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John Cena: Ferdinand will bulldoze his way into our hearts with this gentle tale


New animation Ferdinand re-imagines the classic children's tale of a good-natured bull who's into flowers more than fighting. The voice behind the lead character is wrestler John Cena. Georgia Humphreys hears from the 'big softie' about why the film's uplifting message resonates with him.

John Cena has no qualms as to why he was picked for the role of Ferdinand. "It's a story about somebody being misunderstood for being the size that they are," quips the towering WWE star. "I think they chose the right person."

The heartfelt animation from 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios follows Ferdinand, an enormous yet kind-hearted young bull, destined to face a matador in the ring.

Torn from his loving home after being mistaken for a vicious beast, the heartwarming tale shows how the peaceful, flower-loving animal just wants to be able to be himself.

It's a story to which US star Cena - a world-renowned wrestler - felt he could relate.

"I think a bunch of people go through this, especially a younger audience, as we struggle to define who we are," he confides.

"I sit now at 40 years old having stood fast in my convictions and my resolve for so many years, amidst a lot of negative response in the WWE. And it's worked out to a point now where everybody kind of appreciates that I did. So what a great way to help use that personality and transfer it to something like this - Ferdinand essentially goes through the same sort of circumstance."

The film, which is based on a classic 1936 children's book and directed by Ice Age's Carlos Saldanha, shows how Ferdinand is different to the other bulls he meets.

Cena, who has spoken publicly before about how he was bullied as a kid, says he hopes the film will help younger people to speak about struggling to fit in.

"Step one is making a great movie," he notes. "And then, if you can get a conversation like that started, that's another great thing because it does have that positive underlying message to it."

As well as being an uplifting family film, you can also expect some laugh-out-loud moments in Ferdinand too.

And Cena, who has previously made his mark in comedies such as Trainwreck and Daddy's Home, insists only being able to use his voice for the performance wasn't a challenge.

"Maybe I'm wonderfully gullible," he says with a chuckle, "but I just had so much faith in Blue Sky and Carlos, I never once thought, 'Oh this is going to be weird'.

"I just went in there and did my best and they created a universe out of a voice, and this unbelievable Ferdinand that I get to be a part of. I never once thought it would be anything but a great experience."

In fact, nothing much seems to faze the cool and collected star.

He hardly ever dithers over an answer, or fidgets - his giant hands remain firmly in his lap.

But the man behind his rather short and monotone answers is definitely a bit of a softie.

"The first time I watched it, I watched it alone, and I was emotionally moved," he says of seeing Ferdinand on the big screen.

"And then you watch it with audiences, and I've watched it so much now, that I don't necessarily watch the movie, I just look around to see the journey that other people are going through.

"It really is just a wonderful movie that has a profound effect on people."

The cast of Ferdinand also includes David Tennant, who voices a hilarious Scottish bull named Angus, and Kate McKinnon as lively goat Lupe (who Cena claims is his favourite character in the film).

But the actors had to record their parts separately because of busy schedules.

"The only time I see the people in this movie is at press events," he shares. "It's fun, but you miss that camaraderie you get on a set.

"But at the same time, we wouldn't have such a star-studded cast if we didn't do it separately."

Does Cena think that cinema-goers will be surprised to learn it's him voicing the lead character?

"I honestly genuinely think so," he replies. "I think they'll watch a great movie and then they'll go, 'Oh yeah, that was him'."

The fact it's his voice is even a surprise to Cena watching it.

"I've had a large amount of success with WWE, and a lot of times it involves talking to the audience, so my voice is very much associated with my body and who I am," he says. "I watched Ferdinand and never once could see myself (in the role), even though I could hear my voice - you just lose it, because the animators have done such a great job."

It's not known whether the wrestling champion, who has also spent time as a rapper and reality TV star, will leave the ring for Hollywood permanently.

But Cena's fans know him for his mantra "never give up" - and he lives up to this motto when he says he wants to try out different roles in the future.

"I just think it's that wonderful feeling when you're old enough to take a brave chance - sometimes it doesn't work, and sometimes it does," he elaborates.

"And I just think it encourages me to continue to take chances, success or failure."

Ferdinand is in cinemas today

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