Wrestler-turned-actor John Cena, known for films such as The Marine and 12 Rounds, is the voice behind Ferdinand, the bull, for the eponymous animation film that is based on the classic 1936 children’s book by author Munro Leaf. In this chat, he talks about voice-acting, and how it wasn’t all that easy as he imagined it would be.
You have a huge fan base in India for being a WWE champion.
I cannot tell you how fortunate I am to have so many Indian fans. Every day, I log in to my social media accounts, and have so many Indian fans wanting to talk to me. I feel so bad that I had to cancel my trip to India two years back because of an injury. I can’t wait to come to India and meet my fans.
We have an Indian representative in the WWE, of course — the Great Khali.
He is one of my favourites! I learnt to speak in Hindi to interact with him. I don’t remember much of it because it used to be part of a script. The only little part that I remember are two words: ‘Samajh gaya?’ I think it means ‘Did you understand?’ So I might not know much, but when I say ‘samajh gaya?’, and I get a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in response, I know I’m understanding them, and they can follow me
On to the film. What excited you about playing Ferdinand, an unusual, peace-loving bull?
Oh my goodness, this was an amazing opportunity to play a character who is physically imposing, but who is actually endearing and friendly on the inside. It might as well be the story of my own life (laughs)! Ferdinand is a bull who grows up on a ranch and decides early on that he’s not like the others. Unlike the rest, he doesn’t want to fight, and so gets ostracised. They say, ‘Man, this is what bulls do, we fight,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, fighting is cool for you guys; it’s not for me.’
So you related a lot to the character?
Yes, I do relate to him because I’m a WWE superstar and people generally only see me in a match, trying to win a fight. But that is not who I am. I am not afraid to be vulnerable, honest and emotional. To some people, that doesn’t make sense, because of the image they have of me. But if you are a dedicated fan of the WWE universe, you’ll know that, ‘Wow, John Cena is actually Ferdinand!’ This is a perfect role for me.
What was it like to work on an animation film?
I’ve done voiceover work for commercials in the past, but this was my first animation film. I had thought it would be more straightforward, with Carlos, the director saying, ‘Okay, come on in, put the headphones on, talk into the microphone.’ I thought that would be it. Then I started looking at the rehearsal time and the recording time involved, and I was like, ‘Whoa! This takes a lot of time.’ But you get into the recording booth and discover that you need every single minute of the time they’ve allocated.
What does a film like Ferdinand that ostensibly preaches non-violence, mean in today’s world?
Being in the storytelling and the entertainment business for a long time, I think that step number one is about making a film that people want to see. I sat down and watched this film, and I want to see it again. It is a fun ride. So if people walk out of the movie theatre and go, ‘great movie,’ and that’s the last they think of it, that’s fantastic. But when you can do something extra, so people walk out of the theatre going, ‘I felt good about that film because it has a good message for my kids,’ that is wonderful because you are sending a positive message.
You are doing a lot of acting even while continuing to wrestle. Where does your heart truly lie?
Making films is amazing. But be it wrestling or acting, it is all entertainment and that’s what I do for a living. For me, it’s all about telling stories.