Hands up, who else had an older brother who would WWE choke-slam them onto a nearby sofa, just because he felt like it?
Hands up who didn’t always quite make the sofa?
Like us, your perception of WWE might be one of intense brutality – a sport reserved only for burly Herculean men. However one look at CJ Perry’s Instagram and we’re convinced otherwise.
“I thought so much of my role would involve being a love interest or an enhancement to a male character,” Perry says, “but I’m actually in there fighting for myself, and it’s wild!”
Raised in Soviet Latvia, the former actress and dancer turned WWE superstar is bringing a whole new level of beauty and butt-kicking athleticism to the sport.
“For so long, I was told that I wouldn't be able to do it – that I wasn't sporty or strong enough,” says Perry, and yet here she is, proving all her haters wrong.
We spoke to the star about the power of social media, the Pitch Perfect crew and performing with lifelong idol Pink.
It can be difficult to see where Lana ends and CJ begins. There’s a lot of crossover
What was it like growing up in Soviet Latvia? That must have been interesting...
God yes, it was such a different experience – especially from the latter part of my life spent in the States! Looking back, I'm incredibly grateful because it gave me the opportunity to see different cultures, religions, races and an alternative way of life.
The Russians and Latvians are very disciplined people. As a young child, I went to the National Ballet School which instilled a LOT of tenacity and determination in me: I was doing 40 hours a week at just ten years old, which is insane when I think about it really! I’m very thankful for the structure and self-discipline that it taught me.
Latvia is such a beautiful country though, and oh my god I miss the food! Everything is so natural and organic.
I haven’t visited in a long while, they’re in a big lockdown at the moment but I’m hoping to go back once I can. Maybe in the summer!
You’ve been a backup dancer for some amazing people, who was your favourite to work with?
Ooooof, probably performing with Pink!
I had always loved her music growing up – I familiarised with her lyrics and the fact she was a rebel who didn’t fit in. I’ve also really enjoyed watching her evolve over the years: when she first released 'Let's get the party started' all those years ago, I think people never imagined she’d still be around and so relevant today. But she is, she’s awesome!
I danced with her at the American music awards to 'Raise your Glass' which just so happened to be my absolute jam! I went through a really bad breakup that summer and so I just thought yes, the universe has got my back! It was such a dream of mine.
You’ve done some amazing things in television and film, which was your favourite to work on?
Ah man, I've had so many different experiences and I genuinely feel like I have learned something from every role. Learning and letting myself grow as an individual is something that’s actually really important and exciting to me.
Filming Pitch Perfect was awesome. We all got very close very quickly and it had this amazing family feel. It was ironic though, as although the film was set at university, I was one of the few girls in the cast that had actually gone to College – I went to Florida State which was a very traditional textbook experience! I was able to take the girls to LSU – this crazy football school – to go tailgating and perform a bunch of social dances, so it was all just endless fun.
Honestly I think having a laugh like that is so important – when we leave this world, people will quickly forget our accolades, but how we treat each other and how people make us feel in certain circumstances is what we’ll always remember. For that reason, I’ll always look back fondly and have a special bond with those girls.
I also really enjoyed filming 'Another Version of You'. It’s a love story about alternative universes, and my character was very different from anything I’ve ever played before so it was quite challenging at times. It was shot in Paris and Iceland too, which was beautiful and exciting.
Talk us through how/why you got you into wrestling?
In 2012, there was this huge worldwide Diva search where they were looking for sports entertainers, dancers, actors, models and athletes. I decided to go forward for it, but not ever in a million years did I think I’d actually get it!
Living in Hollywood, you’re competing against the best in the world – the best actresses, athletes, the prettiest and the strongest – and with it you face constant rejection. So I just thought there’s no way!
I remember the tryouts being the most insane experience: it was an intense six-month examination and there were so many incredible women auditioning, but, by some strange stroke of luck I was signed! Honestly I got so lucky. What is it they say ‘luck is preparation meets opportunity' and I’m so thankful. It’s been such an exciting road ever since.
Professional wrestling at WWE is everything I’ve always dreamed of: it’s this live action show where we take athleticism and translate it into storytelling and entertainment with exciting music, dance and fireworks. For me, it was the perfect merge of all the professional dancing and acting I had done and there’s just nothing out there like it! It’s live, it’s wild and I love it!
What made you go for the ring name Lana?
Oh, good question!
When I got signed by NXT on the WWE development programme in Orlando, I had to submit several stage-names that I wanted. Having grown up in Soviet Latvia, I wanted to somehow bring my Russian heritage to my character (in my audition I actually spoke Russian and then started break dancing!).
I also wanted it to be universal and easy to pronounce across all different languages. I put forward 20 different names but in the end only Lana and Alexandra were approved.
I chose Lana, which is short for Svetlana and is the Russian word for light.
How does the whole storyline aspect work on WWE? How much of it is true?
Like with any television show we have some segments and scenes that are written for us to act out, and we always have predetermined endings.
Apart from that, everything else is real. The wrestling is live, we’re in there properly fighting and it’s very real! It’s a contact sport so anything can happen.
What is it like having 3.8 million followers on Instagram? That must be quite a toll on your mental health at times...
Oh yeah for sure, it can be a lot to deal with. I’m so thankful though that I have so many people that are interested in following me! It's wild when I think about it! Social media can be a beautiful tool, TikTok, for example, is a lot of fun and a whole new way of interacting with people in this time of social distancing. Anyone of any age can recreate dances and find out what music is about to become popular etc.
However, it can also be incredibly damaging – I think many hide behind this screen and automatically feel entitled to say whatever they want, without thinking what it can do to a person. It takes a toll on people and it certainly has on me!
I’ve received so much negativity online and it has definitely affected my mental health, particularly throughout lockdown. Before the world shut down, I could go out, interact and feel that human energy and recognise ‘oh, these comments are fake’. But without that, I started to rely on my social media for reinforcement and all of sudden you start to believe what is being written about you. It’s hurtful, and I’d say 90% of people wouldn't say those things to my face – maybe they'd boo me when I’m in an arena – but day-to-day they just wouldn’t have the guts! People get very ballsy behind a screen!
I do understand though, that it can be difficult to see where Lana ends and CJ begins. There’s a lot of crossover with my work and people get confused – like if I’m in a storyline fighting with my real life husband, people will think it’s actually happening. You can’t forget though, that I'm still a person behind all that!
So yeah, I had to take a big step back from social media recently and implement some boundaries because I have to protect myself! I encourage others to set these boundaries too, and to also just be kind to one another! You never know what your words are going to do to someone.
Overall, what would you say is your proudest professional accomplishment?
There's so many things that I'm incredibly grateful for, but, I think right now, just having my job at WWE and being able to do what I love every day. I sympathise with so many people throughout the pandemic that are unable to have that and I just think wow, I’m so lucky.
When I first got signed, I thought so much of my role would involve being a love interest or an enhancement to a male character, (and whilst all that is great fun) I'm so excited to actually be competing and fighting myself.
For so long, I was told that I wouldn't be able to do it – that I wasn't sporty or strong enough – so to be able to prove my doubters wrong is a very proud moment for me.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Definitely my parents. They've always guided me and encouraged me to chase my dreams. “The sky’s the limit” my dad would always say, and I think that’s so important for women (and men) to know they can be whatever they want to be!
For so long, women have been told to behave and talk in a certain way, and I’ve often panicked that I’m not getting married and having babies, but my dad always assured me that that is not what will define me.
It's also never too late to learn: my dad is currently studying his masters and my mum has just finished her PhD. At 64 years old, they continue to inspire me!
What do you hope to achieve that you haven’t yet?
I know exactly what I want in 2021, and that is to become champion by the time the year is over.
They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something and I've not reached 10,000 yet! I currently train three times a week with Natty [fellow wrestler Natalie K. Neidhart], she has a school here in Florida called the Dungeon. She comes from wrestling royalty so learning from her and her husband is literally the best.
There’s always more training you can do – I'm competing against the best athletes in the world, for example Rhonda Rowsey could show up at any minute and she was in the Olympics. The level of athleticism really is insane.
I’m so privileged to be fighting against these women, but I’m not going to stop until I get that gold.
Who would be your dream dinner-party guest list?
I think Jennifer Lawrence would be cool. Every interview I've ever seen of her, she just seems so genuine and fun. I feel I would definitely vibe with her.
Then maybe Kylie Jenner? I can imagine we’d have a couple shots of vodka and a good laugh!
If you could have a smack-down with one person, who would it be?
God there's so many, but I would have to say Sasha Banks. I've never wrestled her on Television so that would be great!
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Cj's new film with Bruce Willis 'Cosmic Sin' is available to watch on Amazon
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