Just in from Toronto and contemplating a workout and rest before a DVD signing of his movie The Marine 2 at a local music/movie shop, Ted DiBiase feels a cold may be coming on.
For this reason, he supplements the generously portioned cheeseburger he orders in a Philadelphia hotel restaurant with a big bowl of chicken noodle soup.
A few sips in, he decides it’s just what the doctor ordered. Automatic penicillin for a guy with a tough schedule and a plan to head out of Philly in a day, destined for Minnesota, where freezing weather will greet him for another DVD signing and an appearance grappling in Minneapolis on the nationally televised wrestling program Monday Night Raw.
DiBiase, 28, is a third-generation wrestler, so he’s aware of the grind all too well. “This schedule is actually more grueling,” says DiBiase between spoonfuls of the hearty elixir. “When I’m home I get to the gym every day for at least an hour. I used to train longer, but you don’t want to overdo it. If you do one hour of constant training, put the headphones on and get into the zone, that should be it.”
DiBiase is actually a Jr., the son of Ted DiBiase, the popular grappler nicknamed “The Million Dollar Man” during his ‘80s-‘90s stint with WWE, and grandson of Helen Hilde and “Iron” Mike DiBiase.
The topsy-turvy schedule to promote his first movie—an in-name-only sequel to fellow WWE star John Cena’s 2008 theatrical actioner—has also taken him to Chicago, and there are many other cities on the horizon.
But it’s something DiBiase is totally into. You can tell by the enthusiasm in his voice that he digs the attention, as well as the movie business.
“The great thing about the movie is that it didn’t cost a lot of money, maybe $6 or $7 million,” says DiBiase. “The first one was allotted about $20 million, so they had a lot of room for explosions. This one, they did a really good job. The director (Roel Reine, who also helmed Steven Seagal’s Pistolwhipped) was amazing. He had this crane and they had these above (aerial) shots without a helicopter. He would swoop down and made it look like an expensive motion picture.
“I think we did a good job of telling a story and bringing it up to a climax instead of just simply action, action, action. There was character development in the beginning, and when the terrorists come in, it’s all action.”
In Marine 2, just released on DVD and Blu-ray, DiBiase plays Joe Linwood, a marine who heads home to New York after a stint as a sharpshooter in Iraq. Once there, however, he finds his public relations executive wife (Australian actress Lara Cox) has been dispatched to a remote Asian resort for one of her clients. Linwood travels to join her and eventually is confronted by guerillas who take over the resort. It’s not long before Linwood joins forces with an ex-marine (Michael Rooker) to battle the culprits and save his spouse, who has been taken hostage.
Shot in Phuket, Thailand over a five-week period, The Marine 2 looks and plays out like Die Hard on a resort, which is not necessarily a bad thing for a direct-to-DVD action flick. Handsome production values, exotic locales, a myriad of explosions, frenzied fighting and a solid supporting cast that includes Rooker and Temuera Morrison (Once Were Warriors) help make DiBiase’s cinematic debut an entertaining action yarn that looks bigger than its budget and shooting schedule.
DiBiase, a villain in the wrestling world, reportedly replaced his ring partner Randy Orton in the role. But when DiBiase discovered he was in, he was all in.
“I went (to Thailand) a week early to train with the stunt coordinator and the people who played the terrorists,” recalls DiBiase, now trying to find the proper way to eat a burger so big it has sent French fries dangerously teetering to the edge of the plate. “It ended up being five weeks of filming, but it was extremely tough. I did all of my own stunts. I didn’t take any breaks during the day. If we had to reset the pyro or something after a particular scene, we’d go do another scene. (Reine) was very efficient with time and his money and resources because he knew he didn’t have a lot of time or money and he wanted it to look big. And it does, but it was 12 or 14 hour days we put in.”
DiBiase says that The Marine 2 — produced by Vince McMahon’s WWE Films and Fox—perfectly suited his first adventure in front of a movie camera.
“I’m not a member of SAG (Screen Actors Guild), so I didn’t have the limitations. I didn’t want them. I’m used to working hard. I’m not used to getting catered to—nothing against those guys, that’s their livelihood. Some of the Hollywood actors like that. I was ready to work, so I was having fun.”
After shooting a sequence where he’s tied up, DiBiase’s shoulder went numb to the point that “you put a needle in it and I wouldn’t feel it.”
Still, he claims, the whole experience was more than worth it.
“So far, just hearing from the fans, it seems like everybody has really enjoyed it. That makes me happy. I really caught the acting bug when I was over there. It was so different, for me being an entertainer. If I were to get hurt or have some career -ending injury in the ring, I would love to fall back on this and act and do some movies. That’s just I felt like I was born to do—entertain! It’s just in my blood.
“That’s just another avenue I think I’d really enjoy. I hope to God I can take the ‘Cena Avenue’ and do wrestling and movies. He has it made. My first passion is wrestling, and without WWE, I would have never had this. I am not crediting my skills or myself, but without Vince (WWE honcho McMahon) and his approval I would not do this. My loyalty is there for sure. I would like to help them out and do some movies. We’ll see how this one does.”
DiBiase pauses and humorously pleas, “Everyone buy my movie!”
As of right now, there are no further plans for DiBiase to get in front of the camera, but he would certainly welcome another installment in The Marine series. Or any other acting assignment. Even Broadway.
“Recently I flew my wife, my mother and mother-in-law to New York City to see Wicked,” says DiBiase, who lives just outside of Jackson, Mississippi and played football at Mississippi College. “I saw Phantom (of the Opera) three times, and Aida back in the day. But Wicked was awesome. When I watch, I watch from an entertainer’s perspective. Sometimes they do it twice a day. But it’s a challenge.
“I can’t sing. I’d love to get up there and play a part. I guess I could learn to dance. I never tried. I think I have coordination. I don’t know about rhythm, though.”
How does DiBiase view the differences between wrestling and other forms of entertainment?
“What we do in the ring is kind of live theater,” he says, dipping the ungainly burger into a small tub of ketchup.
“Not only are the millions at home watching but the thousands in the stadium are watching, too. So what you’re doing is over the top, and you are over-exaggerating. So you have to play to this huge audience and to the people up at the top. But then you have to have these moments in between when the camera is on you and you have to tell a story, when the camera is on your face.
“The perfect example is Randy Orton in our company. His facial expressions. They love to make you hate him. He just gets so sinister-looking at moments, and people say, ‘That guy is so evil.’
“I learned this six months into the business. And I learned how important those moments are. It’s a lot like film is, it’s just you and the camera. So on film it’s just like lines, throwing them away, and we’re just having this conversation. It’s not like trying to act like The Marine, it’s like being The Marine.
“I tried to put myself into the shoes of a marine who’s been away for a year, maybe had his best friend die. I can relate to this in a sense, because I am away from my wife and family a lot, just drawing on past experiences. And the hardest part is maintaining the mood for the scene. You had to be in that mood for eight hours.”
With his half-brother Mike and brother Brett also wrestlers, the DiBiases maintain a pedigree so common in the wrestling world. Bloodlines are the prerequisite in Ted’s present heel stable “Legacy,” in which he’s partnered with Orton, son of “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and Cody Rhodes, son of Dusty Rhodes. But his father was not in favor of Ted following him in the ring.
“Growing up, he was adamant about us not wrestling.” DiBiase says. “My dad went through some stuff. He took a different path. It’s no secret there was drugs and women and alcohol. Those are things that really affected my dad and almost destroyed my family. After he got out, he didn’t want this for his kids.
At some point, the senior DiBiase turned to religion and actually mixed wrestling with the ministry.
“When I was in my senior year in college, he was hired back by the WWE,” recalls DiBiase. “He was very skeptical at first, but when he got there he noticed things had changed dramatically. The company was public and they had incorporated a wellness policy.
“Everything was different. They (the wrestlers) were home more. They weren’t away from their families much. The salaries were different. There were more opportunities for success, more doors you could walk through while being in the company.
“He was telling me all these things, and my dream was revived. I had to convince him I really wanted to do this. He had to give me his blessing.”
After getting his father’s OK, DiBiase began training with Harley Race, who also taught his dad and grandfather.
He worked hard for ten months, and then went to Japan for his first bouts. Eventually, WWE came calling, and he put his time in at FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling), a WWE training ground, where his brother Brett is now grappling.
To action flick fans unfamiliar with his wrestling antics—what with The Marine 2 doing a brisk rental and sales business on DVD, and DiBiase’s popularity ascending in the WWE—rumors have been swirling about him “turning”—becoming a good guy instead of a heel.
Any chance of that happening?
“I hear all the rumors,” he says with a smile, then puts the final touches on that hamburger.