Finally, The Rock is making a movie about professional wrestling. Dwayne Johnson is far and away the most successful pro-wrestler to ever transition to mainstream movie stardom. He’s one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood and headlines huge franchises like the Fast and the Furious and Baywatch as well as his own HBO series Ballers. Johnson even made a wildly successful return to World Wrestling Entertainment, where he first achieved global fame as WWE Champion The Rock, to main event two WrestleManias in 2012 and 2013. Yet for all of his success in acting and producing, Johnson’s millions of fans have long wondered when he would use his considerable Hollywood clout to make a movie about professional wrestling.
Leave it to Johnson, who has been making news about his burgeoning participation in DC Films as Black Adam, to suddenly announce that yes, indeed, he is making a pro-wrestling movie. Johnson is executive producing and will star in a cameo in Fighting With My Family, which will be written and directed by Stephen Merchant (The Office). Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions, in association with WWE Studios, Misher Films, and Film4, are handling producing duties with filming to commence in LA and London in February, 2017.
Based on the Channel 4 British documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, the film will be based on the true life story of WWE Superstar Paige and her family – all of whom, including her parents and her brothers, are UK-based professional wrestlers. Fighting With My Family will star Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) as Ian Bevis, who wrestles under the name Ricky Knight, Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) as Julia Hamer-Bevis, who is also known as Sweet Saraya, Jack Lowden (A United Kingdom) as their son Zak, who performs as Zak Zodiac, and Florence Pugh (The Falling) as their daughter Saraya-Jade Bevis, known to WWE fans all over the world as Paige. With such a talented cast and Johnson executive producing, Fighting With My Family could very well be the most authentic and revelatory movie ever made about professional wrestling.
Deadline reports that “The film follows the story of reformed gangster and former wrestler Ricky, his wife Julia, daughter Saraya and son Zak, who make a living performing in tiny venues across the country. Ricky and Julia want a better life for their children, and when brother and sister get the chance to audition for the WWE, it seems the family dream is coming true and all their troubles will be solved. However, Saraya and Zak are about to learn that becoming a WWE superstar demands more than they ever imagined possible as athletes and siblings.”
Pro-wrestling, which achieved an apex in popularity in the 1980s (the days of Hulk Hogan) and then reached even greater heights of success in the late 1990s (the “Attitude Era” of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin), has had a spotty record at the movies. One of its lowest points was the poorly received David Arquette 1999 comedy Ready to Rumble. Then in 2008, along came director Darren Aronofsky, who blew the lid off the secret, behind-the-curtain world of professional wrestling with The Wrestler.
Starring Mickey Rourke in a comeback performance that earned him an Oscar nomination, and Evan Rachel Wood as his long-suffering daughter, The Wrestler was the story of fictional washed-up grappler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. A former star in the 1980s, Randy The Ram continued to eke out a living wrestling in the minor leagues, coasting on nostalgia of his former glory while tragically unable to transition into a normal life. The Wrestler was a harrowing look at the physical and emotional toll professional wrestling takes on many of its performers, who cling at all costs to the rush they can only find by performing in the squared circle. The Wrestler earned Rourke an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win for Best Actor.
As excellent a film as The Wrestler was, it was a fictional account of professional wrestling that carried a persuasive ring of authenticity. Fighting With My Family looks to top it by spotlighting the amazingly true story of a ribald real life family of professional wrestlers. The film benefits from the intimate knowledge and participation of the Bevis family, as well as the insider input of executive producer Dwayne Johnson, one of most successful wrestlers ever to lace up a pair of boots.
Raven-haired and porcelain-skinned, Paige has a fascinating, unique, and even somewhat controversial story. Many pro-wrestlers are offspring of wrestlers and are “born into” the wrestling business, but as Paige told Conan O’Brien in 2015, she has been wrestling “since she was in the womb” (her mother Saraya wrestled while unknowingly pregnant with her). Saraya-Jade Bevis began wrestling in UK rings as Britani Knight at the tender age of 13, even forming a tag team with her own mother. Saraya-Jade spent her teen years wrestling all over Europe.
At 18 years old, Saraya-Jade was signed to WWE and trained in their developmental division (known as NXT), where she was given her ring name “Paige.” A charismatic and naturally gifted performer in the squared circle, Paige became the NXT Women’s Champion and then debuted on the main WWE roster in April 2014, winning the WWE Divas Championship at only 21 years of age, the youngest woman ever to be champion. Since then she has been a regular cast member on the E! reality series Total Divas and continued to perform for WWE. Then in the summer and fall of 2016, Paige was felled by an injury and was suspended twice from WWE for violating the company’s wellness policy. She has yet to return to WWE television.
Still only 24 years old, Paige’s story as someone born into a professional wrestling family who achieves global success is one that deeply resonates with Dwayne Johnson. The Rock is himself was one of youngest men ever to become WWE Champion, and he is the son of a WWE Hall of Famer, Rocky Johnson, and the grandson of another WWE Hall of Famer, “High Chief” Peter Maivia. As Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter:
“Back in 2012, I was in my hotel room in London and stumbled across a documentary on a local UK channel. Not only was I intrigued by this loving and wild family, but I also felt it’s the kind of narrative that would make an amazing movie… The Knights’ journey is a universal one that all families are familiar with. I relate to Saraya (Paige) and her wrestling family on such a personal level and it means so much that I can help tell their story.”
With the pedigree of talent involved, Fighting With My Family looks to bring a degree of verisimilitude about professional wrestling never before seen in a movie. Nick Frost and Lena Headey are highly respected actors beloved for their genre work. Pugh and Lowden are talented young actors whom Johnson has praised. It will be quite intriguing for these actors wrestle and portray such a rowdy family on-screen. Merchant, whom Johnson has previously worked with in The Tooth Fairy, is a bit of a wildcard as a first-time feature film director, but he has directed numerous episodes of his television work with Ricky Gervais like Extras, Life’s Too Short, and The Office, and his talents as a writer on those series are without question.
With Merchant penning the script and behind the lens, Fighting With My Family should have copious amounts of the necessary wit and dramatic grit. Frost and Headey will make for a dynamic couple on screen as unruly British grapplers and parents of their irrepressible progeny who are looking to follow in their footsteps. Indeed, their young daughter’s career will surpass all of their achievements, as she gains stardom in the biggest pro-wrestling company in the world and experiences the commensurate highs and lows. It should be fascinating to see Pugh don Paige’s trademark black leather and Doc Martens.
In Dwayne Johnson, Fighting With My Family has an executive producer who has reached the pinnacles of wrestling and Hollywood overseeing a story as personal to him as it is to the family he is bringing to the screen. Expected to be both a compelling look at a truly unconventional family and an unflinchingly authentic portrayal of the behind the scenes of the wrestling business, Fighting With My Family should be the ultimate movie about pro-wrestling.