To be honest, I can't say I was super-hyped for The Marine 3, the second direct-to-DVD, in-name-only sequel to John Cena's campy big-screen action bow. But the chance to talk to The Miz, a.k.a. Mike Mizanin, was not one I could pass up. The only reality-TV star to successfully transition into pro-wrestling and acting, Miz has overcome a ton of skepticism on the part of fans who once only saw him as an obnoxious MTV personality. It may be a while before fans of action cinema embrace him as eagerly as the WWE fanatics who line up to buy "I'm Awesome" T-shirts - the role was originally written for the terser, darker persona of Randy Orton, and it shows - but Mizanin is nothing if not persistent.
Those hoping for a tongue-in-cheek tone may be disappointed - The Marine 3 is so reverent it might as well be an infomercial for the Marine Corps, and even features radicalized, Leftist, Occupy-types as the villains. (Before you get too upset, keep in mind that WWE also recently debuted a racist right-libertarian character.) But once the movie unleashes The Miz to kick ass, he does so with aplomb.
In real life, he occasionally spouted what sounded like pre-memorized talking points, but over the course of 20 minutes, I got to dig a little deeper into matters like Ric Flair's approval, classic video games and an upcoming encounter with Scooby-Doo.
Luke Y. Thompson: Was it my imagination, or were you channeling Randy Orton in some of your line readings?
Mike Mizanin: You think so? Really? I never pictured myself emulating Randy Orton in this movie, even though Randy Orton is a very good talent.
LYT: It's such a different part to your persona.
MM: That's what I wanted to bring, though. That's exactly what I wanted people to say. I didn't want people to see The Miz, I didn't want people to see Mike from The Real World, I wanted them to see a whole different character, and that's exactly what Jake Carter is. He's absolutely opposite from The Miz.
LYT: Is it a challenge to convey a performance more with just your eyes than your words, which you're used to?
MM: You know, I watched a bunch of old-school movies, of people that I thought do a tremendous job at doing that. People like Clint Eastwood; you watch Dirty Harry or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, he doesn't have many lines, but the ones he does, he makes count, and when he walks into the room, he has an aura about him, a star power about him, and that's what I wanted to bring to this movie.
LYT: Your fighting style in this is very different; it's much more abrupt and lethal. Is there a process of unlearning the more showman-like style of fighting?
MM: No, I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. I didn't want these round-house kicks and martial arts stuff, because that's not what a Marine would do. I looked at it as, "What is the most authentic thing?" What do Marines do when they go to battle? They fight to survive. It's kill or be killed. And so in this movie, in the fight scenes, I wanted it to be raw and gritty. At every possible chance, if I find a weapon, I use it. If I find a gun, I'm going to try to find more ammo, because that's what you do to survive, and that's what a Marine would do, and that's why we had Marines on set - to show me how to hold the gun, to show me how they walk through a door and how they survey a room.
LYT: Is it harder to do fighting that isn't as full-contact?
MM: There's a lot more pressure, because if you do connect with one of the guys and you break his nose, that guy is done for the movie; there's no way he can finish the movie! So there is a little bit of, like... you gotta watch what you're doing.
LYT: I brought a visual aid here. (Pulls out the action figure you see to the right) In hindsight, can you explain this outfit?
MM: Yes I can, actually! Okay, so when I first got into the WWE, I wanted to look different than anybody else. I didn't want to be your standard, everyday wrestler. I loved Jeff Hardy and the way he looked. He didn't look like the average, everyday wrestler, so I was like "You know what, I'm going to look different." So I started with shorts.
And then, back in the day, fedoras were sort of "in", Timberlake was wearing it and a bunch of other people were wearing it, so one day I wore a bandana with a fedora and a t-shirt backstage, and all the WWE superstars were making fun of me, making fun of the hat, making fun of the bandana, and I said "If THEY'RE making fun of me, 16,000 people will be making fun of me and hating on me, so guess what? I'm going to wear it!" So that's how the fedora came into place.
The sleeve came into place when I started messing with John Cena, and started beating him all the time, and started putting "Cena-0, Miz-1" and "Cena-0, Miz-2", and I think it got all the way up to 8, and finally I just started putting "I'm awesome!" on it. I wanted when kids dressed up as me, they could go to Halloween and be The Miz, because I had so much stuff that was so different than anybody else.
And then once I started getting into that main-event caliber type of situation, where I wanted to be looked at and respected as a WWE superstar, I thought I needed to start taking myself seriously. And what is that? What do people take seriously? And I looked at people like Triple H, people like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, how did they look? How did they walk? How did they talk? I started observing all those main-event caliber guys, and I thought I needed to start looking the part. If you're going to look like a star, you'd better walk/talk/act like a star if you're going to be one.
LYT: Talking about catchphrases, how have they not made a T-shirt that says "Really? Really? Really?"
MM: Uhh...I've been wanting one for a very long time, but someone else has the trademark for "Really?", so I can't use it on a t-shirt. Trust me, I have had SO many ideas! I have tried "I'm Really Really Awesome," and they're like "You can't use 'really'." So I really want one, but I really can't have one!
LYT: So for the first Marine movie, they made a big deal about Cena doing a day at boot camp, and we saw videos of all that. Did you get to do anything like that?
MM: I didn't get to do boot camp, but I was with Marines and I did train in the basement of a warehouse where we would meet, and I would learn all the fighting techniques, how to hold a gun, how to unload and load a gun, how does a Marine carry a pack with him. It sounds like the simplest stuff, but everything is accessible, in the fastest way possible. If I put in a cartridge for a gun, it's a certain way, because as soon as I take it out it of my pocket it has to go directly into the gun, as fast as possible. So they taught me all those techniques.
LYT: I never saw the second Marine with Ted DiBiase, but between this and the first one, there's a very different tone. The first one was really quite campy, and this one is very respectful. I was wondering if Marines insisted the first one made fun of them too much and they wanted this one to be respectful.
MM: No, this one Scott Wiper had a great direction, and he went with it. It was dark, it was gritty, it was real, and we wanted to make it as real as possible. We wanted a lot of heart and a lot of family, because when I go overseas and visit these troops, all they can talk about is their families. All they can show me is pictures of their sisters, their brothers, their children, their moms, their dads - that's what I see most of the time. So when a Marine goes home, they're so used to battling and protecting, because that's what they're narrowed to do when they're out there fighting, so when they go home, it's different; they have trouble adapting - some of them do. And that's one of the troubles that Jake Carter has, he has trouble adapting to normalcy at home, because what we all consider 'normal' isn't normal over there, where they're battling.
LYT: Are there any specific Marines that you've met over there that have informed this performance?
MM: Well, no one - the movie hasn't come out yet, so they haven't seen the performance as of yet, so I'm looking forward to hearing what real Marines and what real armed forces have to say about it, and I'm hoping that they love the fact that I really tried to pay homage and respect what they do.
LYT: Did any of them over there ever tell you an anecdote that maybe you had in mind when you played this role?
MM: I just took home more of the stories, the life and death situations that they go through each and every day. For instance, when I went to one of the camps, one of the guys was in an armed vehicle, and there was an orange pole sticking out of it. I thought it was weird, it was so out of place. He said "That actually saves my life every day." I said "What do you mean?" He said "It heats up the land mine and blows it up." I said "What a second. Blows up the land mine? So have you ever been blown up before?" And he said "Yeah, I was blown up yesterday." He talked to me like it's a normal thing that happens every day, and this little orange pole protected him.
Another story is a guy I met in Bahrain on the USS Stenis on the battleship, and I was talking to him, and he said "I was working at Lids, and I just got my wife pregnant, and I was thinking 'Do I really want to go, when my daughter takes me to tell what I do for a living?', and I tell them I work at Lids? I wanted to do something noble, something that she could be proud of. And that's why I went to the Marines." And that's kind of the tone. Those two stories set a tone for me of their way of life, and how valuable family is, and how proud our soldiers are to be out there.
LYT: What's the difference in being directed on a movie set as opposed to being directed in a vignette on RAW, or do they direct in you in a vignette on RAW?
MM: Yeah, you know WWE is one of the greatest entertainment companies that I know, and it's a different platform than a movie. In WWE, you only get one take! You're in front of a live audience, you don't get three or four takes to flub a word, and if you do, guess what? Our audience is going to know, and they're going to boo you and chant "You suck!" for three minutes. Being on a movie set, you get the opportunity to redo shoots, you get the opportunity to play with it, and you get time to really work it out. With WWE, you don't get those opportunities. It's still great, and it's fun, and I've failed more than I succeeded, but I'm glad for every failure, because it's made me try harder, and try to be more successful than ever.
LYT: You're very uniquely qualified to answer this next question: What's more real: Hollywood, wrestling, or reality TV?
MM: Hah! I think I'm the only person that's actually qualified to answer this question! Hmm...what's more real? I would say the WWE is the most real to my heart, because of the things that we go through each and every day. This is my life. My life is leaving tomorrow to go to Toronto to perform for a live audience, then the next day to go to Kingston, Ontario, then the next day we go to Buffalo, then the next day Albany. To travel each and every day, to entertain our audiences that we value SO much, because we want these people to go home and take home memories that will last a lifetime.
LYT: What's left for you? You've been a TV star, you've been a movie star now, and you've main-evented WrestleMania and won...
MM: To be the biggest WWE superstar the WWE has ever known! And everyone will laugh at me when I say that, but they laughed at me when I said I was going to be a WWE superstar, they laughed at me when I said I was going to be on a reality show, they laugh at me now that I'm doing a movie. So let them laugh, because I'll always prove them wrong.
LYT: Was there an extra-long, extra-tough period of hazing in the locker room because of where you came from?
MM: Of course! I was a person that was not looked at as part of WWE, even though I was signed under a contract. Whether it was in the WWE locker room or the WWE universe, nobody wanted me there, and I had to earn my right to be there. And now it's kind of cool being here, because JBL is still a commentator, and if you listen to his commentating now compared to his commentating before, he kind of puts me over. It's that kind of stuff. If I can win over a veteran, a person that I respected and that is respected in the WWE locker room like JBL, then I can get anyone.
LYT: He's got the reputation of being the toughest at hazing.
MM: Exactly. He's the toughest of the critics.
LYT: We showed one of your action figures here. What's your favorite action figure of yourself that you've had?
MM: My favorite action figure of myself would probably be...I like the one with the coat. (Points to the figure in my hand) That's one of my favorites, because that has all of my stuff, and it's old-school. I might bring out old-school Miz for Monday night RAW - I'm debating on it. I would say that one, the one with the money in the bank briefcase, and the WWE championship - I think that's really cool, because I was a WWE champion - so I love that one, and I love the one with the Johnny shirt! It's "Team Johnny", and it has Johnny's face on it, and it's like, "Really? Come on!" But I also love the ones with the coats, so I've got tons of little...I like them all for different reasons. I love the one with me and Morrison, because when I got tag-teamed with John Morrison, that's when I really started getting elevated.