become your franchise or was it more of putting together one film and then being done with it?
Hennigan: Really, the main idea with Boone was that I wanted to do something good that I was proud of that could illustrate what I feel like is my best skills across the board. With acting, this kind of self-deprecating, goofy but narcissistic and over-confident reluctant hero with action design, parkour, MMA, brawler-style, stunt choreo mixed with pro wrestling… and in a movie that was uplifting and fun to watch. I’ve done the horror movies and other action movies with darker heroes and I felt like I hadn’t done anything that was the kind of movie that I would have watched over and over again when I was a kid. I really wanted this to be that. That was my primary goal. Obviously, if it turns into a franchise or I do a sequel or trilogy… if I can sell it as a spin-off TV series… that would be amazing.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned it being a film that you would have loved to watch as a kid. With that being said, to us it felt like Boone was a badass Harry Crumb from the film “Who’s Harry Crumb,” a film we watched quite a bit growing up.
Hennigan: (Laughter) Totally! That’s a good one. That’s the first time that I’ve heard that comparison. I love that movie too. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: So if somebody came along and said, “We want to make Boone into a TV show, but we want… Tom Cruise to star. Here’s 10 million dollars.” Would that be something that you’d be okay with?
Hennigan: I wouldn’t necessarily be cool with it, but ultimately I’m wanting to create content and if I got 10 million dollars, I would probably go crazy and would want to spend that 10 million on another movie probably right away. (Laughter) I would probably be stoked about the opportunity to do another movie for a lot more money.

TrunkSpace: Another film that you’re starring in that just seems really cool and really unique is “Dave Made a Maze.”
Hennigan: I’m really excite for “Dave Made a Maze.” It’s touring right now, doing festivals. The original screenplay I read, man, a really long time ago. One of the guys on my improv team, Steven Sears, wrote the script and I read it and I was like, “Dude, this thing is so weird, but also cool!” I was really excited then about the movie and he went through a similar process and ended up working with Bill Watterson and those guys got funding and got the project on its feet. I ended up staying attached and there’s only a few people who stayed attached from that original group that Steven showed the script to.

It’s just a really weird fucking movie. (Laughter) But weird and silly and it celebrates its absurdity and when you watch it you can take it in a million different ways. You can derive meaning from it however you see fit depending on the mood you’re in. That’s one of the cool things about a movie like that.

TrunkSpace: We also counted 14 other projects that you’re listed as starring in, attached to, or rumored to be a part of. By comparison, Tom Cruise… whom we already mentioned… has seven. That’s a pretty impressive workload.
Hennigan: (Laughter) Well, rumors in Hollywood are like assholes… everybody has one!

Boone: The Bounty Hunter” is available now on VOD.

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