“I’m always looking for British heroes to celebrate, in particular women, and here was one no one was talking about,” Merchant explained.
“Fighting with My Family” is the story of Paige and her journey from Norwich, England all the way to the top of the women’s division in WWE.
The movie is as emotional as it is enjoyable, and successfully captured and conveyed the spirit, determination, and heart of Saraya “Paige” Bevis.
Stephen Merchant agreed to write the script and direct the film after learning about Paige’s background, which includes her wrestling-obsessed family. Paige’s mother and father were involved in the business, her older brother dedicated his life to wrestling and dreamed of making it to WWE, and her older half-brother had wrestling dreams dashed by a prison sentence, while she overcome outrageous odds to sign with WWE.
“I’m always looking for British heroes to celebrate, in particular women, and here was one no one was talking about,” said Merchant. “I have enormous respect for Paige, and I feel very proud that we’re bringing her story to the screen.”
The film, which will be released nationwide on Friday, does an outstanding job of staying true to Paige’s story despite adding a few doses of Hollywood storytelling.
“I didn’t want to present Paige as this saintly figure,” said Merchant. “She and her family have their own demons, and I tried to present as much of that as I could. But at the same time, I’ve got great respect for this working-class kid from Norwich, England who has gone to the very top of her profession.”
Merchant worked directly with executive producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to learn the inner workings of the professional wrestling business. The pair attended WrestleMania 32 together in 2016, and Johnson explained such details as the levels of reality in WWE, how to build a persona, and how to cut a promo.
“He went out with a flamethrower, and I thought, ‘This is unbelievable,’” said Merchant. “Once you see it live, and you hear the crowd and see the athleticism and showmanship, it makes so much more sense. You want energy and movement in films, so I knew it would work.”
Merchant wanted to create a film that people would enjoy, regardless of their knowledge of pro wrestling.
“I didn’t know anything about wrestling or WWE before this,” said Merchant. “So I came in with an outsider’s perspective, which I think is good. I wanted to treat it respectfully, and Paige and her family care passionately about wrestling, so I didn’t want to mock it or satirize it, but I could take a step back and see the bigger picture. I wanted to make a film that was for both the fans and the non-wrestling fans. I took it seriously and respected it, but I also wasn’t trying to throw open the door and expose the inner workings. I just wanted to tell Paige’s story.
“I was anxious initially because I didn’t want to upset wrestling fans. But as I immersed myself in it, wrestling is very complicated. If you’re coming in from the outside and you haven’t spent years as a fan, there is a lot to compute. So I wanted to focus on the key parts of her journey, like when she first got in the ring with her brother, when she got the chance to go to WWE, when she felt like she didn’t fit in, and when she won her first title.”
The film does a tremendous job of infusing humor into the story, but it is ultimately a slow build to an emotional investment in Paige and her family.
“We’ve worked very hard to take you on an emotional journey,” said Merchant. “Paige told me that when she won the title, the emotion she felt was as real as if she’d won a gold medal in the Olympics. That emotional journey of staying true to herself is what I wanted to capture and convey, and that’s what I hope people respond to.”