May 09, 2007
Steve Austin: From Wrestling To Hollywood
Steve Austin had been an impressive wrestler at North Texas State University.
After graduation, he took a job loading cargo on the docks. Fed up with the dead-end job, Austin told his mom one day, "I'm going to be a pro wrestler!"
Without missing a beat and barely glancing over, she quipped, "OK, Steve, as long as you change your name." Spending five months at Chris Adams' School of Personalized Professional Wrestling Coaching, he became its most famous alumni. Making his professional debut in 1989, he defeated Frogman Lablanc. His take was $40 that evening.
Austin kicked around a few years, won a couple of titles under the auspices of World Championship Wrestling. Yet his career really ignited in December 1995 when he joined the World Wrestling Federation, now known as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).
Coining the famous "Austin 3:16" mantra, trash-talking, and perfecting the Stone Cold Stunner (a kick to the gut followed by a jawbreaker,) the 43-year-old became a genuine phenomenon, on par with Hulk Hogan's 1980's "Hulkamania."
By 1998, Austin achieved the ultimate career goal, the WWF World Title on three occasions, plus the Tag-Team Title, pairing up with The Undertaker. Retiring from the ring due to neck injuries in 2003, Austin remained close to the action as co-general manager, and later "Sheriff" for USA Network's WWE "Raw" series.
"I probably could have gone another year or two in the ring, but I love to hunt and fish and I wanted to be able to do it 10-15 years from now pain-free," he explained during a recent interview at Planet Hollywood in Times Square.
Ready to move on, Austin hosted a Los Angeles press conference with WWE president Vince McMahon in January 2005 announcing a motion picture deal for three films.
The first one, titled The Condemned, recently opened with Austin starring as Jack Conrad, a prisoner awaiting the death penalty in corrupt Central America. Sprung by a reality show television producer, there's a sticky catch – to win permanent freedom, Conrad must permanently dispose of nine other convicted killers.
Refusing to rely on his old techniques, Austin purposely distanced himself from any physical moves reflective of his pro wrestling days and left the movie's stunts to the professionals.
However, he took the blows. "In the movie, there's a fight scene with a fighter named Paco. Paco screwed up. He was supposed to hit me in the midsection and then the eye. He forgot the midsection and went straight for the eye. So I ended up with a black eye that we covered up with makeup . . . and kept shooting."
His piercing blues eyes stared intensely, his voice soft and direct. "In wrestling when someone hits you like that you hit him back. [It's] what we call a receipt, telling your opponent to settle down."
Hypothetically, if Austin faced the same scenario as The Condemned's Jack Conrad, he foresees the results. "Initially, Conrad doesn't want to be involved, but once he gets on the bridge, he decides 'Game On.' If it were me I'd be killing from the word 'Go.' If it's survival of the fittest, or the baddest I'm going to go for it. I love life and I'm going to stick around as long as I can."
Strongly contrasting Stone Cold's gift for gab, Conrad's character keeps dialogue to a minimum. "Being honest, it was my first movie and I didn't want to bite off more than I could chew," said Austin, whose screen heroes were John Wayne and Charles Bronson, both strong-but-silent types.
The father of two daughters first flirted with acting back in 1999 when Austin had a recurring role on CBS's "Nash Bridges." The time wasn't right. "I still had wrestling in my blood," he explained.
That phase of his career is now over, but not the physical regiment. "I still do the same things, but I work out a little less with the weights. I do at least 45 minutes of weights, some cardio. I don't have the best physique. I'm never going to be a real skinny person, so I need to keep what I have going as good as I can," said Austin, who was born Steve Anderson in Victoria, Texas, a one-movie-theater town of 5000 people.
What is Mom's reaction to his Hollywood intro? "She's really relieved. She was my biggest fan and my biggest supporter, but I don't think she could bear to see me in the ring. She came to only one match. It was at the Houston Summit, which was sold out. I got into the ring with a guy named Nick Foley. I caught a bad staph infection. After that match, I got the chills, along with a 103-degree fever.
"She was sitting there watching me and I couldn't stop shaking. They took me to the hospital where I stayed for three days before I went directly to a Pay-Per-View bout. After all the stitches, the reattachments, and fusions, yeah, she's happy."
Actively looking for a follow-up project, Austin concedes, "I know there's kind of a system going on in Hollywood and that you have to pay dues, or you have to earn your stripes, much like I had to do in pro wrestling."
He concluded, "My parents always told me to keep a level head and the proper perspective about things and keep trying. When I was really white hot in wrestling and had to leave for a year to get neck surgery, I found out what it's like to have something taken from you. It's not fun. But my fans have always stuck with me through the good and the bad and I love them for it. I always try to accommodate them 24/7."