CM Punk is firing on all cylinders between acting roles like “Heels”, his in-ring return as part of the All Elite Wrestling (AEW) roster and beyond.
Punk, real name Phil Brooks, catches up with ET Canada ahead of Starz’s “Heels” season finale. Much like fellow former WWE champions John Cena, Dave Bautista and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Punk has made critically well-received forays into acting with movies like “Girl on the Third Floor”. Having shared the pro-wrestling ring with Cena countless times, Brooks reacts to Cena’s impressive comedy chops in projects like “The Suicide Squad” and “Trainwreck”.
“One hundred per cent [I’m impressed], but I’m also not surprised,” Punk says. “I think a lot of people conflate the two. You see a guy like Dave Bautista killing it with this myriad of different roles. Dave can do comedy, Dave can do drama, he can do it all. Cena has always been that funny guy.
“I always thought behind the scenes, and I think anybody who has worked with him always thought. A lot of the guys at that top-level in WWE may not want to admit it, but alls we are are theatre actors.”
Punk goes on to draw comparisons between pro-wrestling and live theatre.
“We’re doing live theatre every Monday, every Friday, Thursday, Tuesday, whatever the hell the schedule is now. All that is, is theatre,” he shares. “It gets you accustomed to improv and working on the fly.
“I read James Gunn said that John Cena was the best improv actor he’s ever worked with. That does not surprise me in the least. We do it every week for decades. When we transition to film, I think people are pleasantly surprised like, ‘Oh wow, I thought you were just going to be this muscled up stiff guy.’ I’m not surprised that John is killing it.”
For many fans, “Heels” was the intermediate step between Punk acting to Punk’s pro-wrestling return following a seven-year absence. Brooks agrees the process was therapeutic.
“Oh for sure. I think therapeutic is a good word for it,” he says. “It was fun to be involved in something that was wrestling that wasn’t wrestling.
“There was no politics and none of the silly drama that you have to deal with backstage. I’ve been saying it a lot lately, it was fun just making the art and not worrying about anything else.”
There has always been a relationship between Hollywood and pro-wrestling. Having brushed shoulders with both camps, Punk says there is a more respectful and less superficial perception of pro-wrestling in the Hollywood sphere.
“I think the meek have inherited the Earth,” he explains. “I think a lot of people who are shot-callers or are on their way to being shot-callers in Hollywood used to be or still are huge professional wrestling fans.”
“I think they grew up watching it, they get it, and now in their chosen profession they get to kind of turn the light onto it, so to speak, shed a little bit more light on it and show it the love that they’ve always given it.”
Punk points to “Heels” creator Michael Waldron as the perfect example of a pro-wrestling fan doing wonders in entertainment.
“Guys like Michael Waldron. He’s writing the next ‘Star Wars movie. The dude loves pro wrestling. He was the writer on ‘Heels’. That’s what I mean by the meek inheriting Earth.”
Punk stars alongside Stephen Amell (“Arrow”) in “Heels”, a lifelong wrestling fan. Canada’s Amell has stepped into the square circle for promotions like WWE and the AEW precursor event “All-In”.
“I can’t say enough good things about Stephen,” Punk praised. “I think Stephen is not only an accomplished actor. This is a guy that has gotten into the ring on a number of occasions for a number of different companies. It wasn’t just about., ‘Oh I need to wrestle in the WWE’ for Stephen. It was just, ‘Oh, I need to wrestle.’
“He’s wrestled for WWE, he wrestled for Ring of Honor. Before AEW was a thing, he did their one-off show in Chicago. So just a guy who follows his dreams, does what he wants. He’s just such a great dude and I think that lends credibility to both sides of things. It helps ‘Heels’ out tremendously but it also helps out the wrestling side of things. It makes ‘Heels’ feel like more of an authentic show when you have someone attached to it who loves the source material so much.”
While “Heels” has yet to be renewed for a second season, Punk is optimistic about the show’s future. The former WWE champion reveals what he wants to see from the show’s sophomore outing.
“There are a million things,” he shares. “I think this is a show where we can really do what a show like ‘Friday Night Lights’ did. It’s a show about football, but it’s not really about football. It’s about the people and the family and the characters in this town. I think we can do the same thing with ‘Heels’.
“I think we can touch on road trips, awful behaviour of wrestlers, steroids, drugs, concussions. This is real and I think we can tell those real-life stories while also peeling back the characters that are just small-town America, Duffy, Georgia. Honestly, the sky’s the limit.”
Punk has also written for Marvel comics characters Drax the Destroyer — of Guardians of the Galaxy fame — and Shang-Chi. There is one character close to his heart that Punk believes can make a killing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
“Obviously, I’m a Marvel fan. Cinematic and comic book and otherwise. I think we’re all crossing our fingers for a really, really well done ‘Fantastic Four’ movie,” he says. “I’m a huge Ben Grimm [a.k.a] The Thing guy. I think that could be that next quote-unquote underrated character.
“He’s a lot like Drax, you know? He’s a big, rough, tough, mean-looking guy but he’s gentle. I think that one given the same treatment they’ve given a lot of other characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe could really blow a lot of people away.”
Punk wrestled for the first time in seven years at AEW’s “All Out” event on Sept. 5. As far as the popular wrestler is concerned, he’s hardly missed a step.
“I think it was just quieting that voice in my head that doubted anything,” he says of ring rust. “Cardio is fine, timing is fine. I was always a storyteller. You’ll never see me do a triple-jump moonsault to the floor or anything like that. It’s more about tugging on people’s heartstrings and getting them to care about me as a human being, really. If I have an advantage over anybody, I think that’s one of them.
“I have this rare connection with the crowd. I just think I need more reps. I need to get out there more in front of a live audience and wrestle. I’ll be back to form in no time. I think I haven’t missed a beat. That was kind of the goal. To go out there and make it look like I’ve been wrestling last week. I think mission accomplished. I just want to get out there and here the crowd more. That’s all I want to do is be in that moment.”
Punk has made a habit lately of jumping into the crowd at AEW shows. One particularly amusing fan encounter saw an audience member try to hand Punk a beer. For the uninitiated, Brooks lives a straight edge lifestyle abstaining from substances like alcohol and drugs.
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“The thing that was going through my mind in that moment was, ‘Man, this guy is lucky I’m not a heel right now.’ But it was a funny moment for me,” he laughs. “I was just like, ‘This is hilarious.’ Sometimes it’s not about the gift, the gesture is more important.”
The season finale of “Heels” premieres Oct. 10 on Starz.