The director of the film initially sought Mel Gibson and Jeff Bridges to play the role Michaels took.
After years as a babyface, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels is set to return to his roots and play the part of a villain.
The role will not take place at SummerSlam, but rather for the upcoming film 90 Feet From Home. Michaels stars as Jimmy Devine, an abusive stepfather whose issues with alcohol and anger forever alters the promising future of his stepson.
“This story is not neat, tidy, and clean,” said Michaels. “It’s the closest to reality that I’ve ever had the chance to do, and is as complex and difficult as life.
“All of us carry something in our souls, and that something can be hard, at least for the individual. The question is how we respond to that which we carry.”
90 Feet From Home is directed by Brett Bentman. In addition to being an established filmmaker, Bentman is also a longtime WWE fan.
The film is centered around vengeance and retribution. It is inspired by a true story, as Bentman was entrusted with writing the script after a friend of his finally opened up about his haunted past.
“We were at lunch together in Waco, Texas, and my friend approached me about writing a script about his life,” said Bentman. “I can’t remember anything about my lunch after that, I was so overcome by his story.”
90 Feet From Home also includes well-known movie stars in Dean Cain and Eric Roberts, but the casting of Michaels as Jimmy Devine brought the film to an entirely different level.
“We believed that whomever played the role of Jimmy Devine would make or break the film,” said Bentman. “So we swung for the fences and went after Mel Gibson and Jeff Bridges.”
Even when the actors were interested in the script, the dollars from the film’s investors did not line up with the price tags attached to the likes of Gibson and Bridges. And the search for Jimmy Devine continued.
“One night, I had this crazy dream, dreaming it was 1996 and I was backstage and met Shawn Michaels,” said Bentman. “The next morning, my wife was making coffee, and I told her about it. We looked into Shawn’s history, which included a shattered past and days as a wild child, but he’s now reformed—which was very much like Jimmy Devine.”
Bentman and his team from the film took a shot and reached out to Michaels’ agent, who set up a meeting at the WWE Performance Center.
“Once we met Shawn, we didn’t want anybody else,” said Bentman. “Almost immediately, Shawn became our Jimmy Devine.”
Michaels committed to the role, shaving his head for the part and channeling an anger that had been dormant in his soul.
“I did my best to stay in a constant state of imagining the hurt and regret I would honestly feel if my own life had not taken the incredibly wonderful turn it did 20 years ago,” said Michaels, who admitted that the depth of emotion in the Devine character was especially complex. “The entire movie is unbelievably complex and real. Life often doesn’t turn out happy and peaceful, even if it gives the appearance of such. We all carry a certain amount of baggage we have to work through as life carries on.”
The film is scheduled to premiere this summer and will surely strike a chord with viewers, especially those who have dealt with alcoholism, abuse, or even those who missed out on their life calling.
Like Michaels, Dean Cain is a fellow ’90s icon. Even the former Superman was impressed by “The Heartbreak Kid.”
“I was familiar with Shawn Michaels as a wrestler, but I really think folks will be shocked at what a great job he does as an actor,” said Cain. “This is a real, complex role, and Shawn knocks it out of the ring.”
Cain added that the film is a deep, relatively dark film that deals with significant damage and the kind of hurt that can only happen with family.
“It’s the kind of story we rarely see in films these days, because the whole situation is so plausible, and so real,” said Cain. “This is not a cookie-cutter Hollywood film with a happy, fluffy ending. It’s dirty, ugly and complicated, just like life.”
Film critics will be blown away by Michaels’ performance, but his timing and execution both took considerable time to perfect.
“My biggest concern from an acting perspective was portraying the anger and hate that Jimmy Devine seemed to feel,” said Michaels, who explained that he took an entirely new route in his preparation and execution of the role—instead of getting to know everyone in the film on a friendly basis, he became immersed in the character from the moment he stepped foot on the set. “I was very concerned about that aspect of the role—and if I was able to get there, was it going to feel authentic?
“These days I’m a dude that makes the choice to have joy every day and then does his best to maintain that throughout a given day, but that’s not for the person playing this role. I felt like I became Jimmy Devine during the ‘school scene’ with Eric Roberts and Heather Williams, who played my wife, when Eric said I legitimately scared him.”
Michaels did not draw from his time as a heel in the WWE, revealing that the anger he portrayed on-screen during his time as a wrestling superstar was authentic.
“At that time, I was genuinely angry at different aspects of wrestling, so there was often little ‘acting’ involved,” said Michaels. “Most of the anger was based in small part on at least some real aspects of my life at the time.
“That’s why this role was much more difficult. I’m 53 years old and a happy, appreciative, and thankful guy at this point in my life. How angry can I be when I get to work for the WWE still after 30 years and have a really cool movie gig like this?”
90 Feet From Home is a story about someone who had it all in the palm of his hand before that promising future was ripped out of his hands in a horrible manner. The prevailing question throughout the film is, how far will you go to get the justice you think you deserve?
“When I read the script, I first thought Jimmy deserved what he got,” said Michaels. “But by the time I was done playing him, I felt compassion for him. We’re all in some way a product of our environment. Love begets love, and hate begets hate. Someone usually has to decide to be the one to either start that cycle or end it.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.