ATLANTA — WWE wrestler and actor John Cena, a man with rippling biceps that appear even bigger in person than on TV, doesn't necessarily need a gun to defend himself. But he knows how to use one.
At the Wild West Traders Gun Shop and Shooting Range in Austell, Ga., earlier this month, Cena grabbed a .45, loaded it with 12 bullets in homage to the film he stars in, 12 Rounds, and shot at a paper target 21 feet away.
Nine out of 12 bullets hit the tiny circle in the center.
"I'm from a small town," Cena said afterward. "Shooting was the only thing to do. I shot my first rifle when I was 10 years old."
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In the drama 12 Rounds, which opens Friday, Cena uses plenty of guns. He plays a cop who accidentally kills a madman's girlfriend. The bad guy later kidnaps the cop's girlfriend and forces Cena's character to go through "12 rounds" of games, kind of like those in Die Hard With a Vengeance.
"It very much mimics pieces" of that film, Cena acknowledged. And not coincidentally, the 12 Rounds director, Renny Harlin, did Die Hard 2.
Portraying a cop wasn't a big stretch for him. "I have a brother who's a cop and a younger brother who used to be a cop," he said.
Cena is still best known as the face of WWE Monday Night Raw, which draws 4 million viewers a week on USA Network. His wrestling character has evolved over the years. He began as a "street thug from West Newbury," Mass., his hometown, he said. "The urban country kid who can rap. I was really hated."
But over time, as his popularity increased, he became more lovable. Eventually, he just played himself and became WWE's biggest current star.
Cena's first stab at mainstream movie stardom was The Marine in 2006. But critics panned it, and it did poorly in theaters.
The new film, he said, "is so much better. It's amazing. The budgets of the two films were about the same. But you watch The Marine, and you'll wonder, 'Where did the money go?'"
His move toward acting is similar to that of Dwayne Johnson, who was known in wrestling circles as "The Rock" and is now a bona fide movie star. Cena gives Johnson kudos: "He's done such a great job for himself, a nice guy, a consummate professional."
But unlike Johnson, Cena has no immediate plans to leave WWE, regardless of how successful 12 Rounds might be.
"I'm very comfortable doing both," he said. "I turn 32 in April. Our life span is comparable to Major League Baseball. I can compete into my 40s. No reason to take those 4 million viewers and throw them away."