Really acting: wrestlers who went beyond fighting on the screen

 
 

American Wrestling is considered by many to be a sport that’s much more about the show than the actual competition. This is perhaps the reason it’s hardly among the most bet-on combat sports in spite of its insane popularity. It also happens to be the combat sport that has given the world the most athletes-turned-actors – most of them playing in action-packed productions that put a serious emphasis on their muscles and moves. There are, in turn, exceptions – movies where these wrestlers-turned-actors don’t play action heroes at all.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was one of the first wrestlers to rack up a serious filmography. He was often seen in B-movies, most often in action flicks, he did some voice work, and hosted “Celebrity Wrestling”, a short-lived show that involved, you guessed it, celebrities facing each other in the ring. There was, in turn, one role that made him a celebrity beyond the World Wrestling Federation – a main role in John Carpenter’s sci-fi action movie “They Live”.

The movie tells the story of Nada (Piper), a construction worker struggling to make ends meet that stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see the world for what he is: a dystopia ruled by aliens that keeps humanity obedient, blind, and easy to control. Being “woke” Nada can’t conceal himself from the Earth’s alien overlords and is forced to flee – he ultimately joins a group of anti-alien activists and sets out to destroy the source of the signal that keeps humanity subdued.

The movie has its share of action scenes – the scene in which Piper fights Keith David in an alley went down in movie history as one of the best alley brawls ever immortalized on film – but it is memorable for its acid social criticism. While it wasn’t very well received by the critics at the time of its release (although it did very well at the box office), the film became a cult classic and Roddy’s line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum” is remembered to this day.

Dave Bautista

David Michael Bautista Jr., better known by his ring name “Batista”, has retired from wrestling this year – but not before starting a pretty successful movie career. He played in several action movies before his breakthrough role in Guardians of the Galaxy propelled him into the spotlight – being Drax the Destroyer, in turn, has really given his acting job a boost. The 6-foot-4 giant bundle of muscle and stamina is perfect for roles in which heads need to be bashed in… but he also had roles in which he had a chance to prove he’s more than just a bundle of muscle and stamina.

In Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049”, he plays the role of Sapper Morton, an older “Nexus 8” replicant that lives at a secluded protein plant outside Los Angeles – he is a well-read, mild-mannered person collecting antique books, a trained medic that served as a field medic during the wars of the off-world colonies. In Hotel Artemis, his role involves more action but not only that: he is the bodyguard, assistant, and confidante of Jean “the Nurse” Thomas (Jodie Foster) who runs a no-questions-asked clinic for the Los Angeles underground, a brute who’s surprisingly kind and protective of his friends.

Lenny Montana

Last but not least, let us mention the only wrestler (so far) to play in an Oscar-winning movie: Lenny Montana, born Leonardo Passafaro. The 6-foot-6 giant began his career as a professional wrestler back in the 1950s, under the moniker of “The Zebra Kid”, winning several titles across America. He later got involved with the Colombo crime family, making a name for himself as an enforcer and a surprisingly resourceful arsonist – his actions later led to his incarceration. His ties with the mobsters of the time landed him a role in Francis Ford Coppola’s classic “The Godfather” – he played Luca Brasi, Vito Corleone’s personal enforcer. A role that fit like a glove. Needless to say, Montana never returned to the ring: he was an in-demand character actor after his debut movie’s success, usually playing menacing and muscular characters.