John Cena generated headlines at WrestleMania 33 when he proposed to Nikki Bella after their mixed tag victory over The Miz and Maryse. Cena has been off-camera ever since to work on his upcoming films – most notably, The Wall, which co-stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson – but has plans to return to Smackdown Live. Cena, who has granted more wishes than any celebrity or athlete in Make-A-Wish history, spoke with SI at his annual Make-A-Wish luncheon in Orlando where WWE hosted 39 wish kids whose wish was to attend WrestleMania and inducted those children into WWE’s Circle of Champions.
SI.com: So many people have asked you to turn heel. You just visited children at a Make-A-Wish luncheon in Orlando during WrestleMania weekend and the children were ecstatic to see you. Does that provide you with more justification to remain your current character?
Cena: I don’t think everyone wants me to turn. There is a group of people that don’t like what they see, but the most important message I send is you can’t please everybody, never be ashamed to be who you are, and know that what you do affects people. I look at it as a way to provide hope for families that don’t go through what we consider a normal day by providing a smile and happiness. I look at WWE as a vehicle to provide an escape and happiness. That’s why I’m here every year, I believe in what we do.
SI.com: You last headlined a WrestleMania in 2013. As a competitor, is part of your drive to headline WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans?
Cena: I look at any time I step on that ramp as the headline.
SI.com: The promos with The Miz, Maryse, and Nikki Bella leading up to WrestleMania 33 were appointment viewing. Were you happy with the way the program played out? Or was it too real to enjoy?
Cena: I can’t believe I have hair left. At times, it’s trying to have someone throw your real life out there. Everybody comes at me, so I’m used to it, but it’s a first for Nicole. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and I can attest to that. I’ve had to be on the receiving end of some upset nights, but I cannot stress to you enough how it shows her character and resolve. I tell everyone who will listen, Nicole is the strongest, most inspiring person I’ve ever met. That’s why I love her. I’ve headlined with The Rock and I’ve been a part of a lot of WrestleMania moments, but this moment with Nicole is the one most important of all because I get to stand alongside her in a WrestleMania ring. All of that is because of her story. She drives me, she inspires me. We learn from each other every day. On top of that, I’m head over heels for her. And she loves this business just as much as I do, so it’s special.
SI.com: Celebrities and pro athletes, like Rob Gronkowski, are constantly rumored to be or are actually a part of WrestleMania. Is there anyone from outside of wrestling that you would like to work with in the ring? And what is the key to a successful transition into WWE?
Cena: The best celebrities or pro athletes are the ones who show up embracing everything. I distinctly remember when Hugh Jackman showed up and he was awesome because he viewed it as awesome. His lasting impression on what he did and how enthusiastic he was, that was great. Anyone like that. When a person shows up to WWE and says, ‘I want to be part of this crazy thing that’s about to happen,’ it always leads to memorable moments. If anyone shows up too cool for school, well, then all right. We have a world watching us, and it is such a wonderful world to be a part of.
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SI.com: WWE has allowed you so many opportunities, including current movie roles that have taken you away from Smackdown Live. How grateful are you for those opportunities? And what are your goals outside of the ring?
Cena: That’s all really good stuff, but it doesn’t happen without this. I’m at the point where I wouldn’t do anything that I’m not interested or invested in. I really think it’s awesome that WWE has someone who can host a morning show by day and be on Smackdown Live at night. There are a lot of folks in WWE that are tremendously talented, and hopefully I can be one of the few vehicles that gets more opportunities for some of those superstars other than myself. It’s really cool to be able to do, but I’m not doing anything because I have to, I’m doing it because I want to.