Wrestling champ Kevin Nash gets to dance again in ‘Magic Mike XXL’

Ed Symkus More Content Now
Tarzan (Kevin Nash) has a moment of Zen in “Magic Mike XXL.”

The list of names former pro wrestler Kevin Nash has worked under almost matches the number of championship belts he’s won. But during the two-and-a-half decades that Nash (aka Master Blaster Steel, Oz, Vinnie Vegas and Diesel) wrestled and held, among others, the WWF Intercontinental Title, the WWF Heavyweight Title, the WWF World Tag Team Title, the WCW World Tag Team Title, and the WCW World Heavyweight Title, he segued into a different type of less athletic acting. Nash, 55, standing at just under 6’10”, made his movie debut as Super Shredder in the 1991 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.” He’s played the menacing Russian in “The Punisher,” a prison guard in “The Longest Yard,” a bodyguard in “Rock of Ages,” and Tarzan, the biggest of the male dancers in “Magic Mike.” He reprises the role in “Magic Mike XXL.” Nash, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this year, spoke about his careers last week in Hollywood.

Q: Did you have dreams of being a wrestler when you were a kid?

A: No, but I liked it. I remember back in the days when physical education was part of the curriculum, there were six-week course periods, and one of them was wrestling. I was in sixth grade, and they put the mats out. I was using a “foreign object.” Now that was back when they could use corporal punishment, and three or four days in a row I got rifled with a paddle just because I was doing pro wrestling. I always used to love that the foreign object was a piece of white tape. (laughs)

Q: You played basketball in college, but were a bouncer at a strip club in Georgia when you met the WCW (then called NWA) wrestlers the Steiner Brothers, and they talked you into trying out as a wrestler. How did you go about it?

A: There was a wrestling school just south of Marietta that Jody Hamilton [aka the Assassin] was running. Jody was getting up in age, so he couldn’t teach me that much, work-wise. But he could teach me psychology, which I thought was essential. He always said, “It’s not what you do, but when you do it.”

Q: You ended up being as good on the microphone as you were at wrestling. Was there any training for the vocal stuff?

A: No, you’re just thrown out there. You either can talk or you can’t talk. It came easily to me. I was one of the best trash-talking white basketball players of all time (laughs).

Q: Did wrestling help prepare you for film acting?

A: Yeah. Even as Diesel, I was playing a character. Vinnie Vegas was a character. Oz was a character. But I think acting is innate anyway. Like, how many times in the course of a week do we act like we’re interested in listening to our spouses talk to us? (laughs)

Q: Is there a big difference between playing large for arenas and playing small for the camera?

A: Oh, yeah. There’s no feedback in a movie. There’s no gratification. You can hit it out of the ballpark in a room with 30 cast and crew, and nobody says anything. But when you set up a wrestling match where, at around [a count of] two and a half, you’re gonna kick out of this guy’s finish move, and you know that the place is gonna explode, and at two and a half, you do kick out, and the place explodes, that kind of gratification is one of the reasons we do this. When we walk down the ramp for Wrestlemania in front of 80-plus thousand in San Francisco, there’s not a drug on earth that can touch that feeling.

Q: How did “Magic Mike” initially come to you?

A: I Skyped with the people doing the casting for Steven Soderbergh, who directed that one. She went over the premise of the movie and asked if I had any interest. I asked what I would be doing? And she said I’d be one of the dancers. I just kind of laughed and said, “No, really what would I be doing?” She said, “Really, you’re gonna be Tarzan.” I told her I was pretty hobbled, pretty beat up, that I wouldn’t be able to do it without a big, bulky knee brace. She asked Steven, and he said, “No, that’s fine. That would be funny.”

Q: Any second thoughts about doing it again?

A: Oh, no! I mean, when the call came about a second one, I was the only guy in the dance crew that was currently reading the AARP magazine. But anything and everything just to hang out with my friends again.

Q: Did you know that you were going to have a much larger part in the sequel?

A: No. You never know. You do the table read on the first day, but then Steven and [director] Greg Jacobs allow you a lot of input as far as developing your character. So you ad lib, and when you get the finished cut, you might get a lot more than you originally thought you had.

Q: Are you through in the wrestling ring?

A: Well, we don’t retire till they put dirt on us.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.