Semper Fi: 'The Marine' star has faith in his future

By Evan Henerson
Los Angeles Daily News

When you measure your life in 24-hour intervals, a Monday night bout in South Carolina carries equal weight with the release of your major film debut.

The future will take care of itself, says John Cena, the pro wrestler/rap artist who stars in The Marine, in theaters now.

"You put your focus on what's going on right now," says Cena. "A lot of the time, you can't control what's going to happen to make it not happen. If you're doing one day at a time, you put in your day's work, go to sleep happy, and you're all set."

If that seems a rather devil-may-care philosophy from a guy who might legitimately be looking beyond a future of smackdowns and cage matches, well, this is World Wrestling Entertainment champion John Cena talking. And, when you're 240 pounds and built like a miniature Mack truck, what human being in his right mind is going to argue with you?

Films or fights? Or another hip-hop album? Cena insists that his loyalty is with the WWE and says that the answer is "all of the above."

"I've already proved it's possible," says Cena. "I've proven that you can do both, and I'm satisfied with the results in the ring. If Hollywood comes calling, that's something they'll have to be aware of.

"Our fan base is so passionate about wrestlers," he continues, "I don't think they want to see another one leave to do movies."

That last remark is a not-so-veiled reference to Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock), another former WWE star whose mat-to-mall cineplex crossover appears to be complete.

Cena knows The Rock, and applauds his achievements, but says he's walking a different path.

"Just as much as he's driven to only act, I'm driven to do both, because I have so much passion for moviemaking and for sports entertainment," says Cena. "At the end of the day, I'd like to go back to the ring. It's where I feel most comfortable."

And it's the place he's always felt comfortable, even before he knew it could become a career avenue. Cena grew up in rural West Newbury, Mass., one of five boys and the son of a father who watched wrestling religiously.

Cena played football and studied exercise physiology at Massachusetts' Springfield College. He struck out for L.A. "on a whim," not with any set career goals, but in part because his father said he'd never make it.

"He's got five boys, and he went through a lot to raise them right," says Cena. "My dad just wanted us all to be close. He said that so I wouldn't leave. But it had the reverse effect: 'Screw you. I'll prove you wrong.'"

From there, the story takes a Hollywood-ish turn. While working at Gold's Gym, Cena met with a client who was training to be a wrestler and was invited to come down and check out the scene. He got a look at a ring, and something clicked.

"I never knew that that was actually the path you took to become a wrestler," says Cena, 28. "Me being a fan of wrestling all my life and just being a ham in general, it was a natural fit."

Cena incurred a couple grand worth of debt and went into training at the Ultimate Pro University. WWE officials eventually took note of the 6-foot-1, 240-pound kid with the hip-hopping taunts, and helped him polish his look. He signed his first WWE contract in 2002. In 2004, Cena-brand product and merchandise exceeded $12 million in sales.

He's on the road more than 310 days per year and has traveled the entire world, with the exception of China and Russia.

"If I could get a few more days in Tampa or Boston, that would be great," says Cena, who has homes in both cities. "You do get to see a lot of the world, but when you've seen Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for the 30th time ... I could tell you more about Poughkeepsie than I could tell you about my hometown."

Ring successes have led to opportunities to branch out. When he took on his hip-hop ring persona, Cena was given "the crappiest entrance music I had ever heard." Figuring he could write something better, Cena came up with the number "Basic Thuganomics," which would become part of the 17-track hip-hop album "You Can't See Me" (2005). The disc has sold more than 400,000 copies.

In The Marine, Cena's Sgt. John Triton is a former serviceman discharged after he disobeys an order and goes maverick to rescue comrades from an al-Qaida prison camp. Back stateside, Triton has to rescue his wife, who has been kidnapped by murderous diamond thieves.

Co-produced by 20th Century Fox and WWE Films, the PG-13-rated The Marine is targeted to tween RAW watchers and their parents. The violence is implied, instead of graphic, the language is F-word free, but the explosions and butt kickings -- most administered by Cena -- are abundant.

The fights -- like the script itself-- were tailored to Cena's strengths.

"In a lot of the action movies today, the fight choreography is so overly technical," says Cena. "A lot of it is wire fighting or very intricate martial arts, which I have nothing against.

"I've been in a lot of fights in my day, and not just in WWE. In the backs of bars, in the streets, and I've never seen any of that. If you look at a lot of the action movies of old -- the Commandos, the Total Recalls, the Rambos -- the action is something that the common person can grasp."

His WWE image notwithstanding, Cena characterizes his on-screen persona as kind of a muscle-bound Dudley Do-Right. Producer Joel Simon of WWE Films sees Cena occupying the slightly breezier action realm once ruled by Bruce Willis.

"That charm that Willis had, I see John bringing that," says Simon. "He's got a wonderful smile on screen, and that sort of lighthearted good nature. At the same time, you don't want to screw with him."

Co-star Kelly Carlson ("Nip/Tuck"), who plays the imperiled Kate Triton, calls Cena "a gentleman."

"He has a strong work ethic, he's open to learning, and he has no attitude," she says. "He asks for advice, and he gives advice."

And he'll be back. Simon says another Cena film is in the works, potentially for 2007.

"(WWE chairman) Vince McMahon and everyone else really feels it," says Simon. "John is a movie star."

At least until the next bell rings.

© 2006 Los Angeles Daily News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights reserved.

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