On The Line with John Hennigan

Known as Johnny Nitro and John Morrison in the WWE, John Hennigan’s unique moveset and rockstar persona in the ring has led him to the Intercontinental, Tag Team, and ECW Championship. Now that he’s stepped outside the ring, John looks to take on the acting world with several big releases coming up. I spoke with the Guru of Greatness and we discussed his upcoming films, life in wrestling, his music tastes, and much more.

Alex Obert: After leaving WWE, what influenced you to move on to acting?

John Hennigan: I was a film major at UC Davis. I’ve been a lifelong fan of two things, wrestling and film. In college I was studying all aspects of film; acting and production, and specifically, stunts. Action acting, like the stuff that Jackie Chan does really interested me.  I wrestled in high school, and a bit in college, but didn’t consider a career as a pro wrestler until I saw Tough Enough. I’d been preparing for an action acting career, making kung fu movies with my roommates; The Foot of DEATH! (laughs) Training in martial arts and gymnastics and stunt stuff and I realized that pro wrestling was the perfect combination of everything I’d wanted to do my whole life. I’d dreamed of being in the WWF when I was a kid, but seeing Tough Enough on MTV is what made me think of my dreams as a kid as a tangible career path. Wrestling is entertainment, so are movies, so is theatre, so as far as what influenced me to get into acting, it’s been on my mind ever since I was young

Alex Obert: With your upcoming movies, I’d like to fill in readers on them. Can you tell me about Ghost Puncher?

John Hennigan: Yeah, absolutely. I thought of Ghost Puncher when I was shooting a horror movie in Brooklyn called ‘The Factory’. It consisted of seven people walking into a factory haunted by a ghost. The character I was playing was superstitious and did not do well with the idea that there was a ghost floating around killing fools. I kept thinking, “You know what?  If this was real life, I’d just punch that ghost.” And I thought of Ghost Puncher then. A dude who punches ghosts. We all laughed about it on set while we were shooting, it became a running joke with the cast and crew. For some reason, the idea just lingered with me. (laughs) I kept thinking about it, and developing and developing it. A month later, I wrote a treatment. A few months after that, I got serious and talking to people about it. Basically, it’s the story of Frankie Lorraine, the name of my first pet and the street I grew up on. That’s how fighters come up with names right?  So Frankie is an upcoming MMA fighter who has a near death experience in the ring. And he can’t fight anymore. But he realizes that he now has a connection to the paranormal world. We shot completely in 3D, which is difficult, you need to roll on two cameras synced next to each other. We used two Red Epics which makes doing action challenging because you have to have really dialed in performances. A lot of action scenes use handheld shaky camera movements, pans, or quick steadicam moves to give life to the action scenes. Wiith two Red Epics synced together with a window box we talking about a fifty to sixty pound rig. That thing’s not moving much. So the performance has to be really tight. Jay Hieron and I knew this going in and put in some good time designing the fight with Brady Romberg and Micheal Lehr, our stunt and fight coordinator.  I felt like we really delivered a solid performance. Jay’s fought all over the world, UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator. He’s a super talented guy, great timing and control, and he crushed the acting stuff as well.  We got Rowdy Roddy Piper to come out and play the mentor type character in Ghost Puncher. He, in my opinion, delivered a five star acting performance. The soul of the Ghost Puncher sizzle trailer, I would say, is Rowdy Roddy Piper. Jackie Moore, the sex appeal, and the 3D sizzle. The sizzle trailer is out at the Hong Kong film market being shopped around right now.

Alex Obert: And also, Boone the Bounty Hunter.

John Hennigan: Boone the Bounty Hunter’s my baby.  I can’t wait for America to get Boone’d! (laughs) Boone the Bounty Hunter is a narcissistic reality show bounty hunter that does parkour to catch bounties. And what Boone wants more than anything is to be real. And when his show’s ratings start to fail, he realizes that the problem is he’s Booning, aka arresting these B, C, D level celebrities and it’s too easy. He decides to take a real case, a real challenge, and when he does, the case turns out to be bigger and bigger and bigger, until Boone and his reality show are up against a real drug cartel. The action is off the chain. I’ve been working on this concept for a year and a half. It has some amazing talent and it’s an interesting concept to me because it’s something that I personally identify with, actually. I find films that deal with the question of identity interesting, especially given my past as a professional wrestler, portraying one character over the span of a whole career often times. From Johnny Nitro to John Morrison, similar, but different characters. A lot of times in wrestling, you find that the person and the character start to overlap. I remember Freddie Blassie writing about that very thing in his book, thinking about before he started wrestling, how he would just be nice and polite to everybody, and then during his career, he’d go to diners and get pissed about waiters messing up his order,  “These pencil neck geeks aren’t fit to shine Freddie Blassie’s boots!” It was a reflex that he wrote about in his book and it’s an interesting thing to think about if you play a character over a long period of time to notice what it does to your identity. I explore that concept with Boone. But more than just a meta exploration of identity, Boone is exactly the movie I would have loved when I was fourteen, a bad ass action-comedy. Rumble in the Bronx meets Running Man meets The Three Amigos. A powerful trifecta.

Alex Obert: And another big project of yours is playing the role of Hercules.

John Hennigan: So I shot this Hercules movie. (laughs) 2014 is the year of Hercules!  Kellen Lutz played Hercules in a movie that came out in January, The Rock’s coming out with his Hercules movie in July, but before The Rock’s Hercules movie comes out, John Morrison’s Hercules movie is gonna be coming a week earlier, also in July. I saw the trailer for Rocky’s Hercules movie, and I have to admit it looks awesome. Damn! So bad ass-  The Hercules movie I did was done at a slightly (laughs) lower budget, and what we lack in CGI we make up for with story and bad ass action. The team I was with in Morocco and I all rolled up our sleeves and worked around the clock to make a movie that I think is going to blow away peoples expectations. I’m really proud of what we achieved and think that our story is both original and authentic. One of the first things that attracted me to the project actually was the authenticity. Much of the mythology of Hercules is tragic as well as heroic, those stories captured my imagination when I was a kid. I loved Greek Mythology. I played Hercules in my third grade school play, my Mom actually still has a VHS tape of that laying around somewhere (laughs). The story that we told is a darker story than I believe a Hollywood Hercules movie would be allowed to tell, but framed in a way that I believe can be enjoyed by families. I’m really excited for all my little cousins to see it! I’ve seen several scenes without finished color correction and sound design and am expecting to see the full picture locked version next week. I’m really proud of this movie, everyone brought it. Killer fights and great acting all around, I’m hoping everyone reading sees it. It’s an amazing experience to see what can be achieved in very little time with a strong cast, crew, work ethic and collaboration.

Alex Obert: What are some of your all-time favorite films?

John Hennigan: Rumble in the Bronx is one of my original faves. I used to go to the movie theater and watch that movie over and over again. Big Trouble in Little China is a classic. The Running Man, a lot of the Schwarzenegger stuff. Predator, Terminator. Stallone in Rambo and Rocky. Everybody loves Rocky. The whole Rocky series. Bloodsport. I like the Beverly Hills Cop series too. Die Hard. Fist of Legend. Once Upon a Time in China, I went through a Jet Li phase where I watched nothing but his movies for a while. Drunken Master II is epic, I think that’s my all-time favorite Jackie Chan movie. Iron Monkey, one of Donnie Yen’s breakthrough movies. Ip Man and Ip Man II, both stellar performances by Donnie Yen.  Bro, it’s hard to name them all, Robo-cop, Supercop, Enter the Dragon.  Lethal Weapon, The Good the Bad & the Ugly, spaghetti westerns. Shit, lots of movies, Monty Python movies, Mel Brooks movies.

Alex Obert: You mention your film characters and regarding your wrestling character, why the change from Johnny Nitro to John Morrison?

John Hennigan: Google it, brother. (laughs) That’s the question I get asked most often. Honestly, Vince McMahon did not like the name Johnny Nitro and when I became ECW Champion, he wanted me to have a new name. John Morrison is the name that they picked from a list of names I wrote.  I picked the name Morrison because I’m a huge fan of Jim Morrison from The Doors and I thought I had a lot of similarities with him. We’re both film majors, we both went to University of California schools, and I liked the challenge of thinking of a heel wrestling persona that was a little bit more highbrow. A narcissistic warrior poet. I always found Morrison’s point of view fascinating based Jim’s poetry and his biography and all of his shenanigans.

Alex Obert: Would you ever get into a music career?

John Hennigan:  The only thing stopping me from getting into a music career is being able to sing! (laughs) I love performing. And look at Chris Jericho, he’s got Fozzy. A lot of other wrestlers end up getting into singing.  Music is entertainment, and just like acting, there’s a ton of similarities between entertaining a arena full of people from inside the squared circle and on stage with music. Me personally, I love to sing karaoke, or in the car, unfortunately most of the time people who ride with me don’t love to hear me sing. Funny you should ask, today of all days as I was recording a Mexican pop song earlier today with Freddy Scott, the guy that did that Trent Rezor Song parody video. Why? Solo porque.

Alex Obert: In the beginning of your wrestling career, what was it like to compete in a WWE ring against Matt Cappotelli just days after winning Tough Enough III?

John Hennigan: Oh man, that was like a dream come true. It was like a whirlwind when it happened.  We’d just been announced as the winners of Tough Enough 3, and two weeks later, we’re at the AllState Arena in Chicago in front of a packed house. Possibly the most nervous I’ve ever been and the most excited I’ve ever been, I’m really glad I got to share that moment with Matt. Tommy Dreamer and I still laugh about him coming out and caning us in the head (laughs). Matt Cappotelli’s one of the most positive and inspiring people that I’ve ever met.  He’s really somebody that makes his own happiness.

Alex Obert: I’m interested in finding out what you listen to, what’s on your iPod?

John Hennigan: I broke my iPod, brother. (laughs)

Alex Obert: Which bands do you listen to?

John Hennigan: I listen to everything. I grew up on old fashioned classic rock, so definitely The Doors, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Blue Oyster Cult. Hashtag more cowbell. Santana, Neil Young, Keep Me Searching for a Heart of Gold. Chili Peppers, they’re more recent though, David Bowie, Bob Dylan. One more frappucino for the road, that’s how that song goes right? A little bit of country, some Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Reggae sometimes. New stuff too.

Alex Obert: Though John Morrison shares many similarities with Jim Morrison, you didn’t quite have The Doors as your entrance theme in WWE. But if you could have picked any entrance theme, which would it have been?

John Hennigan: I said Doors when I explained what I wanted for my entrance theme! And they gave me a generic seventies entrance theme, actually I’d call it a Jimi Hendrix style knockoff. I really like it now, but at the time, I was irked.

Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on the MNM entrance theme?

John Hennigan: When I hear it now, I get pumped up because it’s nostalgic. I miss those days. Joey and Melina, debuting on Smackdown with MNM was a dream come true. You bust your ass, go through hell in developmental, and you come out and debut on Smackdown on Carlito’s Cabana. You get to face Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio at MSG and it felt like all the blood, sweat, and tears of training in developmental paid off. When I hear that theme music, it brings those emotions and those memories to me. That’s why that song is always gonna mean a lot to me.

Alex Obert: Another moment early on in your WWE career, what did you take out of the original Johnny Nitro on RAW in 2004?

John Hennigan: If I knew now what I didn’t know then, I would’ve been able to make that character work. At the time, I was not ready to be a non-wrestling character. I had my sights set on wrestling, I wanted to wrestle. And being an apprentice/manager-esque type character on RAW wasn’t what I had in mind.  I didn’t realize what an opportunity it was and what I could’ve done with it. I wanted to be the Johnny Nitro that eventually debuted with MNM all along.  In retrospect, I’m glad everything went the way it did. I wouldn’t change anything. As far as that opportunity goes, it was great. I got to get on TV, hang out with Bisch, meet all the guys, see how everything worked. The apprentice character didn’t work out because I wasn’t really ready and I went back to Louisville for a year after that to work on my wrestling.  And then I came back as Johnny Nitro with MNM. And at that time is when I really felt like I was ready to hold my own and I deserved a spot on TV.

Alex Obert: The last question I have for you, the ultimate question, what is the meaning of life?

John Hennigan: To figure out how you can get into the Palace of Wisdom. I can say the Palace of Wisdom exists within your own mind, it sits at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Self-Needs. And if you’re in that headspace and you’re in your own Palace of Wisdom, you found the meaning of life.

Alex Obert: For readers, what are your social media plugs?

John Hennigan: @TheRealMorrison on Twitter. And also, I’m involved with a new company called TweetSecret. I’m gonna be releasing all kinds of crazy videos. There’s behind the scenes footage from Ghost Puncher, behind the scenes footage from Boone, and whatever I’m doing. I’ll also keep fans updated on my wrestling appearances, with some behind the scenes footage of that. It’s tweetsecret.com/johnmorrison.

Alex Obert: I’d like to thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it!

John Hennigan: Absolutely, brother!

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