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8 things Bumblebee’s John Cena loves, and 1 thing he’s wary of

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‘I was able to go to Nintendo headquarters and really profess my love of 8-bit, and it got weird.’

John Cena as Agent Burns.
Jaimie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures

If you’ve seen Bumblebee — or Blockers, or Trainwreck, or Sisters, or any of the other movies John Cena has starred in over the past several years — then you know that Cena is an actor with charm to spare.

Though still best known for his professional wrestling career, Cena has, like the Rock, started carving out an acting niche, breaking out of relatively paint-by-numbers action thrillers like 12 Rounds by showing off his comedy chops. His role in Bumblebee as the gruff Sector 7 agent Jack Burns falls somewhere in between the two extremes, and Cena brings a lightness that fits right into the bittersweet tone of the latest Transformers movie.

He’s also hosted the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards (twice!), helped kick off the Nintendo Switch, released a hip-hop album, and even become the subject of a meme. He’s unstoppable, and frankly, we love him for that. In an interview with Polygon, Cena dished on the things that he loves — and one thing he doesn’t.

JOHN CENA LOVES OPTIMUS PRIME

John Cena: I should say Bumblebee [is my favorite Transformer] because of the movie, but I can’t. My answer isn’t really that essential in itself. If you ask who I was as an audience member, I was your typical audience member: I liked the good guys. In pro wrestling, I like the good guys; in the movies, I liked the stars.

My favorite Transformer, hands down, is Optimus Prime. I remember the first time I saw a real Transformer — for a kid to have the real Optimus Prime [toy], you literally became the coolest kid in school. It was an automatic pass to do whatever you wanted because you had Optimus Prime. The toys — and this is very tough to explain to people because very rarely does something like a toy change the very essence of everything — but you could do magic with with these things. It was a toy, and then another toy. If you wanted to play cars as a kid, you could, and if you wanted to play action robot fighting, then you could. They were so well made, and the idea was so ingenious, they got bootlegged outright, like GoBots and all that stuff. McDonald’s was offering transforming Happy Meal toys. That’s how big the idea was. I remember all of the hype that went with it. It was a toy that you couldn’t get your hands on, and if you did, it was something special.

JOHN CENA LOVES 8-BIT NINTENDO

Cena: Through every one of my childhood obsessions — and there were many — I think a nice one-two punch would be 8-bit Nintendo and the advent of rap music, that kind of defined who I was both as a young man and as a teenager. Tecmo Bowl, Tecmo Super Bowl, Baseball Stars, Bases Loaded, Double Dragon — I’m just trying to rattle off all the titles — all the Super Mario series, Pro Wrestling for Nintendo was fantastic. Those ones probably dominated my game play. Oh, I left out Punch-Out!! If you were a kid when I was around, you were playing Punch-Out!!.

JOHN CENA LOVES TO PLAY THE PIANO

Cena: Gaming has become far too complex for me [...] I’ve moved onto piano, and the graphics on the piano never change. It’s certainly not easier, but it’s a different hobby that I kind of found for myself.

I had heard the toughest two things you can do when you’re older are learn a language and an instrument, so I decided to do both, and everyone’s right. They’re very difficult. I want to be able to play blues, but right now I’m kind of in a classical phase. I was in a bit of a ragtime phase before. I’m trying to just learn. I don’t have a good knowledge of the instrument and a good comfort level with the instrument, so I’ve got to get to a point where it fits like a comfortable pair of shoes before I start going in with my own stuff. I’m never bored with it, like, “Okay, now you have to learn classics, and now you have to learn scales, and now you have to learn this and that.” It’s always entertaining for me. That’s why I’ve been able to stick with it.

[I’ve been learning for] about two years now. It’s the thing that I do if I have free time. I’m literally sitting at the keys — even if it’s before these interviews started, 15 minutes, just 15 to myself. I’ve got 13 minutes’ worth of practice in. It’s the thing where I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got a few minutes, let’s go play somewhere.”

JOHN CENA LOVES THE BLUES

Cena: If I’ve got time to listen to music, it usually is the blues or older stuff. I dig the Rat Pack as well. John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, that type of stuff, I really enjoy that.

JOHN CENA LOVES NPR

Cena: I just think [NPR] beats all of the— the radio’s a lot of yelling. Man, I sound so old. They can have intelligent discussions and debates without trying to dominate the seconds of air time, and I appreciate that. If I want to listen to music, I’ll scan for music, but nowadays we all have music devices that can play our favorite things at a moment’s notice, so I don’t have to rely on a DJ’s playlist. So, essentially, if I’m flipping through the radio, it’s for talk radio, and NPR is just not aggressive. I don’t feel as if I’m being taken hostage trying to listen to a radio station.”

JOHN CENA LOVES COMEDIES

Cena: I think making someone laugh is such a gift. Making someone laugh and smile and feel good; as a consumer, I like that. But at the same time, I’ve watched Bumblebee almost a dozen times now, and I cry every time, but in a great way. I feel really good when I watch the movie.

I’ll watch a bunch of stuff, but I gravitate more towards the jokey stuff because I like to be able to laugh. Some of those ’80s classics, I love — look at me, I sound like I’m ancient, I’m talking about 8-bit, old jazz music — movies like Caddyshack or Back to School or Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds. I kind of grew up on movies. There are movies that make me laugh and movies that make us laugh as a community.

I don’t know if there are any movies that define this generation’s form of comedy, and I think it’s because we’re evolving so quickly nowadays. The ’70s had a form of comedy, and so did the ’80s, and the ’90s are probably the last decade to have that form of comedy. Maybe you could say that about the 2000s with some of the comedic offerings there, but now it seems like it changes every season, of what’s funny, and who’s digesting what, or a comic has a run of a few movies rather than an extended amount of time. That’s one of those philosophical, open-ended questions of, “Where is comedy going, and is it evolving too fast?”

JOHN CENA LOVES JACKIE CHAN

Cena: I admire his work because he is the greatest physical storyteller of our generation. If you watch any of his action, it is fantastic. My favorite movie of his is The Cannonball Run, because as a kid, I loved The Cannonball Run. It’s amazing, Jackie has such a small part in The Cannonball Run, but that is, by far, of all the titles that I’ve seen, that’s easily my favorite movie of Jackie’s. It’s great to be on set with Jackie because he’ll tell stories about all these movies that he was in, what the time was like; he has so much experience and he never ever, ever rests on his laurels. That’s the trait that I admire about him the most. He is the hardest-working man in the room, and he has every reason not to be.”

JOHN CENA LOVES ARCHITECTURE

Cena: I’ve kind of drifted towards that, I guess, growing up in New England, where a lot of the houses still standing are Pre-Revolutionary. Seeing a lot of them made by hand or knowing someone’s dad who laid the woodwork, you just know how much time goes into crafting a piece of wood or a piece of stone. I just admire that super ornate stuff because I know how much time went into it, and I think it’s really impressive that someone would be able to sit there and do that out of a piece of wood.

JOHN CENA DOES NOT LOVE AI

Cena: I think when every person involved with technological advancement is telling us that we should be extremely aware as AI develops, I think that sends a certain message. And also, although they’re making those warnings, we are very quickly developing artificial intelligence, so I just hope there’s a system of checks and balances in there, because I’ve seen it in the movies, once, and the movie turned out weird, so let’s keep that stuff from happening. I think the looming threat of artificial intelligence has been a nice thread in movies for quite a long time. Skynet, or 2001: A Space Odyssey — it’s always interesting. It’s always there, and I’m not all the way Doomsday just yet. I have faith in the human race, faith that we will be responsible.