WWE star Roman Reigns gets his first taste of Hollywood with 'Hobbs & Shaw'

Joe Anoa’i’s career as a WWE superstar requires him to play a character on television and at live events hundreds of times a year. Whenever Anoa’i is performing for fans as Roman Reigns, he’s not just pulling off impressive athletic feats, he’s also playing a role. 

The task of acting on a weekly — and often nightly —  basis is what makes crossing over into Hollywood a much more seamless affair for professional wrestlers. Major WWE stars like Anoa’i’s cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena and Dave Bautista have all parlayed those skills into careers as blockbuster movie stars.

Now, Anoa’i is getting his chance to try his hand in Hollywood and was thrown head-first into one of the biggest film franchises of all time, starring alongside Johnson in “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.” 

“Within WWE we kind of use a bunch of different disciplines in performing arts,” Anoa’i told AOL. “Where I’m at right now, the huge difference for me would be comparing [film] to the live performance. It’s what is so addicting about sports entertainment, about WWE, about professional wrestling, you get your feedback immediately. It’s very cool to be able to create a world within feature films, television. To build a role and then completely change from character to character. I like all of the different changes between the genres of film.”

Despite being related to arguably the world’s biggest movie star, Anoa’i doesn’t owe this opportunity to typical Hollywood nepotism. Yes, the 34-year-old is playing the brother of Johnson’s titular Luke Hobbs in the film, but he actually did not reach out to his cousin to let him know he was reading for a role.

“I had heard about the project and figured I’d just read for it, see how it goes,” Anoa’i said. “I don’t think Dwayne actually knew I was reading for it or interested in it at the beginning. Once my tape went out and they were happy with it, fairly serious [about me coming on], I think they told D.J. that I was in the hunt.

“It was pretty neat to go through the regular process and then see what happens once someone like Dwayne gets his fingerprints on something.”

Partially filmed in Hawaii, “Hobbs & Shaw” is the ninth film and first spin-off in the “Fast” franchise. While the previous eight movies have featured exotic locales, “Hobbs & Shaw” is taking a deeper dive into the Samoan culture that Johnson and Anoa’i share. 

The experience of being on the island and embracing his culture was somewhat therapeutic for Anoa’i, who filmed while battling and recovering from his second bout with leukemia.

“Once I got out there, the power of the islands, the energy, the mana. It’s real out there. Getting out there and being out there was an excellent bit of time for me,” Anoa’i said. “It worked out really nice and once I got there in the element, on different sets, on the resort, on the island, it was a really, really spoiling and very fun experience.”

Considering the types of stunts and action sequences we’ve seen throughout the “Fast” franchise and in promotional materials for this film, Anoa’i was relieved that he didn’t have to put his body through the ringer like he does when he’s working as Roman Reigns. 

“In the ring we don’t look at it as stunts, we’re just working,” Anoa’i said. “I’m so used to throwing my body around, the idea of doing it when nobody other than just the crew and people in production are watching, my adrenaline doesn’t get going for that. Having a stunt double, his name was Niko [Nedyalkov], great guy, I loved every bit of him, it was awesome. 

“All I had to do was just look cool and stand there and say my lines, do the acting bit of it, but when it was time for me to get hit or do something crazy, Niko would be there. That was the cool part, especially where I was, resting, healing, being able to take advantage of that process and not beat my body up during the production, it was a nice spin on things for a change.”

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SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Lindsey Vonn and PK Subban attends the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards at Barker Hangar on June 15, 2019 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
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US actress Audrina Patridge arrives for the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica on June 15, 2019. - The 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards will air on June 17. (Photo by Jean-Baptiste LACROIX / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX/AFP/Getty Images)
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“Hobbs & Shaw” will be Anoa’i’s first feature-film acting credit. While he is still performing full-time with WWE, Anoa’i admits there may be a possibility that he follows in his cousin’s footsteps and parlay his success as a sports entertainer into becoming a leading man.

“There’s always something that intrigues me in both the process of creating it and the process of bringing it to life,” Anoa’i said. “There’s a lot of responsibility of being a lead man, the top guy in WWE, there are a lot of opportunities that come with it. It’s something I’ve been able to handle thus far, so it’s just something I need to look at through the scope of my family. Just getting the opportunity to be a part of Hobbs & Shaw, whether there’s sequels, 15 more to come, you know how the ‘Fast’ franchise does it, was cool enough.”

Anoa’i has already seen his turn as Hobbs’ brother open other doors. Anoa’i reprised his “Hobbs & Shaw” role as part of a promotional campaign with Brisk Iced Tea, working alongside Evans Alexandre to create a commercial using a catchphrase wrestling fans will immediately recognize.

“It was easy because they were doing a scene based off one of Dwayne’s lines, which obviously has a pretty cool historical tie in to him and his career, kind of what launched him to where he is now today,” Anoa’i said. “I felt like I was the lotto winner because everyone was working hard and doing awesome stuff and they just had me come in and flick a can a couple of times, open it, drink some Brisk Iced Tea and take it easy.”

“Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” opens on August 2 and custom “Hobbs & Shaw”-labeled cans of Brisk Iced Tea are available this summer at national retailers.

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