When people talk about who from The Real World has become the most famous in another medium, they usually cite the actors Jamie Chung and Jacinda Barrett, or Congressman Sean Duffy. But does Mike "The Miz" Mizanin trump them all with his WWE triumphs? I would argue yes.
Mizanin is now trying to parlay his wrestling career into a mainstream acting one. The Marine 3: Homefront, a Rambo-ish story about a Marine who returns home on leave and has to rescue his sister from terrorist kidnappers, comes out on DVD Tuesday. It's a co-production of WWE Studios and Fox Home Entertainment; the first Marine movie, released in 2006, starred wrestler John Cena and was a surprise hit.
I spoke with Mizanin about his interesting path from reality television on The Real World: Back to New York in 2001 to more reality television (as a Real World/Road Rules Challenge mainstay for years) to the WWE. He was easy to talk to and wanted to make it clear how hard he works at things. He also tried to bust me, I think, in case I hadn't actually watched the movie (Me: "I enjoyed the movie —" Him: "What did you like about it?"): I really had watched it, but respect!
Kate Aurthur: I have more Real World expertise than wrestling knowledge. I am a wrestling moron. Please forgive me in advance.
Mike "The Miz" Mizanin: That's fine. I love them both. And I always embrace each one.
KA: There are people like the Rock who've turned wrestling into huge acting careers. Is that what you want?
MM: The Marine franchise has done so well, and been so successful, with John Cena in the first one, Ted DiBiase in the second one. I hope this one is as successful, or exceeds both of them. As far as doing other movies, I love WWE and I love being a WWE Superstar, but I also love doing movies, so I'd love to balance both. And I actually have another movie that I'm about to go film, which is called Christmas Bounty for ABC Family. It's starting a little roll.
KA: I saw that when I was doing research for this interview. ABC Family, Christmas, The Miz, WWE: I got confused.
MM: It's an action comedy. You know the 25 Days of Christmas that ABC Family does every year? It will be the pinnacle movie that it wraps up to. I'm just excited to be tied into it, and I'm really looking forward to starting to film it.
KA: Where are you filming it?
KA: Where The Marine 3 filmed. You're going to be a Vancouver native by the end of all this.
MM: I love Vancouver, are you kidding me? I enjoy Joey's, across the street from the Sutton. I enjoy the crepe place. And I enjoy Black & Blue. They're great restaurants, and I think I went to them each and every day I was there.
KA: I am a big Vancouver fan as well, and I enjoy the sushi, which is so good there. I don't know whether you like sushi.
MM: I love sushi!
KA: Have you been to Tojo's?
MM: I don't think I ever went there.
KA: You've got to go. It is super-fancy and expensive. It is worth it.
MM: I love fancy, and I love expensive. It sounds up my alley.
KA: T-O-J-O. Anyway! Was it a daunting thing to star in your first feature film? I know there's a certain amount of acting involved in wrestling, but that is different from this.
MM: I didn't want people to look at this movie and go, "Oh, that's the Miz from WWE," or "that's Mike from The Real World." I kind of was, like, "OK, which action heroes did I really look up to, really see as helping me mold this character of Jake Carter?" I looked to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Dirty Harry for Clint Eastwood. Where he didn't say much, but even with the smallest eye glint, you could really tell what was on his mind. With him walking into a room, you could feel his aura. Then I watched Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman. And just how cool and natural and relaxed he was — I was, like, OK, I want to put that in there. Then you see John McClane in Die Hard: Bruce Willis. I was like, "OK, I want to put these three characters together."
I said I wanted authentic Marines on set so I could really learn how to hold a gun exactly how a Marine would. I could learn how to go through rooms in that abandoned cruise ship exactly how a Marine would. The fight scenes: I wanted them to be authentic, I didn't want them to be martial arts, and all these roundhouse kicks.
KA: So the movie description states "his sister has been abducted by a band of violent extremists." And I wasn't sure what that would be in this day and age. It turns out the villain, Neal McDonough, plays an anticapitalist/Occupy guy. What did you think of the politics of that?
MM: I love the realism of it. This guy is a villain, but we kind of get it in a weird way. He's way too extreme, he's way too psychotic, way too crazy. But he has a reason why he's like this.
KA: You got the part when Randy Orton, who was dishonorably discharged from the Marines, lost it. Is he a friend of yours?
MM: Yeah, I mean, Randy Orton is a great talent in the WWE. He definitely would have done a great job with it.
KA: If only he had been honorably discharged from the Marines. So I remember on the Real World when you started talking about the Miz and wrestling. And no one took it seriously. You were determined, though.
MM: I'm from Parma, Ohio. When you're from Parma, Ohio, your life is supposed to be, you go to college, after college, you go back to Parma, you get a family, you get friends, you get a job. And that's what you do; you just stay there. Once I got on The Real World, I realized I could do anything I wanted to with my life. It kind of opened my eyes. I said, "You know, I want to be a WWE Superstar." Everybody told me I couldn't do it. I wasn't big enough, I wasn't athletic enough. I just believed in myself; I didn't listen to all the naysayers. After three years of working hard, I finally did, and WWE signed me. I've been happy ever since. And been basically working harder than ever. Once you get signed, that's not your sign of, "Oh, OK, I made it." I want to be the best I can possibly be. It's the same with movies. With this movie, I really took it seriously. I was, like, "OK, what do I have to do to take the next step?" To get better, to get better, to get better. And that is to be a sponge. I don't care how big I am in the WWE, when there's a person like Neal McDonough on the set, and stars like Ashley Bell and Michael Eklund, I'm going to be on set every day watching these guys — watching how they prepare, watching how they work — because that's going to elevate me.
KA: I want to talk a little about your path, because it's not like The Real World was an express train for you to the WWE. What's it like to be in some of the smaller wrestling leagues you were in? Can a person make money doing that?
MM: Noooo. Noooo, noooo. Wrestling on the independents, you really can't make a great living. I did The Real World, I moved to Los Angeles right after, and started training on the independent circuit, trying to train to become a WWE Superstar. While I was doing that, I was taking any kind of thing: MTV Challenges were coming up. I kept doing those Challenges, saying, "I want to be a WWE Superstar. I want to be a WWE Superstar."
The WWE wasn't calling. They didn't care that I was on a reality show, they wanted to know that I was good on the ring. They wouldn't let me go on Tough Enough because it was on MTV; finally, they brought it over to the CW, and when it was on the CW, I was allowed to try out. I tried out, I made it onto the show, and the only reason I didn't win is because it was through audience participation — they were the ones that voted — and WWE's audience never really liked me because I was on The Real World then. It's like a fraternity. I didn't win that, but I impressed the execs so much with my passion and my hard work ethic that they gave me a developmental contract.
KA: Have you won the fans over?
MM: I hope so. Right now, I'm getting cheered, which is something I've never seen before in the seven years I've been in WWE. I'm so used to them booing me and hating me.
KA: Are you in touch with Real World people? You were very close with Coral, you dated Trishelle. But you're busy.
MM: I'm very, very busy. But any time I go to any of their cities, there's always someone calling: Ace will call, or Jisela. There are a bunch of people who will call and say, "Hey, can I get tickets to the show? My kids want to go" or "My cousin wants to go." It's always nice to see the people you grew up with.