Interview: Brodus Clay

No One Lives - Brodus Clay

Somewhat obvious spoiler alert given away by the title of the film: WWE Superstar Brodus Clay doesn’t make it to the end of No One Lives in one piece. And all things considered, he’s pretty cool with that.

The big man – otherwise known as his in-ring persona’s nickname The Funkasaurus – is in Toronto for the gigantic comic-con FanExpo to promote the movie (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray) and do some people watching in his downtime. “I’m getting ready to nerd out a bit today,” the laid back sports entertainer states. When it’s pointed out to him that his size, tattoos, and trademark gold chain might make him stand out in a crowd, he points to the square rimmed glasses he’s rocking and says, “I got my Clark Kent’s on. I’m good.”

In the film from Midnight Meat Train and Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura, Brodus plays Ethan, the muscle for a group of bandits and thieves who cross the wrong man on the wrong day. The mysterious figure they piss off (played by Fast & Furious 6 baddie Luke Evans) has just watched the villains kill his one and only love and grounding force. Soon Ethan and his co-conspirators realize that the dormant killer they just awakened is far more dangerous than they ever could have imagined.

Brodus sat down with us at a hotel close to the ground zero of FanExpo to talk about the differences between horror crowds and wrestling crowds, how he almost spontaneously agreed to be in No One Lives, what it’s like to get killed on camera, the butterflies he felt when the film debuted at TIFF last year, the importance of a well rounded education, and what it’s like being in the WWE locker room after doing a movie.

Dork Shelf: So how did the idea of being in a movie come to you?

Brodus Clay - F2 - No One LivesBrodus Clay: It was kinda random. At the time the head of talent relations for the WWE was a gentleman by the name of John Laurinaitis, and I think the producers approached him and said that they were looking at a bigger kind of guy for this role, and he walked up to me and just said, “So, there’s the project…” And I cut him off and just said “Yes! I’ll do it!” (laughs) He says, “I didn’t even tell you about it!” I said, “I’ll do it!” (laughs) So he just said, “Okay, well, it’s a movie…” And I was, like, “Okay! Awesome!”

At the time I was in a particularly kind of grouchy mood. The night before at the Night of Champions pay-per-view I had my head busted open with a ladder from Christian when I was the bodyguard for Alberto Del Rio on that night that he won the championship from us, so I was kind of salty and I wasn’t in the mood for a big long conversation, so I just said “Yeah! I’ll do it!” He was also pretty glad that I was spontaneous about it, too, because I guess he had approached a couple of other guys who had said “Yeah, okay, just let me know about it.” And they wanted to think about it first, but I pretty much verbally agreed to it without knowing anything about it and I’m really glad I did because I think I was part of one of the coolest things that I had seen in quite a while. It was a wise choice how quick I was to act.

DS: I’m surprised you didn’t just say, “Do I have to get busted open with a ladder in this one?” And they would come back and say “No, but something else happens to you in this one.”

BC: (laughs) Yeah, that was one of the coolest death scenes I’ve seen in a long time. I found out about it when I was getting cast in L.A. and I was told “You actually have a really cool death!” And then I just kinda paused and said “Oh, yeah? I die?” So I’m thinking, “Hmmm, so I’m not the star. So I must be the big bad guy who dies at the end, right?” “Welllllll, not exactly.” (laughs) So I’m slowly piecing together this character in my mind and then they tell me my character’s name is Ethan, and he’s the brother of Hoag, played by Lee Tergesen.

I kept calling Lee “Beecher” because I remembered him from the HBO series Oz. “Oh man! I’m working with Beecher! I love Beecher!” And Lee just had to say “Um, I have a name. It’s Lee.” (laughs) So we had dinner a couple of times and we hit it off, and he was great to work with and learn from. He was very informative and just a master craftsman at what he does.

It was so great when I got to meet the cast and everything. Everyone in there was really experienced and I was so nervous because I didn’t want to be “the new guy,” you know? I didn’t want them to have to slow down because Brodus doesn’t know this business, or whatever. But in high school I had done a bunch of talent shows, I had won an award at a Shakespeare festival two years in a row. I had done theatre and I majored in it for a bit in college until I realized I couldn’t really get a job with it, so I switched and majored in physical education. Plus, I was playing football and doing track and stuff, so it was really difficult to make it to theatre competitions and to rehearsals and things like that. I had a pretty good background in acting, but I never really got a chance to use it. When I got to NXT, I got to use it a bit and have some range in there. So this for me was exciting to get a chance to show this other side of me, but of course, I play the typical monster, big guy in the movie.

It’s funny because originally Ethan didn’t even speak in the script. I think when they just saw my personality and what I could do they just kept adding lines, and that was really, really cool.

DS: Well, you certainly got a lot more lines and screen time than Wade Barrett did in Dead Man Down.

BC: (laughs, impersonates Wade Barrett) “We’re gonna get those guys! I’m from New York! I’m Wade Barrett!” (laughs) They made Wade come out in the middle of the ring when that was coming out and they made him cut a promo about it and they ran the clip, and he comes back stage and I’m like, (slow claps) “You did it boy! I saw you! You had a shotgun and everything! WOOOO! You did it!” And he was just, like, (in Wade’s voice) “Oh, shut up Brodus.” (laughs) Then I asked him to do his New York accent again and it was pretty much the same accent as his regular voice, but for some reason he was just louder. (laughs) He was great. He was, like, “I’m Wade Barrett from New York” and I was, like, “No, you’re not.” But good for him.

But getting to play Ethan, I got a few lines in and got to get some personality over. It was definitely a cool process and I got to use the F-bomb a lot, which was kind of fun. And when we made the movie I was already over as a kind of vicious heel, so the two weren’t too far apart. I mean, I wasn’t into killing and kidnapping in the WWE.

But by the time the movie came out I had to transfer into the Funkasaurus, so I was a little concerned. I had a huge kid following, and I didn’t want all these kids saying, “Mommy! Take me to see Brodus Clay in No One Lives!” (laughs) Then they start coming out traumatized because it is one of those kinds of movies. The killing scenes are just unbelievable.

DS: And it kind of fits in a way because the character you’re playing in No One Lives is kind of in the middle ground in this gang of crooks and killers. You’re actually one of the more likable guys in the film.

BC: Technically Ethan didn’t really kill anybody. He was just playing and when he kills someone it wasn’t really his fault and Luke Evans’ character just kind of overreacted. Ethan never wanted to kill anybody. I think Ethan was probably the one guy who didn’t really deserve it! Well, okay, maybe he was playing with a knife, but Luke still takes the knife from me twice in our fight, so the least he could have done was give me a stern talking to. (laughs) But yeah, he takes it to a whole other level. Just wow. It’s one thing to kill a guy, but it’s another thing to (do what he did). It’s excessive. (laughs)

DS: These movies always have that sort of “Gotcha!” moment, and being in the ring and doing what you do everyday, the audience for those kinds of matches also get to experience those same kinds of moments. I know you got to experience what it was like to watch the movie with a crowd when you were up here in Toronto last year and the film played at TIFF, so what’s the difference in the feeling between seeing people react to what you’re doing in the ring as opposed to what the reaction feels like when a crowd of people is watching you on screen?

BC: Oh, man, that’s a great question. In the ring, you can feel it, but you can’t see it. In the movie theatre, I was able to feel it and see it. I was extremely nervous at the Toronto Film Festival. I hadn’t seen any of my clips up to that point. I didn’t want to see any parts of the movie. I didn’t want to see the movie in advance, and I wanted to enjoy the movie and see it when everyone else saw it. I didn’t know the scenes aside from the ones I was in. I didn’t know any of it. The first time I saw it at TIFF was the first time I saw the finished product. I didn’t even sit in on any other scenes that I wasn’t involved in because I just didn’t want to ruin the movie for myself. I was EXTREMELY nervous. I knew the two scenes that they were supposed to react to that I was in. I didn’t see how it was done, so I was really surprised to see that, and I was looking around at how everyone reacted and they clapped and I knew we got ‘em. It was such a live feeling and I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be. To actually be able to sit back and watch something I did get a reaction and be there for it… It’s hard to explain. It’s like looking back and forth in a mirror, but I got to just step out and be a viewer and watch the fans react to me the first time and see them watch me do my thing. It’s so hard to explain.

DS: Well, you said you also did theatre, and that’s a lot like wrestling because even if you do get a reaction you have to remain in character the whole time. But watching yourself in a movie it’s something you might be able to go along with a bit easier.

BC: Yeah, but man, I had HUGE butterflies. All I kept saying was “Please don’t suck.” (laughs) I didn’t want to be in the position where, like, the camera would be on me and it was obvious I was in the wrong position or facing the wrong way. (laughs) Because as with everything else, you don’t find out you’re “that guy” until the worst moment when you realize “Hey, I’m that guy.” (laughs) I was real worried about that. Once I got past my first line in the movie, I kind of looked around and saw everything was still cool, so my butterflies dropped a little bit. Then I got a laugh, and I thought “Oh good. We’re good.” Then the death scene happens and it’s such a pivotal moment because up until that point you don’t know how nasty this killer is and how far he’s willing to go, and the fact that he can (do what he does) to a guy twice his size just to get to everyone else. In terms of what that means, it’s great that it worked out because it’s so huge to the movie. That was a relief.

DS: You talked a little bit about going back and forth with Wade Barrett, but is there any real friendly rivalry backstage between everyone who has been in a WWE studios production?

BC: (smiles) Big Show likes to tease a lot. When the first weekend grosses of No One Lives came out, they had a list of how much it made, and for a really limited engagement I think we did really well. It was, like, $55,000 or something like that. And Big Show’s movie (Knucklehead) when that came out did about $1,000. (laughs) So, I was looking at the list and I just said “Man, I can’t wait to go to work today!” (laughs)

But it’s one of those things where we all want each other to do well. We don’t really have that one guy who says “Oh, I would have done it this way” or “I would have done it better.” That’s really cool. We have a really great locker room and we all make jokes about the parts we have in the movie. No one dies like I die, and you have Wade’s Hamlet-like speech at the end of his movie is great. (laughs, in Wade’s voice) “But I didn’t say anything.” (laughs) But it’s one of those things where you can’t be angry or be a jerk about getting opportunities like this. We’re all really humble and respectful I think across the board. We just don’t have guys like this in this particular era. I mean, I’ve heard some stories about how cutthroat it was about 10 or 15 years ago, but today if you do something funny or cool in a movie, the guys might talk about it or tease you about it, but it’s always good hearted stuff. No one is ever bitter. And there’s a lot of opportunities. A lot of guys are doing a lot of really different and really cool things, so we’re all just lucky right now. It’s such a great time to be in the WWE to be doing other things and not to just sports entertain. But that’s what it is now, not just in the ring, whether it’s movies, cartoons, coming down to fan fests and comic cons. I’ve just been really lucky to do other things.

DS: And I think that speaks to part of the reason why the WWE has sort of become fun to watch again and why even I find myself getting caught up in it again for the first time in a long time.

BC: I think what’s old is new, you know? And I mean, you’re always gonna have critics. A lot of people and fans, especially older, male fans, wanted me to be the Brodus Clay that they thought they were going to get. Then when we went into the Funkasaurus thing, it became a tremendous challenge. But I took it looking really hard at the landscape at the time. There was Big Show, Mark Henry, and Kane, and those guys were all established monsters. Was there enough room for a fourth monster at the time? I don’t know, but there was this large valley that was wide open in terms of becoming someone like Junkyard Dog or Koko B. Ware and The American Dream Dusty Rhodes and even Hulk Hogan to a certain extent where fans were a part of the entrance and everything. People would be out there and dancing and getting into it.

There was a real need for that, and I got a chance to spearhead that. Now we can have Fandango coming out and everybody dances and every time I come out everyone wants to call my mama. Now we have Tons of Funk with Sweet-T and I, which were looking to revamp that and change up some stuff now, but it all opened up a lot of that niche where the kids can be a part of it again with the older crowd. The seriousness has its place, and that’s kind of the journey I’m on now, to have that happy medium where it’s fun, but when the bell rings it gets a bit more serious to kind of bring the two Brodus Clay’s together into one that will be perfect, and that’s a work in progress. But it is fun again because there are points in the card for the serious, die hard fan and spots on the card for families who want to have fun, or want their kids to jump up and laugh and dance, or for people who just want to laugh. It’s not always what someone would think is an honourable task, but what matters is that I enjoy it and I look forward to making it bigger and better.

DS: I think it’s fascinating that you said you started off doing some acting and some theatre, so now that you’re in the WWE would you advise anyone who wants to sort of get into the game to take some acting classes? Because that seems to be the direction the industry has always tended towards, but now it’s just as important as the in ring ability.

BC: Yeah, but really just education is pivotal and key. Had I not gone to college and not gotten my degree, I wouldn’t have even had a chance to do theatre or take acting classes and things like that. You just have to become a well rounded individual with a back-up plan. Nothing is ever promised and the WWE is no different from the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, or even general acting. It’s still a small population of the world that gets to do it and nothing is guaranteed. Even when you have the job nothing is ever guaranteed. It could be a week, six weeks, or ten years that you could be doing this, but to put all your eggs into one basket like that to me is just a dangerous road. Because if it doesn’t happen, then what? Having an educational background and having a bachelors or masters degree is key. But yeah, acting is a definite yes, but at the same time, the WWE isn’t going anywhere. You don’t have to be 18 and rush out of school for this stuff. Get your degree, get your life together, get your stuff together. If it works, great, if not, there’s other things you can do and do well at it. That would be my best advice.