From nWo to Magic Mike: An interview with Kevin Nash
June 2014, Aesthetic Magazine
How can you determine someone's personality when they get paid to be someone else for a living? When it comes to the eccentric art of professional wrestling, it’s even more difficult. Pro wrestlers are paid to play the same character for years and will even maintain that persona outside of the ring. Imagine Daniel Day Lewis method acting Butcher Bill from Gangs of New York for five years or Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver for the better part of a decade. Aesthetic Magazine's Adam Harrison sat down with wrestler-gone-actor Kevin Nash at the first ever SuperFan ComiCon in Toronto, to talk about working during the golden era of wrestling, his transition into showbiz and, of course, his taste in music. As Nash leaned back into the couch backstage and crossed his legs as if he were about to crack a beer and watch the football game, it was apparent that this man is not the outlaw he played on TV; he’s no different than your next-door neighbour… just much bigger!
When you think of a pro wrestler, the first thing that comes to mind is a humongous beast of a man with muscles the size of watermelons. Billed at6’10’’ and 328lbs, Nash is the definition of a wrestler in the 90's when the industry demanded size. Nash was a multiple World Champion and main event wrestler between 1993-2003, in a time known as “The Attitude Era”, when wrestling was at its peak. He competed during the Monday Night Wars, a term coined to describe the viewership battle between the two major promotions at the time, World Wrestling Federation (since renamed World Wrestling Entertainment) run by Vince McMahon and World Championship Wrestling owned by Ted Turner. Nash says the pressures of the competing companies had no affect on him. “I had guaranteed money. I had no stress. I had no stress whatsoever. My cheque was signed by Ted Turner and coming every two weeks. I just had to stay healthy,” he laughs, “and age-free.”
Nash’s first major run was in the WWF under the name Diesel. He would later move to WCW under his own name where he became best known for starting up one of the most legendary wrestling alliances of all time, the nWo (New World Order) with Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan. Nash compares working during The Attitude Era to what he imagines Mötley Crüe’s bus was like during the Girl, Girls, Girls tour. “It was a good time. It was about a five-year party right there. A lot of people say I should write a book about it, but like Keith Richards, there’s about a five-year period where I’d have to use back-up people to tell me ‘You did what?’”
Wrestlers during The Attitude Era had quite the reputation for pranking or hazing each other. “I spent my first 3 years in the WWE with Owen Hart who was probably, bar none, the greatest ribber of all time. A lot of guys would do a rib, but he’ll actually rib himself, just to torture the guy. He’s that kind of guy.” Nash describes a story to us where Hart gave up his hotel suite to a newly wed couple that drove him from town to town as a honeymoon present. Later, he sent the police up to the room to tell the couple they were in the room illegally. When they knocked on the adjoining door to ask Hart what to do, he handed the couple a bag of white powder that looks like cocaine, but was actually just baking flour. “The guy of course dumps it in the toilet and flushes it, thinking he’s saving Owen. And it’s basically a reenactment of Goodfellas… ‘Karen, where’s the stuff? That’s $3500!’ He stayed on it for like two days just to drive the guy insane and then finally he said ‘no man it’s just a joke, it was all set up.’”
I had no stress whatsoever. My cheque was signed by Ted Turner and coming every two weeks. I just had to stay healthy... and age-free.”
A major part of pro wrestling is your persona and the ability to possess that role can break a wrestler into promotional circuits, or for some, can garner a role in a Hollywood movie. Nash broke into show business in 1991 playing the role of Super Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. As he’s gotten older, Nash has transitioned himself towards an acting career, appearing in more and more feature films over the last ten years. He’s popped up in such notable films as The Punisher, The Longest Yard, Rock of Ages and of course the Steven Soderbergh hit, Magic Mike. Nash remembers getting the offer, “They sent me the paper work, and the second form was I was consenting to frontal nudity,” he shrugs, “‘that won’t happen.’ Yeah, I’m like that won’t happen but I’m signing consent. Just in case something happens, like wardrobe error.”
“I would have done anything that Soderbergh was doing. He’s a genius.” Nash then describes the privilege of co-starring with Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Joe Manganiello and Adam Rodriguez. “It was the best working experience I’ve ever had in my life. Just a bunch of really down to earth, nobody had an attitude, nobody had an ego. It just went like clockwork. It has a feel when you watch that film of reality, that the guys are actually buddies. That’s because everybody did bond.”
Nash explains the downside to all the bromance was that they couldn’t let loose. “It wasn’t like we could go out and have beers. Everybody was on a diet because you’re going to be in your underwear.” But on the last day of shooting Nash finished early. “Me and McConaughey, we didn’t move. The whole day we sat right where we are. Soderbergh was walking around this little island deciding where he was going to shoot. He walked by and looked at us and he goes ‘Are you guys moving? Well then I guess we shoot this scene around you two.’ Nash says he’s got his fingers crossed for an offer to come in shortly for Magic Mike 2.
For many actors, a role as a Marvel hero or villain is the dream pinnacle. In 2000, Nash turned down the role of Sabretooth in the original X-Men. “They offered me $100,000 for a nine week gig. I said, ‘I’m making that a night.' Nine weeks at that point was 700 grand.”
WCW was purchased by the WWE in 2001, effectively operating a monopoly on the professional wrestling business. Nash explains that regardless of inflation, back then was the time to make money in wrestling. “Because of the wars. There’s nothing to bargain with now. I’m sure there are guys making money. I’m sure [John] Cena is making some cash. His merchandise sells so well. A huge chunk of the upside is your merchandise. Cena won’t even be on [television] and will out sell anybody else on the show four to one.”
Nash was involved with promoting the first ever pay-per-view event for NXT, WWE’s developmental training program. He explains why this is a key instrument in WWE’s monopoly. “The NXT arena basically looks like [Monday Night] RAW, without the arena. It’s the same aesthetic so you’re conditioned to walk down to that ring and get into that setting. You’re taught to work a certain way and to do it the WWE way.” It’s no longer strategic to poach top talent from other promotions, Nash clarifies, “they don’t want to spend 300-grand, when they got a guy they can pay $75,000. And they don’t want to bring in a dog who thinks it’s ok to piss on the rug when they’ve got one right here who’s already house broken. You know, it’s already been trained the WWE way that they want this person to be, and if he hasn’t, if he hasn’t adhered to it, he’s already out of the program.”
Nash is still collecting cheques from WWE as he’s signed to a “Legends” contract. “Basically you’re a PR guy for the company.” Nash expands, “because of the Network and what they have, there is so much programming and I’ve been a part of the business for 20 years.” The WWE Network being WWE’s latest invention. It’s their version of Netflix and plays host to every pay-per-view event, past or present, along with several other regular scheduled programs. “At Wrestlemania, I worked on the Randy Savage DVD that’s coming out, they got me doing some voice over, green screen stuff. Then for the network itself, it has ongoing programming that has different segments. They might ask [me for my] top 20 matches of all time. As a fan, not as something [that] you lived.” He explains it as their way of keeping a core roster without having to further bust the humps of the young and active talent who are in the ring on a nightly basis.
Nash describes the differences of his era working at WWE, “Every time I go back, the universe that it covers, it’s almost like one of those super bugs that is resilient, it just continues to morph and morph and morph. It used to be three camera trucks and a ring truck. Now man, it looks like The Stones are playing… The Stones are coming with The Eagles. When you’re in the back lockers, there are 85 buses.”
It used to be three camera trucks and a ring truck. Now man, it looks like The Stones are playing… The Stones are coming with The Eagles. When you’re in the back lockers, there are 85 buses.”
Nash was also involved in promoting this year’s Wrestlemania, the WWE’s annual largest event of the year and the 30th anniversary in the Wrestlemania legacy. “Wrestlemania is probably in the realm of one of the 10 largest productions. You can’t run a building that holds less than 80,000 people, all you’re doing is just hurting revenue. It’s not whether you’re going to sell out, it’s what building can we get into that we’re going to sell out. It’s become a situation where it’s an event. They drew as much money in New Orleans with Wrestlemania as they did with the Super Bowl. Just as many people. Actually we can get more people in Wrestlemania because you got the floor.” And he’s right; Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome hosted 71,024 people in February of 2013, where as Wrestlemania XXX held 75,167 people in the same venue this past April.
Wrestlemania XXX made news around the world when The Undertaker lost to Brock Lesnar to bring his record to 21-1 and ending his Wrestlemania undefeated streak. The arena went silent and every wrestling fan in the world was in shock and some outraged. Nash has his opinion as well on the match, “yeah, disappointed. I didn’t see an upside in it.” He looks at it from Undertaker’s point of view though, “if you’re going to be beat by someone, I’d want to be beat by a shoot world champion.” Lesnar of course being a former UFC champion. What irritates a lot of wrestling fans is that Brock Lesnar is a part-time wrestler and usually only performs at a couple big events every year. Nash explains that Lesnar never liked the amount of travelling involved with working in the WWE, even from the time he first moved up from Ohio Valley Wresting, where he trained. He’s also not the type of guy who likes to be in the public eye. “He’s a quiet guy too. I think he grew up in North Dakota in like a really rural area… He’s one of those guys that are like me, Taker, there are certain guys that when you walk the airport, you’re you. You’re not some guy who looks like Brock Lesnar. You can just tell by his structure, his stature. If you don’t want to deal with that and accept that as part of it, it’s really hard.” Nash tells us about the days when he travelled with Hulk Hogan, who you’d have to be blind not to recognize. “Granted he’ll wear his yellow and red colours, he’ll just go with it. There are not many guys in a bandana, with a fu-Manchu and sunglasses.”
The nWo, from left: Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall
Nash actually made an appearance in the ring at this year’s Royal Rumble match. A match where 30 men enter the ring, one at a time, every 90 seconds and the only way to eliminate someone is to throw them over the ropes and out of the ring. It is considered one of the most important matches of the year, with the winner getting a main event championship match at Wrestlemania. Nash is known for his performance in the 1994 Royal Rumble as Diesel where he achieved seven eliminations to tie the record at the time. His time was short-lived this year at only one elimination before being taken out by Roman Reigns, who set a new record of twelve eliminations. Nash, of course, was just pleased to be involved. “The thing that was the most rewarding to me was they called me two-weeks out, at 54 years old and they knew I’d be in shape and ready to go... It’s nice to be able to get that call and be in your 50s.”
Don’t expect to see Big Sexy in the ring too often anymore though. That part of his life is mostly behind him now. Considering his age, what he’s already accomplished and the time involved, he doesn’t believe it makes sense to make a comeback. He explains that even if he only competed on WWE’s two televised shows, with flying in and out of town, he’d be away from home four days of the week. “It’s impossible, for 25 years I haven’t been on vacations, I’ve missed most of my child’s growing up. It’s time to be a dad, be a husband.”
The theatrics of the WWE is what elevates a performer to legend, and the entrance music injects a burst of energy into the crowd. The nWo used Frank Shelley’s “Rockhouse” which became one of the most iconic entrance themes of all time. “Right, the porno music,” Nash jokes. He tells us that some of his favourite entrance themes were Jimmy Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” which Hogan used for a while or CM Punk’s version of the Living Colour classic “Cult of Personality.” However, most of the entrance themes in WWE are original compositions by Jim Johnston, who’s been working for the company since 1985. Of the original compositions, Nash said he especially enjoyed the themes for Razor Ramon (the other ring name given to his friend Scott Hall) and Harlem Heat. “I always wanted to come out to Pearl Jam, but they’re like we can’t afford it.”
Nash dives into his recent musical choices like the White Stripes DVD, Under Great White Northern Lights, where they toured every province and territory of Canada. As well as the Cameron Crowe directed Pearl Jam documentary PJ20. He even sings a few lines of “Hunger Strike” for us. When thinking of his favourite concert experiences. “I saw, years ago at Pine Knob, outside of Detroit, Neil Young and James Taylor together and they were covering each other's songs. James Taylor’s singing “Cinnamon Girl” and Neil Young’s singing “Fire and Rain.” And they’re going back and forth. It was one of the best shows I ever saw in my life. I was sitting up in the grass with my girlfriend and a big jug of wine.”
“I always wanted to come out to Pearl Jam, but they’re like we can’t afford it.”
Aside from the classics, Nash knows all about modern punk and hard rock from his son Tristen, who is a musician. He now attends Warped Tour with his son. “I remember it was so funny because I had long grey hair and I had these cut off camis on and I’m walking and these really young kids walk by me with fucking spiked hair and shit and the one dude goes ‘Who the fuck brought jacked up Moses?’"
You often wonder what these pro wrestlers will do when their career is over. What other skills do they have? What’s left in that head of theirs after being dropped on it for a couple decades? If they haven’t made it to the big time, then they may not even have much money to sit back on. Fortunately, none of those are an issue for Kevin Nash. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s making movies, he’s still under contract with the WWE, and he’s got his family. He’s just as successful as most investment bankers except he got to smash people with steel chairs for a living and retire at the same age. Keep an eye out for Nash in the upcoming film John Wick as well as the sequel to Magic Mike and don’t be surprised if you spot him at the upcoming Soundgarden & Nine Inch Nails tour. nWo 4 Life!