With Bret Hart recently announced to be starring in Barry J. Gillis’ horror anthology Tales from the Dead Zone, we were lucky enough to grab some time with the wrestling icon to discuss his decision to return to acting, his experience of playing a no-nonsense detective in the movie, if he’ll now be pursuing a full-time acting career, who could possibly play Bret in the story of his life, and so much more.
STARBURST: To start with, how did you end up involved in Tales from the Dead Zone?
Bret Hart: It just came at the right time, in the sense that I was looking for something to do and to challenge myself to see what was out there. It was just the challenge to play the part, to take on the role. I had gone through some hand surgery at that time, some wrist surgery, and I was in a fair bit of pain when I did the shoot. So at the time, I needed something to pick up my spirits a little bit and have some fun; not worry so much, just have some fun with the role. And I’ve never played a killer before.
How would you describe the movie to people?
I can only speak for the parts that I did, because I’m not so familiar with the full script, but it was a fun script and the role had a lot of swearing, a lot of violence, and a lot of anger. I was looking forward to that.
How much fun was it for you to get to play a private detective?
It was fun, I enjoyed it. When I did it I was thinking that this is really not a Bret Hart type of role – I’m not playing a hero or anything – but at the same time I thought I’d play a rugged Bret Hart type of private detective and to have fun with it. And that’s what I tried to do.
Piggybacking off that comment, what would you describe as a typical Bret Hart type of role?
It’s the stereotype. For years, I was always getting movie roles where – kind of like the stuff John Cena’s done – you’re always being the hero and everybody loves you. I did that with my wrestling career, so it’s really not that interesting to play that kind of part. The detective in this particular movie was a pretty rough ‘n’ tough old cop. I got to have some fun with that, and people will be surprised to hear me go off and to see me in a situation where I do some pretty violent things.
Were there any films or specific characters that you pulled inspiration from for your role here, or did you go in with a clean state and open mind?
I think I came in with a clean slate, but I kind of think of someone like Columbo. Except for he’s a much more violent, deranged guy who is going to solve everything, just not with some thinking; maybe with some violent action.
Tales from the Dead Zone is classified as a horror movie, so are you a long-time fan of the horror genre?
I can be. I don’t really like to get scared. I don’t go to movies and want to come out all stressed out. I like more family-related movies and action movies. I’m all for happy endings. At the same time, I don’t go to a lot of horror movies or watch a lot of them, but when there’s a good one or one that captures my imagination, I really enjoy them. It’s kind of like pro wrestling. You can suspend your disbelief and go along with the storyline and have some fun and get a different kind of release like when you get really scared. I don’t know if the movie delivers that – I think it can and it should, and that’s the plan – but I liked the twists and turns that I was involved in. I thought my character was a clever character, he was smart enough to figure out what was going on. At the same time, he was somebody who believed in serving his own justice out.
So a little like a Punisher sort of character who has their own brand of justice?
Exactly. It works all the same.
When it comes to the horror genre, do you have a particular favourite movie?
My favourite horror movie? I was always a big fan of all the Hannibal Lecter movies. I used to like some of the zombie movies; I always liked Return of the Living Dead. That was one of my favourite movies, but I like that more as a comedy. Then there’s called Dawn of the Dead. I like it when I get scared. It’s funny how you can watch a scary movie 30, 40 years later and see it as corny and wonder how it scared you so much back when you were a kid.
In terms of acting, back in the ‘90s and into the 2000s you did stuff such as Lonesome Dove, The Adventures of Sinbad, and then the Aladdin stage show. Was it always a plan of yours to get into acting, or was it something that just happened to come along at the right time back then?
Oh, for sure it was my next step to go in after wrestling. I had every intention of exploiting every opportunity to do what I could in film. I wanted to get out of television, I didn’t want to do any more TV. TV’s a lot of hard work and you’ve got to spend a lot of time on the road. I didn’t want to do that, but I did want to move into movies. Then I suffered my concussion injury, which was a real challenge for me. That’s why I did the Aladdin thing. I chose to do that because, even if I was not very good and it turned out to be a mistake, I would have been okay with it because I did it as a challenge. I had such trouble memorising lines at that time. That was sort of my step away from having my concussion injury. I was moving in the right direction. But then, of course, my stroke happened in 2002. That really made it hard for me. It’s not real obvious to a lot of people, but it can be a little bit obvious when you get tried; the left side of my face gets a little droopy and my walk gets a little stilted. When I get tired or if I get cold, it shows up much more obviously. And again, the sort of stereotypical movie I was getting [offered] was something for the Bret Hart wrestling character. I was always a good guy or a big hero or a guy who worked out in the gym – all of these characters and roles that played off my real wrestling career. They weren’t challenging. I had to start passing on movie projects mostly because I didn’t feel I could do justice to the parts with the limitations I had from my stroke.
In saying that, I also think that if you needed me to play the part of a guy that was injured, a Vietnam veteran or something, I could play that. I could play somebody who was hurt, who had a stilted walk, whose face was covered on one side, or I could play a monster in a Star Trek movie or something. There were certain things that I could have done, and certain things that I would’ve done if they came along. That’s where this project came in. I’d just had some surgery on my hand and was going in for my second surgery. I just wanted it to not be obvious that I was having trouble or that I was in a lot of pain at the time. Even when I had to choke somebody, it was hard for me to do it the way I would normally do it. At the same time, I saw the whole thing as a chance to challenge myself again and test my memory and the smoothness of doing my lines. On that level I was really happy. It was fun for me to work with Dakota [House – co-star] again. Him and I have become good friends and I enjoyed working with him again.
Since suffering the concussions, the in-ring retirement and then your stroke, do you think that resulted in people offering you less projects that are the usual meathead wrestler roles and instead presented you with opportunities to play other sorts of roles?
Well I’d done two seasons on Lonesome Dove. I thought I did really well, and playing that part was perfect for me. My acting roles and opportunities would’ve only gotten brighter if that had panned out for me. Instead, that series got cancelled. And I never really had a chance to pursue acting after that. I went back to the wrestling and then I got hurt, my career ended, and I had a stroke. You’re right, I had a lot of derailments. That’s where you’ve got to look further ahead and realise what kind of parts I can do. I got a lot of different offers, but usually I just turned them down as they’re not really parts I’d want to be remembered for or they’re not challenging for me. So this part, not that it was a real challenge, but it was fun. Like I say, I was just going through one surgery and then happened to be going for another hand surgery, which was quite a painful time period for me. I sought a challenge to do something for myself, to pick up my spirits and have some fun. I didn’t really worry about the script too much or how it was filmed. I just wanted to have fun. And it was fun and I enjoyed working with everybody that I worked with, and I think I did the best I could with the role.
You talked about passing on roles following your stroke. After the setbacks that you’ve had, when do you feel you really got your confidence back to want to go out and try acting again?
My plan was always to move more into acting when my wrestling career wound down. Unfortunately, my wrestling career wound down and got cut off with an injury which limited me to what I could do after that. The truth of it, I would say, is Ross Petty and the people out of Toronto that asked me to play Aladdin. That whole role, with the singing and the show and all that – I’m certainly no singer and I’m not much of a dancer either – but I appreciated that. I remember I said to them, “If you think I can do this then let me do this. But if you don’t think I can do it after all of the rehearsals, don’t let me go out there and embarrass myself.” They were like, “No, no, we’ll make sure you’re good.” They worked with me a lot and I gave 100% for them and tried my best, because it was a real challenge for me to just remember all of the lines. Even though you do it every day, it was a whole play, a whole pantomime. I expected the challenge, but I was a little fearful that I might drop the ball. That role in itself was a big role and it was a real challenge. I had so much fun with it, I enjoyed every member of the cast, and I would do it all again tomorrow – I would do it for free, it was so much fun.
It was just a real honour to be involved with such a classy production. That opened the door for me to at least accept these sorts of things as challenges and not to worry about what a critic might think of the movie or what they thought of my acting. I really didn’t care, I just wanted to have some fun. I look at everything like that today. I get a lot of your standard pro wrestler type parts, being a bouncer or bodyguard or something, and it’s always kind of the same things. You just never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. I always look at it that if something comes across my table, a) it might be fun, and b) it might be a challenge where I can prove something to myself. I’ve never tried a horror movie before, but it was the same thing: it was just kind of fun and a challenge. And I hope that people think I did a good enough job to at least believe that I wasn’t Bret Hart for a second; that I wasn’t the Hitman character that they know.
Roddy Piper is somebody who obviously opened the door, and then Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has taken things to a whole other level, but do you think it’s now easier for wrestlers to be taken more seriously as actors and not just constantly be typecast?
I think Rock, like you said, has really opened the door for everybody, but I think there are also certain other guys – like [Dave] Bautista has done an awesome job in the movies I’ve seen him in. And even John Cena’s done a really good job. I think he’s adjusted really well to the acting. I’m really proud of him. I think it’s a real challenge. I think for every great, iconic wrestler, when your career winds down it’s a natural step to challenge yourself and try the acting. In wrestling, I think there’s a lot of similarities between that and memorising scripts for a movie; you have to remember a series of moves the same way you remember a series of words. You have to remember what order they’re in and you have to remember to duck when you’re supposed to and you know when you have to catch the guy. There’s a lot of memory in pro wrestling. That’s why I think almost any pro wrestler can be a good actor if they can relax enough to enjoy the role and just play it. I think acting and memorising lines aren’t a whole lot different to what we do in the ring wrestling, in memorising high spots and choreographed moves.
A great wrestling match is so often about the chemistry between yourself and the person standing opposite you in the ring. With that in mind, with wrestler do you think would make a great partner for you to work opposite in a movie?
I would work with so many guys. I would be happy to work with any of the wrestlers. For some reason I’m thinking of some of the guys that are big and scary, like Undertaker or Yokozuna. It would be fun to play a role with them in a movie. Rock, of course, all of his movies are so well done and have the best of everything in them; the best camera work, the best stunt work. That would be a real thrill to work with someone of that professional, that high of a level. Again, I’m really very impressed with John Cena’s acting roles. I think he’s done an awesome job, and I’ve been quite proud of him for a long time. Bautista, I thought he was so good in Blade Runner 2049. I thought his acting was fantastic. I’ve enjoyed him as a wrestler and I especially enjoy how he seems to pick certain roles, and I really like the job he’s done. If someone said I could work with John Cena or Buatista or Rock, I would be thrilled. At the same time, if Roddy Piper was still alive and he called me to say, “Hey, I’m in a really limited B-movie that’s actually pretty good,” I would do it, just because working with Roddy would’ve been so much fun. I don’t always look at it in terms of the budget or whether this movie could launch my career, I look at it as how much fun it would be to do it.
Considering the size of the guy, if anyone was going to be typecast as the larger-than-life wrestler then it’s Dwayne Johnson. To his credit, he’s gone on to become the biggest box office draw in the movie industry.
The highest paid actor in the world. I would like to see some wrestlers take on some more dramatic roles; something with more emotion and something that could bring out their more emotional side. The more physical, Rock-sort of roles are fun, but it’s not really that much of a stretch from his ring character. And I’m sure Rock could do dramatic television or movies any time he wants to, and I’m sure that will come, but I think the world’s my oyster in that sense. I could find myself doing just about anything if I thought it was the right timing and a fun role to do.
So, are you now now actively looking for roles and pursuing acting on a regular basis, or are you more just waiting to see what comes your way?
I’m not looking to make a career as an actor, mostly because acting’s a hard life. Anyone who thinks, “I’m gonna be an actor, it’s easy!”… it’s hard work, it’s long hours, a lot of time you’re away from home while you’re filming. That’s a lot of things that I’ve already done enough of and I don’t need to spend my life away from home anymore. But if the right thing came along, I’d be happy to do it. I’m not really looking, this could be the last movie I ever do, but at the same time it might be the door that opens up for something. Maybe I’ll just be in lots of horror movies because they’re fun to participate in. I would do a war movie in a second. It would be fun to play a cowboy or play a soldier. I often think about roles that would be fun for me to play. If one of them came along, I’d be happy to take a shot at it – succeed or fail!
What would be the dream role for you then?
It’s such a wide-open field. It could be anything. I could play an old boxer, I could play an old boxing promoter, I could play an old gangster. You just never know. If it comes along and I fit the part and I’ve got the time and it’s in a place where I could do it, I wouldn’t rule anything out. At the same time, I don’t know if I’ll be doing many more acting things.
You yourself have had an absolutely fascinating life, full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. If there was somebody to play Bret Hart in the story of your life, who would it be?
You know, I don’t know anybody that could play Bret Hart. Only because I don’t know anybody that really looks like me physically or even just above the shoulders. I can’t think of any actor that strikes me as, “Oh yeah, he could play me.” He’s out there somewhere, but I don’t know who could do it. If you’re going to do my book as a movie, who would play Vince McMahon, who would play Andre the Giant?
Your book – Bret Hart: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling – is an absolutely brilliant read. Is the ultimate plan to bring that to big-screen life?
Only that I hope someday that it’ll happen; that my book goes into film. There’s people out there that can figure that out. When you watch movies – you have someone playing Elton John or someone playing Freddie Mercury from Queen – it’s a challenge and it’s not easy to come off as real. I always thought Will Smith, as much as I love him, I never thought for one second that he was Muhammad Ali. I never thought he was Muhammad Ali even though he had the size and the personality. It was a really lousy attempt capturing Muhammad Ali. As hard as Will Smith tried – he tried his heart out – it was poorly cast. He was not the right guy to play Ali. I remember taking my dad to the movie and we watched the whole movie and he said to me at the end, “When does Ali come on?” He really said it in a serious way. He’d watched the whole movie and he just didn’t get it. And I always thought that whoever plays Bret Hart in a TV or movie project based on my book would have to, I hope, look like me or act like me enough that people go, “Yeah, he reminds me of Bret Hart. He captures Bret Hart.” I hope somebody can answer that question.
Is there the worry, as with so many projects based on real-life people, that liberties may be taken with the truth?
Well I’ve worked now for several years on scripts based on my book. And I’m still in the middle of it. It’s like writing my book in long form; it’s a lot more complicated than doing a book. I’d say I’ve got the equivalent of what would be one season of maybe 18 or 20 episodes. It’s written right now and I’ll keep working on it, and I’ll wait for the right people to come along and see if they want to use my script. When I wrote it, I had to get it right the first time. I’m not going to have chance to write it again. The same thing with film, if someone was going to adjust my book for a film or television series. It would be important to me that it was accurate and that it captures the truth of what I was writing about my career and my life. I’m not for fictionalising my truth with a bunch of things that never happened.
Tales from the Dead Zone will be released at a to-be-confirmed date next year.
Written by Andrew Pollard 24/06/2019