‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin makes a crossover into movies

Move studios look for new box office superstars

Steven Snyder

Many Americans know Steve Austin as the “Stone Cold” wrestler who survived serious injury only to reassert his popular reign in the wrestling ring.

But in a recent interview with The Minnesota Daily, Austin said he sees quite a different future for his familiar identity.

Paramount Pictures’ “The Longest Yard,” which opens Friday at theaters across the United States, marks Austin’s big-screen debut, following in the footsteps of such wrestling icons as Hulk Hogan and The Rock.

Austin, however, said he is relatively uninterested in this project, fixated instead on the future and the three-movie deal he has recently signed with World Wrestling Entertainment Films.

Yes, that’s right: WWE films. Vince McMahon, chairman of WWE wrestling, is taking his game to the multiplex.

“It’s a cameo at best,” Austin said, describing his appearance in “The Longest Yard.” “But what I’m really looking forward to is August, when I get to do my own thing.”

This fall, he starts filming “The Condemned,” the first of his WWE film projects, about a wrongly imprisoned man who gets his chance at freedom through a bizarre prison competition, in the vein of reality television.

This crossover of WWE from the world of sports to that of films might seem like a large leap, but Austin said he experienced little shock as he has traversed the worlds of wrestling, television (with his regular appearances on CBS’ “Nash Bridges”) and now movies.

“I’ve been in front of cameras for the last 16 years of my life,” he said. “But now I don’t want to wrestle as much, and Vince knows this, so this is another foray into acting and a way to still make money.

“He’s putting his money where his mouth is, and I’m gonna go after the crowd I have to go after,” Austin said.

Austin’s story is different than those of other stars making the transition to film. Unlike his predecessors, he is not entering the medium through smaller parts in search of a screen identity, but rather using, as he puts it, “the ‘Stone Cold’ brand” to entice his fans to buy a movie ticket. After all, he said, it’s not all that different from getting them to purchase a pay-per-view wrestling event.

In fact, Austin hardly seems interested in becoming an independent actor, content instead to play the role he has honed to perfection in the ring.

“In wrestling you have to get over – that’s the term we use – you gotta get over in order to sell tickets. In Hollywood it’s the same thing,” Austin said. “Take Tom Cruise: He’s over.

“I’m gonna do that in a different way. I’m not gonna be a Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro,” he said.

Hollywood has proven its desperation to find the next big thing, most recently scouring the worlds of television and books for the familiar heroes and franchises that will attract moviegoers.

As Austin makes his big-screen debut this weekend, and plans for his first leading role in a WWE film, the industry may be on the verge of the next big trend: instant franchises for pop personalities with established fan bases.