‘Fighting With My Family’ Charts the Inspiring Journey of WWE Star Paige
One young woman’s real life journey to become a game-changing professional wrestler is depicted in “Fighting With My Family,” a dramedy made possible by the unlikely pairing of American action star/professional wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and British comedy trailblazer, writer/director/actor Stephen Merchant. WWE personality Paige, real name Saraya-Jade Bevis, is the woman at the center of this story. Here, she is portrayed by Florence Pugh, an actress best known for appearing in period films such as “Lady MacBeth and “Outlaw King.” Trading in her corsets for spandex and eyeliner, Pugh embraces her inner Diva here, giving a performance packed with grit, heart, and biting humor.
Executive producer Johnson, who plays himself in two key scenes in “Fighting With My Family,” was inspired to make the film after stumbling upon “The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family,” a 2012 British documentary about a family of wrestlers in Norwich, England. The doc focuses on Saraya and her brother Zak “Zodiac” (portrayed by Jack Lowden in the feature) as they follow their joint dream of joining the WWE. Only Saraya was signed.
During a conversation with Entertainment Voice, Bevis took us back to the day that her idol told her of his plans. It was at Wrestlemania 2014 where the rising wrestler was first introduced to Johnson, who gushed about the documentary that he recently viewed during a sleepless night in England. He revealed his plans to make a movie about her, but that wasn’t all.
“He was like, ‘Oh, and by the way, you’re going to be debuting tomorrow. You’re going to win the Divas Championship.’ He told me all this huge information within a five-minute conversation. I was crying my eyes out.”
Nick Frost and Lena Headey co-star as Saraya and Zak’s parents, Ricky and Julia, who credit wrestling with saving them from a dead-end existence. The pair together run a local wrestling league in which their own children are the biggest attractions. Some may portray the Bevises as a wild bunch, not only for their profession, but also for Ricky’s criminal past, as he served time in prison (“Mostly for violence,” quips the surprisingly hilarious Headey, a line taken from the documentary). However, there is genuine love between them, and they inspire a fuzzy feeling, almost like a working-class version of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s family.
“Very accurate,” said Bevis without hesitation when asked about the onscreen portrayal of her family. “That was so spot-on, it was scary how good it was. Stephen went and spent time with my family, and all he had to do was follow them around with a notepad. He said that the script kind of wrote itself when it came to them.”
As great as the supporting cast is, which also includes Vince Vaughn as Paige’s WWE trainor and Merchant in a hilarious cameo as the father of Zak’s pregnant girlfriend, Pugh is definitely the star, as she channels the scrappy Saraya during her grueling journey to WWE superstardom. Although health reasons prevented Bevis from being in England during filming, modern technology allowed her to be there for Pugh, and the two women formed a bond before ever meeting in person.
“I spoke to her a lot on the phone,” recounted Bevis. “She would call and text me and FaceTime me every other day, and I just got to know her so well.”
Once Saraya is transplanted from Norwich to the WWE training facilities in Orlando, Florida, “Fighting with My Family” becomes more of a story of female empowerment, as the focus shifts on her not only developing as a wrestler, but also finding her voice. In addition to grueling physical training, Saraya must develop her character, as the theatrics in professional wrestling are almost important as physical skill. Pugh gets a chance to show off her comic timing in scenes in which she must improvise answers to crowd taunts.
“It was more intimidating in real life than what was portrayed,” said Bevis, who admits to feeling tempted to quit in those early days, something that is shown here.
Before Bevis’ debut in 2014, during the time of her training, female wrestlers were still struggling to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. Initially, Saraya and the women she trains with play into the drama, as she looks down on them for their lack of real wrestling experience (most of them are former models, dancers and cheerleaders), and they judge her for her tomboyish, goth appearance. Eventually, they all come to respect each other, although Bevis admits the road to girl power and solidarity was rockier than what is portrayed here.
“They were a lot meaner to me back then,” Bevis recalled with a laugh. “Ninety-five percent of this movie was true to the story. Five percent was a little bit inaccurate, and that’s just one [aspect].”
But the most emotional scenes involve Saraya’s brother Zak. After she is the only one picked from the London tryouts to go on to Florida, Saraya almost refuses to go without her brother. Although he initially gives her his blessing, resent brews as he refuses to accept that his own chance at a WWE career is over.
“It was difficult, but at the same time, Zak came out of it successful at what he does,” admitted Bevis when asked about watching this scenes. “That’s what I love about his story. To be successful, he didn’t need to be in front of the camera.”
Eventually, Zak shifts his focus to training children, including one with a visual impairment.
“He didn’t need to have fame,” continued Bevis. “His success was the fact that he helped disabled kids do stuff that they’re not supposed to be capable of doing. He built his family, and he’s part of my dad’s company now. So looking back at that, it makes me sad, but it makes me happy at the same time, because he’s so happy now.”
Although Paige is now retired from professional wrestling, she continues to be a part of WWE behind the scenes, as well as work on her clothing and cosmetics line. She is also building a career as an actress, having already appeared in a few films from WWE Studios.
“I kind of want to do the all transition into movies and TV shows and stuff like that,” she stated. “That’s my goal right now.”
“Fighting With My Family” opens Feb. 14 in Los Angeles and New York, Feb. 22 nationwide.