*Pro wrestling may have many fans who enjoy the sport and its eclectic roster of competitors, but there’s always those who don’t share the same appreciation.
At least before starring in a film based on the life of a popular female wrestler. In this case, that current wrestling fan would be Florence Pugh, who plays WWE Superstar Paige in “Fighting With My Family” (now playing in select theaters) and has no problem admitting she slept on wrestling. Unlike Paige, who grew up in a family of wrestlers and carried a natural love for WWE, Pugh was aware of pro wrestling, but wasn’t as in tune with sports entertainment as the retired diva.
“I didn’t grow up on wrestling and I knew it was there. I wasn’t, like, unaware of the wrestling world. It was everywhere,” Pugh told EURweb while detailing what happened when she discovered what she had been missing out on all this time. “The moment I started working on this [“Fighting With My Family”], my eyes were opened to this different world. And even just behind the curtains was so… it was a lot to take in and I am now a huge fan…I take my hat off to anyone that steps in that ring. So now I am a bit of a fan now for my favorites.” When asked what name she would give herself as a real-life wrestler, Pugh was quick to personalize her moniker, calling herself The Pughster, while her “Fighting With My Family co-star Lena Headey jokingly took the name Choo Choo.
Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, “Fighting With My Family” explores Paige’s relationship with her family as she works to make a name for herself in WWE. In addition to Pugh, the comedy features Nick Frost as Paige’s father, Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis, Headey as Paige’s mother, Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis, Jack Lowden as Paige’s brother, Zak “Zodiac” Bevis, Vince Vaughn and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who also serves as a producer on “Fighting With My Family.
While Pugh, Lowden and Headey admitted to not being pro-wrestling fans before working on “Fighting With My Family,” Frost expressed his love of wrestling, which goes back to his days of watching British wrestling in the ’80s.
“I had been a fan, yeah. I was a fan of British wrestling in the ’80s and then that kind of wore off a little bit. People stopped watching it and so it stopped being televised. And then the WWF started to kind of trickle in in the mid- to late ’90’s. And then that kind of took me. And I’ve been a fan ever since, really,” Frost shared with EURweb, while revealing his favorite WWE combatants. “I love the Rock, oddly. I was always a fan. I’m not just sayin’ that. Seeing him pull his elbow pad off and knowing someone would get that in their face in a moment was always a great joy to me. When they handed Stone Cold [Steve Austin] beer at the end and he opened them up and drank a beer, I never seen that before. I thought that was amazing. I think the Bible psalm 3:16, Austin says ‘I just whooped your ass’ was a favorite too. And Paul Bearer. I always liked Paul Bearer…He was like Kane’s dad / ring man He was just a weird, small, very fat man with rolls of necks. [Laughs] But really white, he was creepy. He was a creepy guy.”
“I had never heard of Paige…I had never watched pro wrestling. In fact, more so I didn’t think this was a story that was going to be interesting to me,” confessed Merchant, who was introduced to Paige via the 2012 documentary “Fighting With My Family.” “It began life as a documentary that was made on British TV about Paige and her family. A documentary not that I had seen, but which our producer Dwayne Johnson had seen. He obviously had some history of wrestling and responded to the story, but was looking for a British writer, came to me. And I sat down, if truth be told, thinking, ‘I’m not gonna be interested in this story.’
Despite his hesitation, the story of Paige and her family was too great to ignore as Merchant was fully on board to write and helm what would become the big screen version of the “Fighting With My Family” documentary.
“I was just so engaged by this family. This family dream of getting their kids in to WWE. And it seemed to me that it was not a story about wrestling. It was a story about family, about a dream, about leaving home, about siblings, about ambition, about being lonely, about feeling like an outsider. It just had all these other big themes that seemed engaged and interesting to me aside from wrestling,” Merchant mentioned to EURweb.
Although the “Fighting With My Family” movie is a comedy, Paige’s internal struggle in coming in to her own in WWE and conflict with Zak, who was ultimately rejected by WWE displayed elements of drama that helped shaped the film. Despite the heaviness, a comedy was what Merchant, who is best known as a co-writer and co-director of the British version of “The Office,” opted to make rather than a drama.
“Well, I come from a comedy background and comedy is always important to me. And I spent time with the real family and there’s a lot of humor in what they do and the way they talk to each other and the way they look and the way that they are unashamed about who they are. And sometimes when that meets regular society, it’s quite a conflict, quite a contrast. There seemed to be a lot of humor there, but I never wanted it to be just a pure comedy,” said Merchant, who has a small role in “Fighting With My Family.” “I always thought there was a lot of drama in this story, a lot of emotion. My dream was that you would start off laughing and by the end, I might be able to get you in tears, tears of joy, tears of emotion because you’ve been on this big journey with them. And for me, that’s what I want from a comedy. I don’t want to just laugh. I want to be taken on a journey. I want to be moved emotionally. And that was the ambition.”
As people take in “Fighting With My Family at the theater, Headey believes the feature will strike a nerve with wrestling and non-wrestling fans who want to see a great story.
“I think you don’t have to be a fan of wrestling. It’s an inspiring, uplifting, truthful story, the “Game of Thrones” star told EURweb. “It doesn’t kinda go all shiny shiny. It talks about this young woman’s sort of ascendance and then consequently, her doubt and her questioning of how and should she stay and is this really what she wants. Ultimately, it’s like perseverance and resilience and embracing who you are and rising above the voices that fill you with all that doubt. And also, you know, the family element of this kind of real rich character, characterful family.”
“I hope its a story for everybody,” Merchant added. “I hope it will be inspiring and inspirational for young women in particular. I love the fact as Paige herself says, it’s a movie for anyone who feels like or has ever felt like an outsider or a freak or an oddball. But in the end, it’s also for people who’ve ever had a sister or a brother, anyone who’s ever had a dream, anyone who’s ever had to leave home, be lonely, be away, pursue this thing. Get knocked back, pick yourself up, keep moving forward. I think there’s all that stuff in there and so I’m hoping that’s mostly everybody.”
Looking back over her wrestling career, Paige cites her reigns as WWE Divas Champion and the first NXT Womens Champion as highlights as well as working with fellow Divas AJ Lee and The Bella Twins, moments that molded her into the wrestler fans loved before retiring last year after suffering a neck injury during a six-woman tag team match.
“I really loved working with AJ Lee my first year I was up on the main roster. I won two different Divas championships, which is a big thing for me because that was the first year i was up, that’s where I wanted to be. So just having that was wonderful. And then being in NXT and working with Cecille and Emma and becoming the fist NXT Women’s champion, which was sort of a big deal, too. So those kind of storylines really helped me,” Paige said. “And then, there was another storyline that I did with the Bellas. and that’s when they would bully me for because I was different. and then I got to do a promo, which they included in the movie. it was like, ‘I’d rather be the freak, the geek, the oddball, the misfit. And I always want to be someone that isn’t afraid to be themselves. That was the promo that I had. And i just felt that so much and it just felt so real because it was. And so I loved that storyline. it helped inspire a lot of women.”
“Fighting With My Family” is now playing in select theaters. It opens wide on February 22. Click HERE for more info. Also check out EURweb’s video interviews with Paige, Pugh and Heady, Frost and Lowden & Merchant at the top/beginning of this story.
Watch the trailer below: