The pro-wrestler-turned-actor stars in Robert Lieberman's upcoming action thriller
Pro wrestling legend Steve Austin stars as The Stranger. A man with no name, no memory and absolutely nothing left to lose. But when he finds himself hunted by both the FBI and the Russian mob, this amnesiac decides to fight back. Pursuit cannot stop him. Torture will not break him. And with every beating, bullet and betrayal, he'll remember another piece of the horror that took away his career, his family and his identity. Now the puzzle is nearly complete, and one man is about to take back his past...By ending a whole lot of futures. Erica Cerra (Eureka) and Adam Beach (Flags of Our Fathers) also star in this explosive action-thriller about collateral damage, stone cold vengeance, and a double-crossed killing machine known only as The Stranger.
Director Robert Lieberman's action thriller comes to DVD on June 1st. In celebrating this upcoming release, we caught up with Steve Austin to get his take on the film. Here is our conversation with the man formerly known as Stone Cold:
Steve Austin: You're out in Nashville. How bad did you guys get hit by the flood?
We fared pretty well. A lot of friends lost their homes and cars. The Grand Ol' Opry got hit pretty badly. Places like The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum still aren't open for business, which is going to hurt the city in terms of tourism this summer.
Steve Austin: I'll tell you what. You didn't hear about all of that stuff until a little later. After it happened, out here in Los Angeles. I lived in Nashville for two years. And I never would have pictured in my mind that something like that could happened there.
We didn't even think it was possible while it was happening. Within just a few hours, the Interstate by our house looked like a raging river. It was a little crazy.
Steve Austin: Oh, man. That is incredible. Are you familiar with Dickerson Pike?
Yes. Definitely. My office is just down the street, off of Dickerson Pike.
Steve Austin: Do you ever pass by the Congress Inn?
Yes, of course. That's not too far from here. About two or three minutes.
Steve Austin: That's where I used to live. When I left Dallas, Texas, they moved me to Nashville, Tennessee. Because that's where the rest of the wrestling territory was. I lived there at the Congress Inn. The two fellows that were managing it back in the day would let me pay whenever I had some money. I couldn't pay the weekly rent, but I paid them. They fed me. They took care of me. Not to talk about my wrestling career, but to talk about the movie. That's where I lived in Nashville.
That whole area was under water and inaccessible for almost a week.
Steve Austin: I'll be. I have fond memories of that hotel. But its not necessarily one of the hotels you're going to want to stay at.
How long ago was that?
Steve Austin: Its right when I was breaking in. That would have been between 1990 and 1991 and a half.
Nearly ten years ago.
Steve Austin: Yup. It seems like fifty years now, but it really wasn't that long ago.
And now you're starring in The Stranger. This film's storyline is reminiscent of The Bourne Identity. What steps did you and director Robert Lieberman take to insure that this would be an original, unique, and exciting project that was different from some of the more recent action films we've seen?
Steve Austin: Man, I wasn't worrying about that. I was just trying to make the movie. I was offered the role, and it seems like the very next day we were shooting it. I was more concerned about trying to learn how to speak a little bit of Russian, a little bit of Spanish. As someone that has never morphed into fugue states as an amnesiac, I had my hands full trying to take on these different personalities. I wasn't worried about emulating or copying another movie. I was too busy concentrating on the task at hand.
It sounds like quite a lot went into creating this character in a very short amount of time. Did you take a crash course via the Internet in figuring some of these different character elements?
Steve Austin: You hit it right on the head. This was a crash course in looking up and studying fugue states. As far as the languages were concerned, we didn't know right up until the end. Should this guy speak any Russian? Should he speak Spanish? Should we just leave it alone? The director said, "No. This guy should be bilingual." Without any prep time, you're sitting there for three days straight with a little recorder in your hand, listening to all of the dialogue in Spanish and Russian. You are studying phonetics, studying your ass off. (Laughs) I had to speak a different language in two days. It wasn't like I had the time. If I had six weeks to prepare for it, I would have had those six weeks. As it was, I had three days. I did the best I could do with what I had.
As an actor, did you know what you were saying when you were saying it? For me, personally, I have a very hard time grasping the intricacies that go along with another language.
Steve Austin: That was the hardest thing about it. You're just making noises. When we're talking in English, we know what we're saying. Here, I had no knowledge. I was just handed a tape recorder and told to do it. I didn't know what any of the words meant. I had my phonetics page, and that helped out a little bit. But if you don't really know what you are saying, you can't understand the basis for saying it. Trying to make sounds for the sake of making sounds is a difficult task.
From the actor's point of view, that has to be extremely challenging, because you're not sure what sort of emotion you're supposed to put behind the words. Did you at all consider just doing the dialogue in English?
Steve Austin: We could have eliminated the foreign languages. This was a great script to read, but it's a story that relies on a lot of flashbacks. It was a very challenging role. That's what appealed to me about the project in general. It was taking me out of my comfort zone. As an action movie, this was one where I couldn't really rely on physicality or fight sequences. I'd be forced to focus on the acting. I needed to focus on the task at hand, especially in coming to understand these fugue states. The loss of memory. And this language barrier. I looked at it as a huge opportunity to push the envelope. I wanted to further myself as an actor, and distance myself from being a wrestler. I am very proud of my background. It put me where I am today. The bottom line is, I wanted to take on this particular challenge. And excel at it.
How do you personally feel you've come along as an actor? Because a lot of people do, and will continue to, look at you as just a wrestler. But even in that particular arena, you are always acting. You are always playing a character. And it's more intense than a soap opera, or a weekly series. Its not like you're stepping into the world of feature films unprepared for, or fresh to the task at hand.
Steve Austin: So much of wresting is a violent form of theater. You're on a stage. A twenty-by-twenty ring. There are anywhere between five to twenty-five thousand people all around you on any given night. When we were selling out every night, there were at least eighteen to twenty thousand fans. You have to play everything so big. Even to this day, in some of my fight sequences on film, I have a tendency to oversell it a little bit. Because I am used to playing to the last row in a crowd. Yes. Wrestling is acting and performing. But its so over the top. It's so big. It's a totally different ballgame. When you are in a movie, and you are hitting marks, and you are trying to be a different character in each movie? I got to be Stone Cold for ten years. I got to be very good at being that guy. And I was very affective. Hell, looking down the street today, everyone is still calling me Stone Cold.
In this film, you are only being billed as Steve Austin. Why is it important for you, at this stage in the game, to remove yourself from the nickname Stone Cold? Even though you know for a fact that years from now, fans are still going to call you that.
Steve Austin: On a world wide level, everybody...I won't say everybody, because I don't want to blow myself out of proportion...But I had an outrageous following as Stone Cold. When I'm just Steve Austin, there isn't that level of name recognition. But the fact is, I am just Steve Austin. I'm not a guy who is a wrestler, playing a guy who is in this movie. Its like Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder. "I'm a guy, playing a dude, who's playing another dude!" I'm Steve Austin now. I'm not Stone Cold Steve Austin. That was a character on Monday Night RAW. They don't roll credits at the end of Monday Night RAW. Its funny, filming in Brazil a few months ago for The Expendables, walking out of the hotel, half the people there called Sylvester Stallone by the name Rocky, the other half called him Rambo. A few people called him Sly. But that's what they know the guy for. He created these two very iconic characters. I'm always going to be known as Stone Cold. I'm proud of it. But in my movies, I am just Steve Austin.
One of the coolest things we're seeing right now is an explosion of hardcore action films hitting the market. What do you equate that to? And how excited are you to be at the cusp of this particular genre movement, where the wimpy hero is starting to take a backseat?
Steve Austin: Do you think that's really the case? Its funny. As you are saying this, we've also seen some great mainstream actors do great roles in big action movies. We have Robert Downey Jr. in the Iron Man films. Matt Damon in the Bourne movies. They've been able to transition and do great work in action movies. I think its great for me to hear you say there is a big market for that. I know in working with Sylvester Stallone on The Expendables that these are the types of movies I enjoy. They are the types of movies I grew up on. There are some really great action movies. I also liked Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. I like some things that aren't necessarily action. I like the type of movies that Sly was a big part of. That Arnold Schwarzenegger was a part of. That Steven Seagal was a part of. Back in the day. I still enjoy those types of action movies. To continue down that road and be in as many as I can would be great. To be in some comedies, or more humor based films would be great too.
Your director, Robert Lieberman, also directed the Mighty Ducks 3. Do you see any similarities in that type of kids' film to what you are doing as far as this being an action movie? Especially in terms of how each audience has to be constantly stimulated by what they are seeing on screen? Also, a lot of your contemporaries have gone on to act in quite a few kid-friendly films. Is that something that interests you?
Steve Austin: I'd be interested in moving towards that. Not just for the sake of doing it. If the part fit. If it was a cool role. And it appealed to me? Yes! But to do it just for the sake of doing it? No. I'd like to keep my mind open to anything. I am trying to break out of this idea. That I am just a guy who wants to do action movies. I'm quite happy doing action movies. But I want to push the envelope. I want to do some comedy, and share some of that humor. That is a big part of my life. It's more important to me than being a tough guy. I made a great living, and was highly affective at beating people up on TV every single week. But that's not what I am. In my day-to-day life, most of what I do is laugh my ass off. My friends and me make fun of each other, and everyone else. Comedy is a bigger part of my life than the tough guy stuff is.
Did your role in The Expendables allow you to bring that humorous side of yourself to the screen?
Steve Austin: In The Expendables, I didn't get as much of the funny stuff. I did get a few chances at levity. I don't want to call The Expendables a comedy, because it certainly is not. It's a kick-ass action movie. The guy I play is not a dialogue heavy guy. His name is Dan Pain. He was there for intimidation and violence. Eric Roberts was there as my boss. I didn't do anything funny in the movie because I wasn't supposed to. I remember when I met Sly, and he offered me the job. He told me about the movie. It sounded great to me. There are some very funny lines being delivered in the film, but not by Dan Pain.
What would a Steve Austin comedy look like in your mind? Do you have a couple of ideas brewing?
Steve Austin: It would be like 48 Hours. Lethal Weapon. Stuff like that. Or something not quite in the vein of Sacha Baron Cohen, but so off-the-wall you'd be surprised to see me in it. I have the wackiest sense of humor. Some of my favorite stuff is Benny Hill and Monty Python. I loved those guys. They were so far ahead of their time. I grew up being a big fan of those two acts, and everything they did. I have a very wacky sense of humor, and to nail it down for you in this phone conversation, it would be hard for me to do.
What about SNL? Have you ever been on Saturday Night Live? That's a good jumping off point for a more serious performer who wants to get some recognition for their comedic skills.
You mentioned Eric Roberts as being your main on-screen costar in The Expendables. He's also in another film of yours coming up. Is he a friend of yours? Or was this just a coincidence?
Steve Austin: I met Eric Roberts on the set of The Expendables. We were eating breakfast one morning, the day before we starting shooting. I went over and introduced myself to him. We hit it off like gangbusters. The guy took me under his wing. We talked all day because most of our scenes were shot together. I was his right hand guy. We laughed our asses off every day. We told dirty jokes. I asked him questions about acting. I just finished a movie in Vancouver called Hunt to Kill. We had a spot in there for him to come in. I asked him if he would. He said absolutely. So he came in and did the movie with me. We continue to talk on the phone to this day. And he has turned into a really good friend. I look up to him as an actor, and he has been really beneficial to me in terms of getting better. I'm learning what to do and what not to do. He's helped me to be better.
Have you been able to learn a lot from the various different actors you've been able to work with throughout your film career?
Steve Austin: I learned a little bit from Sly, but that guy was so busy. He wrote, he's directing, he's starring. The guy is doing everything on The Expendables. I watched the way he conducted himself, and how he went about his business. As far as Eric Roberts goes, because we hit it off, and he's such a nice guy, I could ask him a million questions. Its not like you go on every movie and start asking people questions. There are does and don'ts. You find your comfort level. They're not there to school you. And you're not a student of theirs. Sometimes you do cross that line, as we did. Because of our friendship, we were able to do that. Once you get on a movie set, its not like you automatically start trading acting tips. It's a whole different ballgame from my pro-wrestling days.