Adam “Edge” Copeland made his WWE return in January at the Royal Rumble, and his presence has added a tremendous amount of excitement to the company’s television product.
In addition to a “Last Man Standing” match against Randy Orton at WrestleMania 36, he wrestled Orton again at Backlash in an outstanding match. Copeland suffered a torn triceps in the second Orton match, yet wrestled through it, and his story with Orton will continue when he is cleared to return.
Copeland is still active in his roles outside of WWE. His newest film, Money Plane, was released on Friday. He plays the role of professional thief Jack Reese, who is tasked with robbing an airborne casino. Copeland stars alongside Kelsey Grammer, Denise Richards and Thomas Jane in a role that allows him to showcase his versatility and range as an actor.
Sports Illustrated spoke with Copeland about his return to WWE, the program with Orton, and his current injury, as well as his chance to play a starring role in Money Plane.
Justin Barrasso: How are you feeling? That triceps injury you suffered at Backlash looked gruesome.
Adam Copeland: It’s OK. You know, I look at injuries and ask myself, ‘How was it compared to the Achilles tear?’ [laughs]. Compared to the Achilles tear, it was nothing. There was surgery, but I know the drill. I know what I have to do, and I know you have to baby it for the first month, then I can start putting the nose to the grindstone. I can still do exercises for the rest of my body, which is good, so it’s just being careful.
It’s a learning experience, too. The doctor that did the surgery said that there was a good chance my tricep was already partially torn going into the match, so I look it as a learning experience. My elbow was sore for probably a month, but I thought it was one of those regular aches and pains. I have a bunch of floating chips in my elbow, so I told myself, ‘Of course it’s going to hurt.’ This is a reminder that I need to listen to those things. At 46 years old, my body is trying to tell me something’s up. Now I have that knowledge going forward if something’s aching.
JB: As soon as it happened in the match, did you know it was torn?
AC: I knew. I took an RKO, and I felt a little nauseous and I got a cold sweat—not a hot sweat. That’s generally when you know you’ve popped something. It wasn’t all that painful in comparison to my neck pain over the years or compared to tearing both pecs or tearing my Achilles. I just thought, ‘I might have torn it a little bit,’ and then I found out I tore it completely off the bone. I gauge everything to the pain of tearing my Achilles, so not a lot can compare.
JB: Even though you’re on the injured list for WWE, you have a new movie in Money Plane. It has a really dynamic cast. I know you don’t have as much film experience as Kelsey Grammer or Denise Richards, but you have been on camera most of your adult life—and you have worked extremely hard to hone your craft over the past decade. When did you begin to feel as comfortable in acting as you did in wrestling?
AC: In the nine years I was retired, I did over 100 episodes of television. Looking back at my first movie, which was a WWE film called Bending the Rules, I felt very uncomfortable. I was thrown in the deep end and I had no idea what I was doing. After I retired, I did an episode of Haven. One episode turned into 41. After that, I started taking classes and diving deep into the process of acting and watching movies the way I used to watch wrestling—peeling back the layers, seeing why actors made certain decisions, asking myself how it made me feel and why it made me feel that way—then I started to find a comfort level in that and a confidence.
Fast-forward to Vikings, and now I have the chance to work in a drama and a period piece with accents and a cast full of incredibly talented people. If you can’t hang with them, you will be left on the cutting room floor. So with Money Plane, even with a cast that includes Kelsey Grammer, I walked in feeling confident. I also walked in knowing I could still learn, because that should never stop.
JB: What appealed to you about the script?
AC: I thought the script was fun. For an hour-and-twenty minutes, you can forget about everything else and just enjoy a throwback 90s, tongue-in-cheek action movie. And you have Kelsey Grammer, Thomas Jane, and all of the people involved in it, and that’s when I said, ‘Great, I can’t wait to share scenes with them and pick their brains.’ And for me, there were personal ties. Kelsey Grammer was my mom’s favorite actor, bar none.
JB: In wrestling, acting, or anywhere on screen, it is tough to have longevity. I still find it amazing that Kelsey Grammer played the same character in Dr. Frasier Crane, who was designed to have only a small role, for two decades on Cheers and Frasier.
AC: People forget that that is the longest-tenured character in the history of television. He won an Emmy for that character on three different shows—Cheers, Frasier, and guest-starring on Wings. That’s ridiculous. And you look at his work as Sideshow Bob [on The Simpsons] and how iconic his voice is. The first show I was really old enough to watch with my mom was Cheers. My mom passed away about a year-and-a-half before we filmed this, but her favorite actor was Kelsey Grammer. Even when she was going through her chemo, all she wanted to do was go home and watch Frasier. So that’s what we’d do. And then to get offered this fun script where Kelsey Grammer is playing the villain, are you kidding me? I’m not saying no to that.
JB: How did you make the Jack Reese character your own?
AC: With any character, what I have to do is find an element that I can relate to myself. If I can do that, then that is the truth I will bring to every scene, it’s the reason he does what he does. With Jack Reese, he wants to protect his family and keep his family safe. That’s what I want to do, too, so that’s what I focused on. He’s a good man that made some mistakes. Well, haven’t we all? I can relate to that. And he wants to set his family up for life. OK, I can relate to that, too. So I focused on those things, and brought elements of myself into Jack, which helped me understand the thought process of the character.
JB: It’s so much fun to see you and Jay Reso [Christian] thriving away from wrestling. He just played a role on and off-screen in the Cagefighter movie starring Jon Moxley.
AC: Watching that, I told him this, I truly thought he was an MMA radio analyst. He was really natural and real, and it showed he’s got some chops. Everybody knows what we’ve done with The E&C Show. It’s very over-the-top, so it’s a fun challenge to show we can do something else. We get off on that challenge. Getting into wrestling and succeeding in wrestling is a massive challenge, but if you can’t do that anymore, then what is the new challenge? Without a new challenge, life is going to get pretty boring.
JB: Wrestling remains a piece of your identity, and that return in January was perfectly executed. You were sensational in the ring during the Royal Rumble match, but was waiting all day, in hiding, for your entrance just a long and miserable experience?
AC: I can truly say that was the first day in my wrestling career when I was nervous. Even before my first match way back in WWF in ’96, I wasn’t nervous. I felt ready, I was confident, I was young and indestructible. This was the first time that I’ve wrestled having had kids. I think that was the big thing for me. I’m coming back from this injury that was supposed to be impossible to come back from, so that was on the table. And I have kids at home now. There are a lot of responsibilities involved in this, so that was really nerve-wracking, and that was foreign to me.
I wasn’t used to feeling nervous. Going back to Jay, that was the first time he’d seen me nervous. Beth [Phoenix, my wife,] and I weren’t together before when I wrestled, so she didn’t know what I was like. Jay knew I didn’t get nervous. So when I was nervous, that changed everything for him. Even the hiding and all that, the strangest thing for me was coming to grips with having nerves for the first time. I can’t say I really liked it, and I’ve had them for all three matches now. I better quickly come to grips with it [laughs].
JB: The Rumble moment was perfect. WrestleMania was different, and the match struggled to resonate with viewers because, in my opinion, it was designed for a live crowd. The crowd would have exploded as you made your way to the ring at Raymond James Stadium and that emotion would have carried the match, which could not happen at the Performance Center. But you and Orton perfected the formula at Backlash. As ridiculous as that “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” tagline appeared to be, and as I was among those critiquing it, it really drove the entire pay-per-view, placed a new spotlight on the match and brought you back to the main event.
AC: Starting with WrestleMania, to me, I didn’t think not having a crowd would affect our match. I thought our match wouldn’t be affected because we could go anywhere with it. Looking back at it, Randy and I decided to change everything. We were planning on going outside and up on roofs, but it was still daylight and it would have aired during the night. So what you saw was two guys ad-libbing for 40 minutes. For that, I’m proud. You’ve got to be able to adapt, and that’s what you saw us do. It was a fight, which is what it needed to be. In that regard, I’m very happy with that. But a crowd obviously would have greatly affected that match.
In terms of Backlash, when I first heard the ‘greatest’ idea, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re actually going to call it this?’ But Vince wanted to base the pay-per-view on it. And by calling it that, he got a lot of people talking about it, which is what he wanted. It worked in that regard. For me as a performer, I had to realize there was no such thing as the greatest wrestling match ever. If you know that going in, it makes it easier. Do I still want to have a kickass match? Absolutely. Is there an extra bit of pressure? Yes, you can’t deny it. But there is no such thing as the greatest match, the greatest song, the greatest band, or the greatest book. Everyone is generally going to have a different opinion. It really was designed to get people talking.
As a performer, I wanted to go out and prove to myself that I could still do this at a high level without looking like I slowed down. I wanted to show I could still do the little, important things that I don’t see a lot of in wrestling right now. That was exciting to me. And when I got to the back and they told us it was almost 50 minutes long, I said, ‘Wow, that’s great. I may have torn my tricep, though’ [laughs].
I had a blast, but it would be so much more fun to do this in front of an audience. It would take us to an extra gear, an extra level, like you mentioned, that is just impossible to reach without an audience. All you can do in this structure is make the best of it. I’m looking at the positives out of this, I’m looking at the promos. Personally, I’m dipping into what I’ve learned on sets for the past nine years and I’m trying to bring that into my promos. That’s been fun, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on in this strange time in the world and this strange time in wrestling.
JB: There is more to come in your story with Orton, but there are many people hungry to see you in the world title picture. You last held the WWE Championship in 2009, and though you’ve held it four times, three of those reigns only lasted three weeks. In addition to completing the story with Orton, is a meaningful run with the WWE Championship on your list of goals in this new life with WWE?
AC: In terms of my character, that should be the goal. For every character, that should be the goal. Every character should be based around trying to win the title—going for the title and fighting against other people going for it, then other issues grow from that. To me, the whole thing should be based around going for a championship. That should be the goal of every character on the show.
For me, I’m looking to tell some really compelling stories that are based around simple things. If you look at what is happening with Randy Orton, and we have a lot of history, it all starts with the fact that Randy Orton tried to sneak up on Edge at the Royal Rumble and then Edge one-upped him. That’s where this whole story, this whole incarnation of Edge-Orton, starts. That’s it, and then we’ve built on it from there.
Our match at Backlash—can Edge do it? He thinks he can by targeting a weak spot on Orton, the shoulder. Orton targets Edge’s weak spot, the neck. That’s the story, and that’s how simple all of it can be. It doesn’t have to be this grand, manufactured thing. It’s wrestling, you’re trying to win the match. How do you win the match? By going after a weakness. And you can do little things within that story to make it more nuanced. That’s what I want to do, with a whole new crop of people I’ve never stepped in there with. That, to me, is super, super exciting.
JB: There is so much anticipation with your future in WWE. In the present, there is also a really fun movie in Money Plane for people to enjoy. Why should people watch?
AC: Right now, any kind of escape is a good thing. There is a lot of heavy stuff on all of our plates right now. Everyone needs a break to keep their sanity. I just discovered What We Do in the Shadows. I put the girls to bed at night and then I watch these vampires, and I just crack up. That’s what this movie is. It’s fun, and it’s a call back to the Die Hards and Speed and all these movies I grew up loving, ones you didn’t need to take too seriously. You’re not supposed to take it too seriously, and you’re going to have fun for an hour-and-twenty minutes.