Interview: WWE's Paige on How The Rock Took Her Life Story to the Big Screen
Mike Marsland / GettyWhen English pro-wrestler Paige, aka Saraya-Jade Bevis, retired from the ring in April last year, she thanked her family back home in the UK. For those not familiar with her underdog story, it may not have seemed like anything more than a cursory move. But those who’ve closely followed the 26-year-old’s trajectory with the WWE know its thanks in large part to her parents, Sweet Saraya and Ricky Knight,” as well as her and Zak Zodiac and Roy Knight, that she became part of wrestling history.
Growing up among the local, UK wrestling circuit, Paige’s parents gave her a taste for the career she would go on to have with WWE — from being picked for their rookie programme, NXT, where she became the inaugural Women’s Champion, to making history as the youngest woman to ever win the Divas Championship in 2014. Now Paige’s story has been given the movie treatment with her family taking centerstage.
Fighting with my Family was produced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s production company, Seven Bucks, and is written and directed by Stephen Merchant, who helped create The Office. Paige is played by Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth), with Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) as her mother and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) as her father. We talked to Paige to find out what it’s like to have The Rock want to turn your life into a movie.
M & F: Dwayne Johnson has said that it was while he was shooting Fast & Furious 6 in London that he stumbled upon the documentary about your family of local wrestlers. What was it like to have one of your wrestling heroes contact you about making a movie based on your life?
PAIGE: I remember it was the day before RAW [in] 2014 (when Paige won the Divas Championship). He sat me down and said he’d watched the documentary, fell in love with my family, and wanted to do a movie on it. It blew my mind, and I just started crying instantly. And then he said, “Oh, and tomorrow you’re going to debut and you’re going to win the Divas Championship” — kinda like what happens in the movie. And I started crying even more. Then he was like, “But don’t tell anyone yet.” When I left the room, I saw a girl I knew, and she asked me why I was crying so much. I told her it was because I was such a big fan of The Rock’s.
He also comes from a family of wrestlers. What do you think it is about your story that interested him?
It’s just a wonderful underdog story. Someone described it as a “celebration of someone’s inner misfit,” always sticking to your guns and being yourself and having a dream to follow. And coming from somewhere [where] we didn’t have a lot of money and we didn’t live the high life, it’s kind of like a rags-to-riches story. It’s just a beautiful story, and I feel like it’s inspiring to a lot of people. Being yourself is your super-power. You can do anything you set your mind to. It doesn’t matter what your background is or what you look like or anything like that. It’s just an empowering story.
What did you think when you first saw the film during its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last month?
I cried my eyes out. It was like an impossible quest not to watch this whole thing without blubbering. [Stephen Merchant] cast my family so perfectly. The biggest thing I loved is Stephen’s cameo in it. (He plays the uptight father of her brother’s girlfriend).
Paige-MarcPfitzenreuter.jpg Marc Pfitzenreuter / Getty
Like most good sports movies, Fighting is about more than wrestling. What do you hope it says?
There are a couple of messages in the movie, which I love. One [is] that you should remain true to yourself, and to chasing your dreams and never giving up. People, men and women, will walk away inspired. And then you have my brother’s story, which is just as fantastic as mine. Your level of success is not measured by how famous you are or how many Instagram followers you have. His success is that he wanted a family and now he has two children and a wife. He wanted to teach disabled children to wrestle. It should be an impossible quest and yet he did it. I just want people to remember life isn’t about how many followers you have on the Internet, its about what you choose success to be.
The film also shows some of how wrestling has evolved. How do you see the role you played in women’s wrestling?
I was pretty much a different flavor of ice-cream when I walked in. The crowd many years ago was used to the same thing. They were used to these beautiful women that weren’t really showcasing a wrestler’s form. I came in and looked completely different: dark hair, piercings, pale skin, and all I wanted to do was wrestle. I refused to go in the ring without wrestling, and I would constantly get into trouble, because I was fighting for women. I knew they were capable of doing more. I knew they were just doing what the fans expected of them. I feel like once I ignited the fire in the girls a little bit, then WWE even took notice. These women are working so hard, they want to be wrestlers. They don’t want to just be eye candy. More and more female wrestlers were coming in, doing the same thing I was, and now we have a women’s revolution. I just love it.
Would you credit your family with your success?
When I came over here [to Florida for NXT], I didn’t have any friends and no one really liked me. The one thing I did have was my family. They were all I had. I would call them every day, even when I was crying to the point that my dad would say, “Don’t call me if you’re crying. I don’t want to hear you crying anymore. They were my biggest supporters; they pushed me to be my very best self. At one stage, I was going to quit. I was so young and so homesick. But they encouraged me to keep going. My brother Zak said to me, “You have to continue, you have something that makes you unique and different to the other girls.”
You had to eventually retire in 2018 after an neck injury, so what’s next?
I’m always going to be involved in WWE, whether it’s behind the senses or in front of the camera. But I am looking at venturing out a little bit. And WWE has been so supportive. I would love to get into acting and movies. Maybe not about me necessarily, although I would like to see a Fighting With My Family sequel!