Being part of Fast And Furious is 'opportunity of a lifetime': John Cena
The wrestler-actor said his first shoot was the 'most nervous and toughest', jokes that he drives worse now
When the first Fast And Furious movie was released in 2001, John Cena was somewhere in middle America and on his way to the East Coast to start his "crazy roller-coaster journey" with World Wrestling Entertainment.
Two decades later, the wrestler-actor is starring in one of the biggest Hollywood film franchises to date.
Opening in cinemas here on June 24, action sequel Fast And Furious 9 (F9) features him as protagonist Dom Toretto's (Vin Diesel) estranged brother Jakob, a new antagonist who leads a world-shattering plot that Dom's crew has to stop.
Cena told The New Paper in a Zoom round-table interview from Canada: "And here we are 20 years later, still talking about Fast and just as excited. It is a testament to Fast, and boy, am I the luckiest SOB on the planet."
It was Diesel who approached Cena to offer him the part, and he was "completely ecstatic" to be given this "opportunity of a lifetime".
Cena, 44, said: "I do not dream for roles, I just react to opportunities.
"So imagine my reaction to this - 'Hey John, we would like you to join one of the most, if not the most, successful global franchises in the history of cinema, and we would like you to play the brother of one of the most famous characters of the most successful global franchises in the history of cinema.'
"So I cannot say I dreamt of that role because I would never even think it was possible. All this stuff is still surreal. I am very fortunate. I did my best, and I hope everyone loves F9 as much as I loved making it."
On working so closely with Diesel, the "heartbeat" of the franchise and an "invaluable resource", Cena said: "To be able to square off with Dom Toretto, in a very even match-up, was something special."
Cena was thrown into the deep end from the get-go, as the first scene he shot was one with the entire main cast.
He recalled: "It was like, 'Okay new guy, let's see what you got.' That was the most nervous and toughest, but the great thing was I got to perform with everyone at once, and they were like, 'Okay, this guy does care about what he's doing and cares about the franchise and wants to make a great movie, so it turned into a good scenario'."
Cena was just as intimidated going up against Oscar-winning co-star Charlize Theron, who reprises her role as Cipher, a criminal mastermind and cyber terrorist who teams up with Jakob.
He said: "She has an undeniable presence. It is always uncomfortable, to know that you are putting forth your best, and you still ain't close to the best in the room.
"But it forces you to be your best and you can learn from watching people perform. She is so incredibly skilled, she made me better, and I am grateful for that."
Amid all the positives, Cena did jokingly acknowledge one downside of Fast And Furious 9 relating to his driving skills.
He said: "Before we started, I thought I was okay. And now, when you have to wreck so many cars on set, I am probably a worse driver. Because I knew if I wrecked a car, they would just give me another one.
"So I am probably so much more careless on the road now."