Mention John Cena and the first thing that comes to mind is WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) superstar. But that tough persona that goes hand in hand with the sport does not really define Cena.
In an interview transcript provided by 20th Century Fox, Cena says: “Most of the time people see me in a match, trying to win a fight … But that is not just who I am. I am not afraid to be vulnerable, honest and emotional.”
It is befitting then that Cena was cast to voice the titular role in Ferdinand, a new animated feature from director Carlos Saldanha (Rio). The film is based on a classic 1936 children’s book with the message to be true to yourself no matter what.
Ferdinand is no ordinary bull. Unlike most bulls born in Spain, Ferdinand does not want to be a fighter; he’d rather play in the fields, just chilling and smelling the flowers. But after an incident in the city, he is sent to a bull training camp where he’s trained to face matadors in the bullring. Both the camp and the bullring are the last two places this large and peaceful creature wants to be. So Ferdinand – with a group of misfits – makes his escape to try and get back to the field he loves.
The chance to voice a character Cena could relate to so well was almost too good an opportunity to pass up.
“It might as well be the story of my own life!” says the 40-year-old athlete/actor.
Cena, who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts as the second oldest of five brothers, shares that in his family he took the most chances. “I was different like Ferdinand. I was the one ‘bull’ or kid who didn’t do all the things that all the others did, so I really understand and relate to the story of Ferdinand.”
Director Saldanha agrees: “John is massive and strong like Ferdinand. But like Ferdinand, he’s also gentle, and believes in non-violence as well as being true to yourself. And he doesn’t have a problem making fun of himself. He has a natural confidence that allows him to be self-deprecating.”
The real John Cena is someone who loves telling stories and making people happy. Like Ferdinand, Cena is also selfless.
Besides wrestling and acting, Cena is also a philanthropist. He works for numerous charities, has done fundraising events for breast cancer research and awareness, and is also the celebrity ambassador for Rotary’s “End Polio Now” campaign as well as participating frequently with Make-A-Wish to grant wishes.
“Making films like Ferdinand is amazing. But whether it is wrestling or acting, it is all entertainment and that’s what I do for a living.
“For me it’s all about telling stories. I’m in a very fortunate place. And I don’t take one day for granted. I shouldn’t be here; this is all a kind of happy accident for me. But I work very hard to make sure that I can extend this happy accident as long as I can.”
If there is one piece of advice Cena would give to younger people who feel like they can’t be themselves, it is this: “… I would say that there is no substitute for being yourself. As uncomfortable as it sometimes makes you feel, because if you try to be cool and you screw up while trying to be cool, then you’re not being who you are. It is always better to be yourself whether it’s cool or it’s uncool. What is considered to be ‘cool’ changes, ‘cool’ is relative, ‘cool’ goes by in the blink of an eye, but you are with yourself for your whole life.”
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