“I grew up in South Texas,” says Steve Austin, recollecting his early days in the game. “I saw two guys fighting for a Championship Belt, and I was hooked. I was a Wahoo McDaniel fan, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Dusty Rhodes, guys like that were coming around the Houston area at that time.
I always wanted to be a professional wrestler. After I stopped playing college football, I got in the ring and I starved for two years, and then I got a few breaks.”
Austin labels acting his latest break. The Condemned follows the story of Jack Conrad (Austin), a death-row prisoner locked down in a seedy Central American prison, whose freedom is purchased by a TV producer in order to fight on an Internet reality show. Helicoptered to a deserted island, Conrad must fight to the death with nine other “newly liberated contestants” from seedy prisons from all over the globe.
Though this is not a far cry from the plotlines that come from the Vince McMahon braintrust over on the WWE, Austin clarifies the differences between what you'll see on TV and the big screen.
“It's two different worlds. One thing that was a big difference was, in doing anything live, you're trying to be time efficient with everything you do. Rolling to Australia on a movie set takes a long time. So coming from a very time-efficient machine to ‘hurry up and wait' was interesting. I read in my trailer [and] learned two different languages while we were shooting, Spanish and German.”
So just how difficult was it for Austin to shift gears from pro wrestling to fighting on film?
“People have said that ‘it must be easy for you to learn how to fight for film because of your background.' Well, not really,” states Austin emphatically. “Because in a wrestling ring, contrary to what anybody believes, you're working ad-lib, doing things to illicit a response from the crowd. It's not just two guys randomly taking turns beating each other up.”
He continues, “When you take that loose, brawling style that I use in the wrestling ring, and then all of a sudden, I'm Jack Conrad with a military background, I need a precise fighting style. You're forced to learn choreographed fighting moves you're not familiar with.
“There's one scene down by the riverbed, when he [Jones] got a bunch of lumps and bumps from me pounding on him, where he's supposed to hit me low, he hits me high and gives me a black eye. If you look closely in the movie, you'll see that I have the black eye, just covered with makeup because we needed to keep going.
“I always tell people, in professional wrestling, you really do hit each other but you really don't try to hurt each other. When someone hits you too hard, you send back a receipt. I never got my chance to send Vinnie my receipt. I'm going to put him in the next movie, and I'm taking him out!”
There's no doubt that the “can he act in a leading role” question will rear its head. Stone Cold has a few words for all the wisecracks on the whisper circuit. “Being on a movie set, I have a whole new respect for actors as far as the long days on the set and just the preparation that you take into a role. Whatever the part is – in this case dealing with some tough locations and the weather – I always look at it as if you're lucky enough to be on a movie set. That's a dream.
“I've worked on a freight dock, loading and unloading trucks for a living. That's what I did before I got into wresting. I know what hard work is. There are people out there that are working construction or saving lives, and when all you're doing is working on a project to entertain people, it's a good day at the office.”
The Condemned is currently in theaters.