With WrestleMania 36 taking place this weekend over two nights, WWE Superstar Seth Rollins recently talked to SI.com's Jimmy Traina about the weirdness of performing in front no live audience, WWE's decision to continue with events, what he's been watching while self-distancing, his relationship with Becky Lynch, the challenge of keeping his coffee shop open during the time and much more.
Sports Illustrated: How has it been performing in an empty Performance Center over the past few weeks on Monday Night Raw?
Seth Rollins: It’s weird. It’s weird. It's taking me back to my days wrestling in front of eight people. I’ve been there before. I’ve grown accustomed to Monday Night Raw, 10,000 people. It’s a whole different vibe. Everything’s somber. We all want to get through this, but we’re all trying to figure this thing out together. When the whole thing started to develop here in the States, I purposely didn’t tweet or Instagram anything about wrestling because I didn’t feel right about it. Then I got out there and I cut this promo on Monday Night Raw and I got back and I had this sense of relief almost.
I had been afraid to talk about wrestling, but I was so fortunate and grateful that I was able to go out there and still do wrestling when the time came. It was a very cathartic experience to be out there amidst all this chaos and have just a little moment to myself that I was able to share via television with the entire country.
SI: Which is more difficult to do in front of an empty arena: cut a promo or wrestle?
SR: I would say cut a promo. You don’t have crowd reaction to play off of. A promo, when you’re having a conversation with the crowd, it really feels like you are talking to somebody. It feels as though they are part of the conversation. If you don’t have that, there’s a lot of pressure. And also not having the ability to do multiple takes. Monday Night Raw is live, so that’s a one-take promo. That’s a one-take monologue. I don’t get the opportunity to cut-and-paste that thing together. It’s not like a movie. Wrestling, on the other hand, is fluid. It’s in the ring and it’s moving around. There’s a lot of you can do. There are a lot of changes you can make. A promo is nerve-wracking. You can hear everything. There’s no audience to drown anything out. You can hear cameramen shuffling. You hear everybody whispering in the back. It’s really eerie in a way.
SI: There's been a lot of talk about whether WWE should have continued with live shows. Especially since you guys have to fly out to the Performance Center in Orlando. What's your opinion?
SR: I don’t know. I’m not a medical expert. Obviously the airports are still open. Should they close? I don’t know. I wish I had answers. I’m sure a lot of people do. Right now, I’m just trying to stay as hygienic as possible, keep my distance from as many people as I can. As of now, I feel great. Knock on wood, I’ve been able to avoid this thing. I know a lot of families and people who have been affected by it. It’s extremely contagious and it’s very dangerous. I wish I had more answers. I wish I knew what was the right thing to do. After WrestleMania, we’re gonna recollect and see where we’re gonna go from here. Right now, I’m very humble and grateful that I have a job that still needs me. A lot of Americans are not in that boat and their futures are uncertain. So if providing them with some entertainment can help them out, then I feel like, we’re being productive in doing something right.
SI: Every WWE fan knows how big WrestleMania is each year. Will it be difficult to get up for this years under the unusual circumstances?
SR: This is as big as a curveball that you can be thrown this time of year. I think we’re all trying to make the best of it. I think we have a different mindset as performers. We’re all gonna go out there and pretend as if there were 80,000 people filling the Performance Center the way that it would be at Raymond James Stadium. The people who are paying to watch WrestleMania at home don’t deserve any less of a show because they’re not there live. We are gonna do our best to make this WrestleMania feel as WrestleMania-ish as we can.
SI: This question comes from my 14- and 10-year old nieces who are with me as I do this Q&A. Do you prefer being a bad guy vs. good guy?
SR: Great question. I very much enjoying being one with the audience. There’s no feeling in the world like having a massive roar when you win a match. That's an incredible thing. There is something fun and easier about being a jerk. I think it’s easier in 2020 to be disliked for saying your piece than trying to be liked because somebody is always gonna complain about something. I can’t think of an athlete, actor entertainer alive that is universally loved in this day and age. There is always someone trying to tear you down. If your job is to get torn down, then that makes life a lot easier for you. There are positive and negatives to both sides. It’s hard to pick one. Luckily for me, I’m good at both.
SI: What have you and Becky Lynch watched during this time of social distancing? Anything you can recommend for people? I'll take WWE and non-WWE answers.
SR: I’ve spent a lifetime watching professional wresting and WWE, so I’m certainly not watching any WWE while I’m off. If you’re a student of the game, and you want a lesson on how to cut a promo, watch Edge and Randy Orton over the last few weeks. That’ll be my WWE recommendation. We’re in the middle of Tiger King, which I think everybody is watching. That’s pretty mad. We’re going to watch 1917. We watched a great movie that Shia LeBeouf wrote and directed and starred in called Honey Boy, which is a take on his life, which I thought was incredible if you’re down for a good movie. I made Rebecca watch the classic, highly underrated Danny DeVito-directed film, Death to Smoochy starring the late Robin Williams and Edward Norton, which I think we should all watch. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a dark comedy, but it’s really funny and it tackles some issues that were ahead of its time. I think it came out in 2002. My next goal though is to try and get her to watch Game of Thrones. She’s never seen it and this is the perfect time.
SI: That’s a big undertaking
SR: It is. In normal times you say, "We don’t have time for that" and we always have that excuse. But now we have all the time in the world, babe.
SI: This is an interesting time for couples who probably aren't used to spending this much time together. You and Becky travel together so you already spend a lot of time together, but this another level. What are your thoughts on that?
SR: I’m gonna get a little sappy on you here. She’s my best friend in the world, so us having to spend all this time together is great. I have no problem with it. We like the same things and do the same stuff and we’re really understanding of each other’s space, so we don’t get into arguments or fights and I know that’s ridiculous sounding, but it hasn’t been a problem at all. It’s been nice to have down time with her and not have to 'work, work, work, go, go, go all the time.
SI: What have you learned about yourself during this crazy time?
SR: How much I appreciate my job. We complain a lot about being overworked and under-appreciated and maybe we are, but this past week we had more than three million Americans go on unemployment and we still have a place to go to work and a job to do. I have a lot of gratitude for that. I love my job. I get to do a job that I appreciate so I’m very thankful for that and fortunate to get that opportunity.
SI: You are an owner of a coffee shop in Iowa. What's going on with that right now?
SR: That’s the biggest hurdle for me. These small businesses are really struggling and my coffee shop is a small business. We’re taking all the measures we can to make sure our employees are getting paid during this uncertain time. They’re getting a full salary and we’re open, but it’s to-go only. We’re trying to make sure it’s business as usual as much as it can be, but our No. 1 priority is making sure our employees are paid so they can support their families and we’re kinda doing that by any means necessary. We started a program on our website, you know, if you have a dollar, give a dollar. I’m donating a large chunk to make sure they’re paid and taken care of, as well, for the time being. It’s a big struggle, but we’re still there and still churning out coffee for the community.