Punisher interview- 4/04

Talkin’ With “The Russian”

As part of our ongoing coverage leading up to the April 16 release of “The PUNISHER,” League correspondent General Zod had a chance to chew the fat with KEVIN NASH, founding member of the nWo, on his current comic book-based project THE PUNISHER.

Nash plays the infamous Russian, known to comic book fans as the seemingly unkillable assassin from the pages of the Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon’s Punisher run, who is hired to kill Frank Castle. We talked movies, toys, wrestling, and of course, the Punisher.

When I met Kevin Nash, I’m struck by the fact that the toys based on “Big Daddy Cool” don’t do him justice. I mean, the guy is tall. REALLY tall. (memo to Jakks Pacific: how about some height accuracy on your figures, please? According to Jakks, Nash and the under 6 foot Rey Mysterio are roughly the same size!)

I asked Kevin how have the hard-core and internet comic fans have reacted to the casting of Thomas Jane as the Punisher, recalling the controversy when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the late 80s.

“I don’t think it’s a problem, because people don’t seem to know who Thomas Jane is! When I tell people I’m in the Punisher with Thomas Jane, a lot of people don’t know him. I gotta say he played Mickey Mantle in “61.” He was with Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate in “The Sweetest Thing.” He was in “Deep Blue Sea.” He’s done a lot of stuff.”

Nash confirms this should be a breakout movie for Jane. “And the fight scene between them is unbelievable,” offers Nash’s agent Barry Bloom. It’s gonna be a classic.”

In a real-life situation reminiscent of the series finale of OZ (where the villainous Schillinger is done in by Tobias Beecher), Nash was accidentally stabbed by Thomas Jane with a prop knife during filming.

“He got me right here around the collarbone. An inch higher it could have been really bad, let’s just put it that way.”

Nash, a bona fide tough guy, eschewed stitches for the wound. But this is not a person who completely throws caution to the wind. Nash is protective of his body, and rightfully so. Several of his wrestling contemporaries have been forced to leave the sport or have neck fusions, a surgical procedure where two or more vertebrae are locked together, often with a bone graft, to prevent pain or paralysis.

Stone Cold Steve Austin (Steve Williams) had the surgery and no longer actively wrestles. Olympic Gold medalist turned WWE star Kurt Angle is suffering from similar neck problems and his future is in serious doubt, and Edge (Adam Copeland) Bob Holly, and Chris Benoit have returned from year-long rehabs from the surgery to return to the ring.

“Even the girls are having neck fusions. This was never a problem with the old-timers. I blame the German Suplex (a maneuver where a wrestler is thrown over the head of his opponent, landing on his neck and shoulders). They seemed to be getting away from it for a while, and going back to headlocks and stuff, but I was watching the other night and they’ve gone right back to it.”

Reading between the lines, Nash doesn’t seem effusive in his praise for the Stunt Coordinator on the PUNISHER.

“The stunt coordinator was trying to get me to do this 20 foot fall where I lean up against a railing over this stairwell. I’m thinking, that doesn’t look safe. I’m a big guy and there’s no way that even if I land on an airbag that I’m not going to get hurt. So I told him, I’m getting paid X numbers of dollars to act in this film. If they want to pay me another hundred grand, I’ll do the stunt. Otherwise, they can let my stunt double do it.”

“So the stunt coordinator went up to my stunt double, a former Washington Redskin, he was the guy who was the alien dude at the end of SIGNS, the Mel Gibson film. He does the stunt, lands on the railing and breaks two ribs on the first take. The guy literally has blood coming out of his mouth. The stunt coordinator walks by me and I just looked at him [with his trademark Nash “I told you so” smirk]. He didn’t say a word.”

Nash hasn’t seen the finished movie yet, only his fight scene with Thomas Jane, where he had to go back in and loop some lines and grunts, while watching the edited together sequence. He has, however seen the notoriously bad version with Dolph Lungdren. “That was the worst. Even Lou Gossett Jr. seemed like he didn’t want to be there. He’d say his lines like “Frank Castle, you’ve gotta stop…” and it was like he was drifting off to sleep.”

Nash is a fan of the Punisher comic, which he read when he was younger. And based on his conversations with Avi Arad, Avi is tremendously psyched about this movie.

“They did it cost-effectively. I think Lion’s Gate (the production entity behind THE PUNISHER) had the movie come in at around 33 million dollars. I know John [Travolta] lowered his quote to be in the movie, because he’s a Punisher fan.”

Nash is such a Punisher fan, that when asked if he knew what ultimately became of the character he plays in the comics, he didn’t miss a beat: “He ends up with a pair of tits,” referring to the blackly comedic “head transplant” the Russian undergoes in his rematch with Frank Castle.

As hard as it may be to believe, Nash actually has more action figure incarnations than Frank Castle himself, the subject of his current Punisher project. That’s because for years Nash has been a professional wrestler and been immortalized in plastic well over a dozen times.

“I think my favorite figure was Diesel (referring to the Jakks action figure from the early 1990s). It didn’t look ANYTHING like me, but it was my favorite. My son plays with my action figures. He doesn’t connect that they’re all me. He plays with them like we’re all in the MATRIX. These awful plastic dolls of me where only the arms move [from the Original San Francisco Toymakers WCW line] are the robots, and the other ones of me (from Toy Biz’s WCW line) are the Matrix guys that fight the robots.”

“If I had to pick a favorite from one of these [more recent figures] I’d have to say this one of me in my Outsiders outfit. I still have this costume. And this one of Scott is pretty good. [Referring to his own “Outsiders” Toy Biz figure] You know what, I had just dyed my hair blonde when they made this one, so they put some blonde highlights on the figure’s hair.”

He picked up the most recent version of Scott Hall of the nWo from Jakks. “That looks NOTHING like Scott. What’d they do to him?”

Nash had to be laser-scanned for his most recent action figure from Jakks, when he rejoined the WWF, now-called the WWE. “I had to hold an angry face for like a minute. [Noticing the detail on the figure] I can’t believe it. I had my wallet in my back pocket that day, and here it is on the figure.”

Nash had never seen the 8” version of himself, released by Toy Biz using the base body from their FAMOUS COVERS line of dolls. “These aren’t bad,” he said holding up the Hollywood Hulk Hogan doll. “That kind of looks like Hulk. Hulk’s 6’6”. And I’m taller than him, so they sort of got that right,” he commented, standing the two 8” dolls back-to-back.

Nash is self-effacing about the toys based on him. “I have a collectible statue they made of me in my house. And my son is like—‘Dad, why would anyone want a statue of you? Then he asks me how much it costs. A hundred and seventy-five bucks. He just didn’t get why anybody would pay that much for some statue of me.”

For the uninitiated, Nash—often called “Big Sexy” achieved his highest point of popularity and fame during the “Monday Night Wars,” when Ted Turner programmed his WCW wrestling show on Monday nights opposite Vince McMahon’s WWF, then airing on the USA network. Kevin Nash (then wrestling as the character Diesel) and Scott Hall (then wrestling as Razor Ramon) signed with WCW, and participated in a storyline that made it seem as if the WCW was being “invaded” by the WWF. The move shocked and intrigued blasé wrestling fans, and would eventually catapult WCW to over 83 weeks of consecutive ratings superiority over the WWF.

On the WCW show, Nash and Hall were joined by Hulk Hogan, and dubbed their invasion group the New World Order, or “nWo.” The nWo logo on stickers and t-shirts soon bled into the popular culture beyond wrestling, as a symbol of brash disrespect for all things establishment.But Nash’s road to wrestling immortality had a few potholes along the way. He started out his wrestling career playing a high-pitched gadfly with a fake white beard calling himself the great and powerful Oz—an ersatz wizard and an embarrassingly bad character. He moved on to play Vinnie Vegas, a “gambling wrestler” who wore two dice on his vest and pantomimed “rolling the dice” to try and engage the crowd. Fans, predictably, were less than responsive.

It wasn’t until Nash signed with Vince McMahon’s WWF where he became DIESEL, the bodyguard to Shawn Michaels (Michael Hickenbottom), that he began to pick up steam and get “over” (become popular) with the fans. Ultimately, Michaels would turn on Nash—and Nash would become a “face” or to use wrestler parlance, become a good guy. He feuded with Michaels, Sid Vicious (Sid Eudy), and ultimately won the WWF World Championship.

He also formed a group controversial in wrestling circles, called the CLIQ. “The cliq was Shawn, me, Paul (Triple H), Scott, and Sean Waltman. We didn’t have a union, so we agreed we’d watch each other backs. We compared paychecks and payoffs, and made sure we weren’t getting screwed financially. Nobody had done this before. If a road manager said this was your payoff, nobody questioned it. We did.”

“One of the things I’ll do when I’m at a house show is ask the road manager what the gate was. You’d see that on a show that sold less tickets, sometimes you’d make more than on a show that sold twice as much. You’d ask why…and the road manager would stammer and say uhhh…but you know where that money is going. Back to Vince.”

It’s standing up for himself and speaking his mind that has earned Nash a reputation as a “lockerroom lawyer.” But the reality is, Nash has a keen mind—he can rattle off annual profit reports and ratings—in a world where his chosen profession has no unions, no set residuals for video and DVDs, and one company (the WWE) virtually has a monopoly on the form.

“[The WWE] gets around things by calling us independent contractors. But then, you show up late at an arena and some lady wants to fine you. I told her, hey, I’m an independent contractor. You hire a guy to paint your house, you don’t dock him pay because he shows up late. As long as he paints your house, you pay him.”

Nash also has creative ideas on how to improve the quality of wrestling shows. Commenting on the illogic of wrestlers making secret plans to ambush someone on camera, assuming that the other wrestler either doesn’t own or have access to a TV set, Nash offers: “There’s a way to do it. There’s a way to suspend disbelief. You watch a show like Larry Sanders, and when they’re backstage, they shoot it differently. I’d make suggestions to the cameramen that maybe we shoot the matches on video and the backstage stuff like Larry Sanders with multiple angles [on 16 or 35 millimeter film]. You know, instead of just the one shaky hand-held camera the way they do it now. The cameraman would just look at you and say duhhh… this is the way we’ve always shot it. And nothing would change.”

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