As someone who has been a lifelong fan of both horror and wrestling, nothing makes me happier than when my worlds collide, especially if it involves one of the greatest in-ring performers that also happens to hail from my home state making an appearance in a genre film. And of course, in this instance I am talking about none other than CM Punk (Phil Brooks). In 2019, he starred in Travis Stevens’ directorial debut, Girl on the Third Floor, and he’s also part of the killer ensemble for Stevens’ latest film, Jakob’s Wife, but this time he’s playing a Deputy who has to contend with a bloodthirsty Barbara Crampton and her character’s well-meaning husband, played by Larry Fessenden.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to chat with Punk about being a part of Jakob’s Wife, and how it was a dream come true for him, especially considering his own deep affection for the horror genre. Punk also discussed how he takes the internet’s ongoing speculations about his career, and whether or not he’ll ever step back into the squared circle once again, in stride, what motivates him and his career these days, his involvement with the upcoming Starz series Heels, and more.
Jakob’s Wife arrives in theaters and on digital platforms everywhere beginning today, courtesy of RLJE Films.
So, I have to tell you, it has been a really long time since I laughed as hard as I did when you shared the article that was posted about you being in law enforcement now, because you were broke, with the picture from Jakob’s Wife. I just love the internet sometimes, because people can be so dumb.
CM Punk: Oh yeah (laughs). That was one of the funnier things that I've seen in a while. I was like, "Oh cool. I'm broke. So I'm going to become a cop. That makes total sense."
I have to wonder, because I’m sure it's kind of cool that you're probably one of the most speculated about people in the wrestling world still. But also, does it get a little tiring sometimes, where you're like, "I just want to do my thing and live my life and keep making cool stuff on my own terms"?
CM Punk: I mean, yesterday I felt so exposed, because I got the wrestling questions, and I wasn't even really thinking about it. Then I just started rambling, and I realized like, "Oh, shit. This is going to take on a life of its own." Because it's like, a lot of people just get mad about the stuff I say, and I'm not denigrating anybody. I love the trashiest of the trashy horror movies, but when somebody makes fun of it, I don't feel the need to go out of my way to tell them why. I like what I like, and people like what they like. And like, man, why would I go back to WWE? Regardless of how I was treated or what the baggage is there, they have so much money and they don't seem to be interested in putting out a good television show, so why would I go there?
Right? What's the incentive for you at this point in your career? There's nothing left to prove.
CM Punk: That's how I feel. Yes. That's how I feel. And I try to explain that to people. I'm never the guy that tells people in interviews, before, "Don't talk about this, don't ask me questions about this." Because I'm a pro. I can dance around whatever, and I can answer something without answering it, but then people just get bent out of shape about the stuff I stay. And I'm just like, man, you're really damned if you do, you're damned if you don't. So just embrace it. Who cares?
And now, you're out here just living your life. Some people, they just can't reconcile that. Do you know what I mean? They can't separate who you are as a human being versus who you were on their TV every week. And I think that's why people still cling to it, because they don't know how to separate it. But here you are, you're out here making movies, living your life and having a great time.
CM Punk: And with Barbara Crampton. Like, what the fuck (laughs)?
I remember the day that Travis posted a picture when you arrived to set for Jakob's Wife. And I think Barbara was in the picture too. How surreal was that first day, stepping onto set, and now you're in a movie with Barbara and Larry?
CM Punk: Oh, yeah. Being a fan of horror movies, it's fucking crazy. Because historically, most horror movies are low budget. But it's the most fascinating genre to me, because it's something that I was attracted to when I was six, seven, eight years old. The stuff that scared the shit out of me was the stuff that I devoured, whether it was Fangoria magazines or renting horror movies. And now, this entire world has opened up to me. And when you're a kid, sometimes you rent the movies you think you're going to see a boob or there's going to be a ton of blood. But what horror movies can do is, like a Trojan horse, incorporate these social issues and really interesting things that you never would have thought of, and all these different perspectives too.
But I just fell in love with horror movies and I think the first movie I ever saw Barbara in was Chopping Mall. Being a kid, I used to rent horror movies based on the box art. I didn't even care what the synopsis of the movie said on the back. I didn't care who was in it. I went on box art. So you'd end up watching Return of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead and Chopping Mall and Re-Animator and all this stuff. So yeah, the first day on set was, it was crazy because I get it a lot now, where people come up to me, and they'll tell me, "I watched you when I was a kid." And it makes me feel old, but it makes me feel grateful. So I found myself saying all those things to Barbara when I didn't want to. I didn't want to gush, and I didn't want to make a fool out of myself, and I didn't want to make her feel old or anything. But I was just like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe I'm meeting you. I'm in a movie with you. This is amazing. I get to work with you." It blows my mind still, just talking to you about it now. And on top of that, they paid me for it, for some reason. I would have done it for free. And Barbara really is the nicest person ever too.
I didn't know much about the movie when I saw it being announced; I just knew that her and Larry were working together. And then I saw Travis had posted the photo of you showing up. And I was like, "Oh, that's cool," just because I knew that was going to be really exciting for you because you are a horror fan. So I'm really glad that you got to have that kind of experience.
CM Punk: Yeah, it was fantastic. Me and Travis, we have this joke. And I'm going to say it publicly now so we're putting it out into the ether: he's the John Carpenter to my Kurt Russell. So hopefully, we do a lot of projects together in the future.
Well, I would be on board for that. So, obviously this is a much different experience for you than Girl on Third Floor. Was it nice to come in and have a different kind of pressure, or even less pressure, on you this time around?
CM Punk: Oh, I felt absolutely no pressure whatsoever. I felt grateful to be there, and I was stoked to be there, and it was fun working on a project that didn't feel like it lived or died solely on your shoulders. I loved the script so much, so it was really exciting to get to work on it, and then to get to watch it after it was all completed. I mean, I got paid to make believe. I really don't know how else to describe it. I got to hang out with cool people. I met Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, and Bonnie Aarons.
Everybody on this feature was amazing, and I had just zero pressure. I got a role, and the movie could be a runaway success and it has nothing to do with me. And it could bomb, and it's got nothing to do with me. It felt nice to just be able to play like that and not worry about it.
Now that you have a few films and other projects under your belt - and I'm trying to think of the best way to phrase this - but if somebody introduces you these days, they probably would say wrestler slash actor. Do you feel the tide turning towards actor slash former wrestler? Are you feeling more ingrained in the filmmaking side of things these days?
CM Punk: You know, I think it's based on somebody's perspective. There's an entire generation of people that probably love The Rock but they have no idea he was a wrestler. They just love him solely from action movies. I feel the same way about [Dave] Bautista. There's probably an entire generation who watched the Marvel movies, and they love Drax and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but they don't know fuck all about Dave's wrestling career.
I think to some people, I'll always be the wrestler. And let's be honest, there's nothing wrong with that. I spent a very long time trying to leave a mark on that industry. And I left such a mark that, that's never going away, and I am 100 percent fine with that. I stand by all my work in professional wrestling, and I've just moved careers. It's like a lateral move to being in front of the camera, just not on live television, where I'm not beating myself up so much. Maybe in 10 years people will say, "Oh, that's actor Phil Brooks." But to me, it's based solely on somebody's perspective. It doesn't matter to me. It doesn't affect me. I like doing fun stuff. I mean, I had one person come up to me on the street and recognize me from being on MTV: The Challenge. They were like, "You were on The Challenge." And I was like, "Nobody's ever said that to me before in my life (laughs)."
I wanted to ask you about something else I believe you worked on recently, too. Did I see something about you getting in the ring with Stephen Amell for Heels?
CM Punk: Oh yeah, I was happy to help out where I could on it, and unofficially, I helped out as an advisor. I think it was a happy accident where a lot of the actors realized, "Oh shit, you being who you are, what do you think of this? Is this legit? Would this happen? Would this person say this?" But I came in and I'm in a couple of episodes. And we're all knocking on wood so it gets well reviewed and picked up for a season two. But that was a trip. Heels was a lot of fun because, man, talk about when worlds collide. Working and acting, and then I was essentially playing a character that I have shared locker rooms with for two decades while I wrestled. It was so much fun being involved in this love letter to pro wrestling.
I'm just curious if it's fascinating to you to see this thing that usually, when entertainment and wrestling collide, it's usually being brought into the world of wrestling. Where now the world of wrestling is going out there and making its own mark in the world of entertainment in a very different way. It’s pretty surreal to me, seeing people talk about wrestling in a way that it's not about what's going on in the ring.
CM Punk: When I was a kid, I remember thinking when I'm older, the kids my age who grew up on GI Joe and Transformers are going to be naming cars after Transformers, so I feel like it's like a meek has inherited the earth thing. All these writers and people who were fans of pro wrestling growing up are unabashedly not embarrassed about liking pro wrestling. And now, they're getting into positions of power where they're writing the stories they want to write. They're writing about stuff that entertains them and stuff that they know about, and one of those things is pro wrestling. It's kind of like the zombie boom. For a second, there were no zombies, and then a minute later there were zombies everywhere, and that's because of [Robert] Kirkman and a comic book. Now you have The Rock who is producing shows and he’s on a major network. And then, there’s Heels, where it’s going to be on Starz.
I just think the way stuff goes in waves in Hollywood, so if any of these shows have any bit of success, you're going to see a lot of people, the content providers, are going to try to pick up more stuff. And it's probably going to be pretty well done because the people who are fans of pro wrestling, they also respect it. In the same way we get a lot of really good nuanced horror films now, it's because the people making it grew up on it and they love it and they respect it and they want to treat it with care.
So, at this point, are you staying focused on acting then? Is that just where your passion is these days? Or are you just seeing what happens and just playing it loose?
CM Punk: I'm at a particular stage in my life and I'll explain it to you like this. I was hired by Fox to do WWE Backstage. And the only reason I did that show, it had nothing to do with money. It didn't have anything to do with the content. It was because Renee [Young] asked me to. That's it. It's like me saying yes to Jakob's Wife - it's because Travis called and asked me. When I know I'm in a situation where I'm going to be working with quality human beings, I 100 percent want to jump at that chance. I do commentary for a regional mixed martial arts promotion called CFFC. It's a feeder league for UFC. A lot of the guys that fight for UFC have gone through CFFC. And it's one of the greatest joys I have in life is because I love fighting. I truly love it. The fact that somebody pays me to talk about fights that I would watch anyway, is a real thrill.
So like I said, if it's a good project, if it's something I like, it's the equivalent of the difference between a good script and a bad script. I can say no to bad stuff just because I don't want my name attached to something that I don't feel is quality. But if it's quality and I'm working with good people, I'm in. Also, if my best friend calls me up and goes, "Hey, I'm opening up an ice cream shop. I want you to scoop ice cream. We're going to hang out and listen to Clash records all day." I'd be like, "Fuck yeah, let's do it." You know what I mean? And I'm fortunate, that's where I'm at in my life where I can pick and choose what I do, who I work with. I have such an open mind and an open heart to everything, and I'm just here receiving it all.
But when it comes to wrestling, I just don’t know. People have told me, "Oh, Will Ospreay challenged you to a match. Do you accept?" And I'm just like, "Oh fucking Christ. Sure, yeah okay, I accept." But you have to tell New Japan to call me up and they're going to have to pay me, too. Then people say, "Oh, now he wants to get paid. He doesn't love it. He only wants to do it for the money." But I'm not going to do it for free. You know what I mean? So I think Will's a dynamic professional wrestler and he's IWGP champion. And the fact that he goes out after he wins his title and he says my name, I look at that as me getting my flowers while I'm still alive. Because the place I worked for that owns the majority of my footage, they're not celebrating me anytime soon and they're not going to. So it's good to know that the stuff I did was recognized and that means the world to me.
Well, I really appreciate you doing this and really, congratulations again on everything. I was just so happy to see you back working with Travis and them. I told Travis he now has two films under his belt as a director so he better get working on a third. So, I'm hoping that whatever the third one ends up being that you guys are back together again, to create some more mayhem and magic.
CM Punk: The friendship I have got with Travis is fucking terrific. It's the greatest, it's probably the best thing that's come of it. Being in movies is cool. Getting paid is nice, but it's really about the relationships you make along the way. And I wouldn't have done half the movies I've done without Travis, so I'm looking forward to anything that comes along in the future. But I'm glad you enjoy them. Thank you.