For a little over six years, WWE superstar Roman Reigns (real name: Leati Joseph Anoa’i) has risen to the heights of sports entertainment holding almost every belt possible and taking part in some of the most brutal main events. Last October, Reigns came on Monday Night Raw to announce that after 11 years of being in remission from leukemia, he had relapsed, forcing him to take a leave of absence.
When Reigns returned this past February, he had a new drive in the ring and out, and it was announced he would be appearing in his cousin Dwayne Johnson’s upcoming spin-off Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw.
Sure enough, Reigns is one of Lucas Hobbs’ tribal “brothers” in the third act when he returns to Samoa with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw and his sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), and they gather the forces to take on super-enhanced mercenary Brixton, played by Idris Elba.
Granted, Reigns doesn’t have a ton of lines, but he plays an important part in Johnson being able to pay homage to his Samoan heritage, one that has made the Anoa’I family one of the most respected lineages in professional wrestling for many decades. (Reigns’ father is Sika Anoa’I, one of the of the legendary Wild Samoans, arguably one of the best tag teams of the ‘70s and ‘80s.)
Appearing in Hobbs and Shaw is definitely a different path for Reigns, but The Beat had a chance to talk to him recently. As a leukemia survivor myself, I had to ask him about his well-publicized fight with the disease, and what an astounding and inspirational recovery he made earlier this year.
THE BEAT: I think I first heard about you being in this movie when you were talking to Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” which was probably in February. How did this come about? Did Dwayne approach you, when did you film it and what was the selling point that got you on board?
Roman Reigns: Yeah, it’s kind of a funny story. I kind of just snuck my audition tape in there. I did pretty well, and it worked its way up the channels and then finally DJ hit me up and said, “What the heck? I didn’t know you wanted to be a part of this,” and I was like, “Yeah, totally,” but I think at that point, they had already gotten a good idea of what I was able to do and know who I was and see me on tape and get a feel for what was auditioning for the role rather than me just getting there, and they’re like, “Who the heck signed this guy up? We have no clue what he can do, and he’s not performing to the standard they had hoped,” so I just wanted to make sure they knew exactly what they were getting.
THE BEAT: You haven’t really acted that much compared to other WWE superstars who have done movies for WWE Films, although you did a cameo in one movie and a voice in an animated movie. Had you been wanting to do more acting and were just busy with other things?
Reigns: Right now, my WWE schedule, it takes precedence. I want to make sure that I’m in that ring, and I’m performing for the WWE universe. If I can, I don’t see why not learn something new? Why not take on a new craft and a new form of entertainment? It was definitely a great experience, nothing but positives. I clearly enjoyed my time out here on the islands, but just to be able to be involved with such a cool project that’s gonna affect so many people and put so many smiles on their faces and just create a good time. It was very influencing, and I enjoyed myself, and hopefully, if the opportunity arises, I’ll be better for it. The fact that I took this job, hopefully it will help me progress in the future.
THE BEAT: How long were you there shooting? You don’t have a lot of lines but you were involved in all the action scenes there. Was that a pretty heavy-duty couple of weeks?
Reigns: Yeah, I was out here for like the whole month of January. I think I ended up working for 18 to 20 days I was being used. It was a good time, and it was a great experience just being able to see the whole process. Like so many people, I love movies, so to be able to be on set and just see how the magic works and go through the process, it was very educating.
THE BEAT: Had you ever had a chance to go to the sets of Dwayne’s other movies or even some of your WWE pals like Seth or Dean when they were making their movies?
Reigns: No, man. To be honest, I’ve just been sticking to the drill with WWE. For the longest time, I’ve always been the guy that was on the live events. While Dean was doing his movie, while Seth was doing his stuff, I was always that guy on the live events, so I never got that opportunity, because I held the responsibility of being the main event for our shows. For our talent to step up and for us to have a few different options nowadays, it allows me to do a few other cool things now and then, and not necessarily have to focus all my energy on the ring all the time. That’s still obviously a high priority for me to just stay crisp in the ring and story-tell within the wrestling format, but I don’t think it hurts anybody to continue to rise my star and take on new opportunities and continue to learn and just become a better performer.
THE BEAT: Did you shoot any of those scenes in Samoa at all? I couldn’t really tell if it was shot in Hawaii or not?
Reigns: We did it all here in Kauai as a representation of the island of Samoa. We shot everything here in Kauai. I think just from a production standpoint and all of that, it just made much more sense to make it happen, and just fit it in the budget and make everything make sense. I think the island of Kauai really stood up for us and just sent us so much hospitality. There have been so many movies made here, so I think it had a good vibe for what we were trying to do.
THE BEAT: Do you ever get to go back to Samoa yourself and have any experience doing the Siva Tau or did you have to learn that tradition for the movie?
Reigns: For me, every time my family goes back, I was always whippin’ sports or in camp or especially now, travelling and just working and being on the road, so I never had the honor to go back home and see our island. Over the years, I’ve seen many Siva Taus but as far as participating and being a part of it, very minimal. It was just such an honor and such a blessing, spiritually, just to be amongst brothers, just to be amongst fellow Polynesians and just really embrace our culture and just to live in it and celebrate the moment and the project of paying homage to our lineage and our ancestors.
THE BEAT: Some other wrestlers are really good at doing the over-the-top storylines that go on outside the ring that are done more to heighten-up the entertainment factor, but you stick to the ring. When you’re in a match with someone, you fight and are serious about that. Has that always been your own choice?
Reigns: I was taught early to keep my feet on the ground. I’m a firm believer in connecting with the crowd emotionally. I’ve always been able to just do that within my ceiling and just through the storytelling of a fight. I was an athlete, and I was an Alpha Male all through it. There were many instances growing up that I was not going go take any shit off anybody, and I’m not going to back down. I never have a problem telling a physical story, because I understand fighting. I understand the attitude, and never in my life have I jumped off of stuff to take somebody out, so if I need to do a big dive on a whole bunch of people, that’s cool, but I’ve always understood what it’s like to just throw some hands. Luckily, through football and the physicality and the aggression and the intensity through ball, I just learned how to convey those emotions of being pissed off, of being aggressive, of being intense, and that’s just always worked out for me.
THE BEAT: I’m a leukemia survivor myself, about six years post-transplant…
Reigns: Oh, that’s awesome. Congratulations!
THE BEAT: Thanks! When you came out last October about your relapse, I was just blown away, and then when you came back, it was even more amazing to me, because I know how hard it was for me to get back, and you’re doing something much more physical obviously. Were you able to stay in training the whole time while being treated?
Reigns: No, I was out of training for about 3 months, 2 and a half months, all the way into the holidays. I made my announcement in October and pretty much for the whole month of November and the majority of December, my uric acid levels had really risen, so my arthritis was just crazy. I wasn’t moving around great, and me, being an athlete, I’ve always taken care of myself, I’ve always been in some kind of training program, in the gym, always been a gym rat, so for me, to not be able to physically be able to do anything, to be limited, it just was killing me. It killed mentally and spiritually, just inside it was eating me up to not be the man that I’m used to being. Being that physical guy, being an athlete, but once that pain started to subside and my medication really started to kick in and do its thing, it just kind of worked its way out to where I was able to bounce back. Luckily for me, just being an athlete and always being in training, it’s almost like an injury. Say you tear your knee up and you’re just going to train every day…. [at this point the signal drops out] … it’s just a situation of being conditioned and just my body always being in some kind of training regimen that I had some good elasticity to me. I bounced back pretty good. A lot of that has to do with what I believe was the prayers, the thoughts and all the support that was sent my way.
THE BEAT: I’ve always tried to let people know that leukemia is not a death sentence, and I know you meet lots of kids through Make-a-Wish, so I’m sure that helps a lot of kids dealing with it to know that you’re a survivor yourself.
Reigns: Yeah, and that’s kind of what’s hard for people to understand is that they don’t understand blood cancers and the advancements that have been made, the research that is going in and working and all the different aural chemotherapies and medications that we’re developing. It is a bit confusing, but if you hold your tongue for two seconds, just do a little bit of research, you’ll see very quickly. It’s not hard to find this research. It’s all over LLS.org, so just do a little research, do your due diligence and then make your opinion there, and then you’ll see this isn’t what you see in the movies or what you may be familiar with. It’s a whole different world, and I’m pretty proud to be able to show that even in such a terrifying moment, I can still be me. I can still live my life and I can still chase my dreams, and that’s why I took on the project of Hobbs and Shaw, because once I did feel I was capable of being able to act and deliver my lines and be present on set, I knew I wasn’t going to do anything physical, and I knew they weren’t going to ask me to do anything physical. So why not live out my dream and then take advantage of an opportunity that may not be there when I get back. I just felt like it was important for me to set that example and show people that yeah, man, it’s not the best right now but I’m still living my life, and I’m not going to let this stop me from doing my thing and chasing my dream.
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw opens with previews on Thursday night before its full release on Friday, August 2.