WWE's top superstar chats about his title shot at SummerSlam, life on the road, how he's changed and his upcoming movie role
By Dave McCoy
Last year, I spoke with WWE superstar MVP. During the interview, our conversation turned to who was the best worker in the WWE right now. I said, "Randy Orton," and MVP stopped talking. After a moment of silence, he said, "There isn't anybody better right now, is there? He does everything perfectly."
In a business stuffed with major egos and competitive fire, that is perhaps the best praise you can earn. A year later, nothing has changed. Orton, a third-generation wrestler (His grandfather Bob Orton Sr. and his father, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, both performed) is, in many people's opinion, still the best worker in the WWE. Well, OK, a few things have changed. For years, Orton, nicknamed "The Viper," was the greatest heel working. He was a nasty snake in the grass with piercing blue eyes and a demeanor that screamed "evil," and the crowd loved to hate him. But as with Triple H and a slew of vicious heels before him, that hate eventually turned to respect, and Orton was suddenly a fan favorite. This Sunday, Aug. 15, he heads into his WWE Championship match at SummerSlam (arguably the biggest WWE pay-per-view outside of WrestleMania) in Los Angeles against current heel champion Seamus as a babyface. A ruthless, edgy babyface seeking his sixth championship belt in six years, but one nonetheless.
Recently, the usually private Orton granted us a rare interview, via phone, to discuss his upcoming match, how he and the business have changed, and much more.
MSN TV: Where are you right now?
Randy Orton: I'm home, briefly. St. Louis.
Can you talk about the travel for the WWE? How brutal is it, especially now that you have a child? [Orton's wife gave birth to a daughter in 2008.]
It's hard. Any of us with family, it's hard to be away so much. But the toughest part of travel is that it's harder on your body than performing in the ring. Renting cars, driving 1,000 miles a week -- which is what we average -- the airports, which is five or six times a week ... it's tough. If you have a couple of good books and a computer, you can get through it. But with us taking all of the falls we do in the ring and landing on our back, dozens of times a night, all year round, and then sitting in a rental car or an airplane after a show, that is really the hardest part. You aren't really able to wind down and get flat. There is no time to recover. The most important things when taking care of yourself, if you're a body-builder or anybody in fitness, is diet, training and recovery. We have the diet down. We can make do with McDonald's all day and figure out what's healthy and get by. We all get to the gym. But we can't recover, so we're missing one of the key elements to keep your body in tip-top condition, and that is why we get hurt.
Being a third-generation superstar, you must have gotten a lot of advice from your dad and granddad about the business. Is it true your dad didn't want you to wrestle?
The travel was different when they were wrestling. They used to drive around to territories, and then my dad settled in the WWE. There were a lot less airplanes, but they drove a lot more. I don't know if it's different. What's worse or what's better: Driving or sitting in an airport waiting for a plane? It takes four hours for an hour flight. They just gave me tips and hints for living out of a suitcase. As far as the wrestling, my dad didn't tell me "no." That was my mom. [Laughs] My dad just tried to steer me away from it. I was in the Marine Corps for a year and a half, and that didn't work out too well and I wanted to wrestle. At that point, he said, "OK, OK. I'll call Vince McMahon." So we had a tryout in late 1999, and the rest was history.
You are still the youngest superstar to ever hold the world championship. You were 24 when you did it. Looking back, can you talk about how you were then versus how you are now, six titles later?
A lot has changed. The biggest thing, for me, is my confidence in myself. Whenever I see footage from back then, like that match when I won my first championship, ohhh, it just makes me cringe. That's kind of how we all are. We all evolve into a better performer, whether it's on the microphone or in-ring abilities or your charisma or your facials. That last one is big with me. I believe that the audience, especially the TV audiences, you really let them in when you give the camera a chance to see your facials, to see what you're thinking, and what's going on in your head. I don't have any flashy moves that I do. I don't pick up wrestlers and slam them. I don't jump off the third turnbuckle onto someone. I just think that if you have energy or emotion behind what you are doing, it doesn't really matter what you're doing. So, all of my stuff is pretty basic. And where I've come from, with all of my injuries, it's better and safer to have good facials than an aerial stunt or picking a huge guy up. Usually the younger guys with bodies that don't break as easily, they tend to learn this the hard way, as I did.
You've been a great heel for many years. Now, out of respect for your attitude and ability, fans basically forced you back into a babyface role. I've talked to Edge and Triple H, and both say they wanted to be heels forever. How does it feel to go from such a fantastic villain to someone who now gets huge applause?
I am one of those guys, too, like Edge and Hunter, who wanted to be a heel forever. In my mind, as far as how I act, I still am and always will be. It doesn't matter whether I am heel or babyface, I'll still be the same character ... unless they put a mask on me [Laughs]. I've kind of worked myself into a corner, but I see it as a good thing. I got lucky. I am myself, I am Randy Orton. The only downfall is people see me on the street and think I'm a prick. [Laughs]. I'm not! I swear! For some reason, I'm able to come across as screwed-up in the head. It's turned out to be what I'm good at. But as a babyface, I'm still that same guy. It's weird to even say that, because I don't even feel like a babyface.
Yeah, you're pretty much the same guy ...
Yeah, the only difference is I'm up against guys the fans don't like. And if they put me in there with the wrong guy, I'd get booed. It's up to the booking, the story lines and what the fans want, really. Around this past WrestleMania 26, the fans really just wanted to start cheering for me. They'd seen me evolve into this character, and I was up against Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes, and it was like, "Yeah, I'd kinda like to see this one guy kick these other two guy's asses." And that was a good start to the new direction: beating up two guys that nobody liked. It gave me momentum, and I hope it keeps going.
Well, right now, you are up against another guy the fans hate at SummerSlam for the WWE Championship: WWE Champion Seamus.
Yeah, with me and Seamus, the momentum should continue. Although new, Seamus has got charisma and ability. He's been pushed to the top very quickly because of it. Besides Brock Lesnar, I can't think of a guy who's rose so quickly here.
It looks like you are going to face him, but there is the Miz question. He's got the Money in the Bank briefcase and therefore can challenge Seamus anytime he chooses and perhaps become champion before SummerSlam. Do you care who you get?
I guess you are right. I kind of tend to forget about Miz, because he doesn't seem like much of a threat. [Laughs] Bless his little heart. I just look at him and ... yeah, no comment. No comment. I don't want to bury the guy.
How creatively involved are you in your story lines?
Well, it's no secret that we have writers. Those writers have to get with us, and they want feedback. Anything that we come up with, they will twist it so it comes off as their original idea, just like any good writer would want to do. From A-Z, as far a story goes, you can say whatever you want, any ideas you have. You can help as much or as little as you want. Whether or not they respond or it goes the way you want it to go, that's not up to you at all.
As a newish dad, how do you feel about WWE switching to a more PG-rated format?
At first, I wasn't very happy with the idea. I had just gotten used to that style and the way the story lines were going. But now being a father and keeping an eye on what is on the television, I can totally understand that it's better for business and better for our fans, too. We have a lot of young viewers, and it's better all across the board to be PG. There are going to be some people, some older fans, that are upset with that. Well, they can go somewhere else and get their blood. They can watch a 60-year-old man bleed all over each other, if they want. That's fine. We'll be displaying other things on our show. You don't need to bleed on somebody to have a good match. We've proven that.
You are going to be in a movie next year, "That's What I Am." How was that experience?
It was my first experience on a movie set. I was down in New Orleans for a week. It's not my movie. I just have three scenes. I don't want people to get the wrong idea. Definitely go see it; I'm in it! But don't expect to see me from beginning to end. Ed Harris is the star of the movie. I've always been a huge fan of his. So with him in it, I know it's going to be good. Just to watch him work, to watch him prepare and get himself into character, it was just really, really fun for me. I was a mark. [Laughs]
Last thing: How did you create and start using the RKO? It's easily the best finishing move in the business right now.
Well, if you ask Diamond Dallas Page that, he'd say I called him for permission and he granted me permission to use that. Because, you know, you got to ask "permission" from old-timers before you use their move, for Christ's sakes. Anyway, that's not what happened ... I wanted a move that I could hit anybody with, no matter how short, how tall, how fat, whatever. I can hit the Big Show with the RKO. I can hit Rey Mysterio with the RKO. John Laurinaitis, Johnny Ace, used to use the Ace Crusher, which was pretty much the Diamond Cutter, which is where DDP got it. So Johnny Ace is pretty much my boss, besides Vince, and he was helping me out six or seven years ago. He said, "Hell, Randy, why don't you just use the Ace Crusher?" I said, "What in the hell is that?" And I started playing with it. It's a variation of a cutter, but I think the key is I can do it to everybody. With the injuries I had sustained so early in my career, this didn't involve power-bombing a guy after a 30-minute match, you know, having to get a 300-pound guy up on my shoulders. I just jump up, grab his neck and fall. The only time it sucks is when I have to do it on the concrete or the steel grate. That's not a lot of fun.
Send us your thoughts on Randy Orton and this year's SummerSlam to firstname.lastname@example.org
SummerSlam takes place on Sunday, August 15 at 5 p.m. on pay-per-view.
Dave McCoy is Senior Producer for MSN Entertainment.