Interview: Former WWE Superstar Adam 'Edge' Copeland Retires To 'Haven'
This hasn’t been the way typical retirements begin, but then again, Adam Copeland is no typical retiree.
He could’ve made like fellow World Wrestling Entertainment legend Shawn Michaels and retreated home the moment this past April that his body broke him the bad news that the hourglass had run out on his days as Edge, maybe the most charismatic, maniacal and manipulative villain that’s ever graced a WWE ring.
Then again, everything that made Copeland so compelling for 13 years as Edge made way for more than an ordinary start to retirement – even by professional wrestling standards, where “retirement” sometimes lasts only as long as the next lucrative offer to walk the aisle, step through the ropes and soak up fans’ adulation one “last” time.
Michaels walked away into the welcome arms of his wife and children, then to the friendly confines of his Texas ranch, bass boat and deer blind. Though Copeland quipped the night he announced his retirement on WWE’s flagship show, “Monday Night Raw,” that his first plans post-spandex involved an ice cream banquet, he instead leapt into a four-episode arc on SyFy’s freshman Stephen King-inspired drama “Haven,” conveniently airing Friday nights neighboring Edge’s familiar stomping grounds on SyFy: right after “Friday Night Smackdown!”.
It’s the funniest thing, though. Copeland spent 13 years between 1998 and April 2011 hurling his body – or just as often, being forcefully spiked like a football – onto the WWE ring’s canvas, through tables and into very real, very solid steel ladders.
Week after week, cameras zoomed in on Copeland’s countenance mid-match and rocketed his baseball-sized eyes, wetted-down and wildly flying blonde hair and perfect-toothed sneer into millions of homes in high definition.
John Cena, the promotion’s poster-boy, once chased a boxer-brief-clad Edge from the middle of a prime-time, mid-ring “live sex celebration” in front of a 10,000-plus-stong live “Monday Night Raw” arena audience.
WWE’s creative team crafted a very real-life personal life crisis – the public outing of an affair with best friend and then-fellow WWE performer Matt Hardy’s long-time girlfriend – into a mirrored storyline between Edge and Hardy that threw Edge’s turn from beloved fan-favorite to manipulative-bastard “heel” into the main-event gear Copeland would ride in the rest of his career.
What could faze the man?
Well, now that you mention it . . .
“I think initially walking onto the set the first time, just because it was kind of nerve-racking,” Copeland said. “It’s still a relatively new experience to me. Kind of feeling like the new kid in school.”
Edge Has an Off Switch
From the outside looking in, acting must look like the smoothest, most natural possible fit that a wrestler in transition could want. After all, as no less than mainstream cross-over success stories “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have said themselves, the greatest characters the business has ever known merely ratcheted the performer’s own personality volume up to “11” and ripped off the knob.
True, some are there just to be bodies; they’re there because they fit sought-after physical presence that leaps off the screen, and don’t really bring much more to the table than that. Others with vaunted charisma who become live wires the moment they step through a curtain and into an arena often do better. Roderick Toombs certainly knew his “They Live” dialogue to the letter; his was the day before anyone would so much as dream hand a wrestler a script before cutting a promo – they were just expected to “go” when the light turned red, and let the character do the talking.
All that John Carpenter really needed him to do, for the most part, was just be “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Likewise, Terry Bollea’s never made a movie where he was significantly more than “Hulk Hogan” with some here-and-there tweaks that suited whatever the “plot” – not that story ever mattered that much. Nobody buying a ticket expected jack or shit more than watching their beloved Hulk Hogan baby-sit precocious tykes or, in one movie, play . . . a professional wrestling superstar.
Give Copeland credit. Give him all you can, because the ones that watched duration of the 13 years that “Edge” ruled his world know that he didn’t spend that decade-plus in tights singing the same song, dancing the same dance. Much like Johnson, Copeland gets character.
“Edge” started off a screaming, fringe-of-society-type vagabond that never actually spoke. He gave it a few years, and by about 2000, he was becoming a cocky, jackass goofball of a villain. By about 2002, he was starting to cement likeable charisma the fans could suddenly gravitate toward – not really doing or saying much anything that different, but just targeting the bad guys instead of the good ones. By 2004, Copeland realized that his character’s whole arc and recent frustrations suited him descending into bitter paranoia and quite the vicious streak.
By the time the main event and the first of his nine WWE/World Heavyweight Championship reigns came calling in 2005, he settled comfortably into the role of opportunistic, manipulative and crafty power player.
Talking for over an hour with Copeland days before his Aug. 5 “Haven” debut, I forget easily that I’m chatting with “Edge.” Sure, it’s Copeland. But he’ll be the first to admit: when you’re talking with him, in a way, you’re always chatting just a little with Edge too.
Nevertheless, he said, the people who know him/Edge – or, as his every entrance theme used over the past 13 years began, you who “think you know him” – will probably see something on “Haven” they didn’t see often over the past decade or so.
“I’d like to think I’ve always had a pretty good handle on me,” Copeland said. “And I’ve always kind of tried to separate Adam from Edge. Actually, I think there’s probably more of myself in this character than there ever was in the character of Edge.
“He was a bit of a maniac, so this wasn’t as far a step out for me as what I experienced before.”
So in some senses, Copeland is Dwight Hendrickson, the supernatural hotbed town of Haven’s ever-present problem-solver. “He sweeps things under the carpet,” Copeland explained. “He cleans up any kind of weird happenings or events so that anyone outside of Haven that might be freaked out . . . he sweeps them away before anyone sees them. So he works with Nathan (Lucas Bryant) to just make sure everything kind of stays on an even keel, as much as that’s possible within the confines of Haven.”
Saying wrestling is an over-the-top, bombastic performance art is a little like saying Madison Square Garden is an OK place to shoot some hoops. It’s so big, loud and over-the-top by nature, that the so-called “top” might as well not exist. There’s one limit, and one limit only: how “big” the performers can go.
The man spent 13 years with his foot cemented to the gas. Big came easy. Even shooting “Haven,” he felt “back in his wheelhouse” shooting a fight scene with Eric Balfour for his fourth and final episode. Braking took practice.
“(In WWE) the movements, mannerisms and everything had to be bigger so that it could translate to someone who is at the very last row of the Georgia Dome, for instance,” Copeland said. “So with this, the camera is right there. So it picks up any little eye bulge or eyebrow twitch or facial tics.
“So I had to learn to pull back the reins a little bit on that. And I’d like to think it’s easier to pull them back than have to try and push it out. The beginning of my wrestling career, I was very shy and it was tough to get past that hurdle. So I found this a little bit easier than having to try and force things out.”
Copeland considered it challenging, enjoyable and even comforting truly creating Dwight Hendrickson. He describes a slow roll-out of who Hendrickson really is, even elements of WWE-style “alpha-male kind of thing” machismo struggles with other characters.
“I didn’t know going forward if I was going to be in any more episodes (after the first one),” Copeland said. “I just kind of played it low-key to leave more mystery, so that hopefully at some point you’ll learn a little bit more and more.
“Now, I’m sure the writers probably had an idea, but I didn’t really get involved in that process,” he continued. “So with each episode that I did, a little bit more of the character has come out. And I think there’s still a lot more to come out, which is cool.”
"I've Never Introduced Myself as 'Edge'"
Forget an hour. Spend five minutes with Adam Copeland. You’ll forget Edge is even there.
I’ve been a wrestling fan over 20 years. I’ve been privileged enough to meet a few. It’s remarkably easy to forget to separate the men and women from their characters. For someone so supposedly nervous, Copeland’s “Haven” debut made him look as natural acting out a scene as he ever did charging out of a cloud of smoke as Rob Zombie’s “Never Gonna Stop” or Alter Bridge’s “Metalingus” screamed into an arena.
He’s got the presence. He’s got the charisma. And for as intense as Edge could be, Copeland has a sense for the “Off” switch.
But he never stops being Adam, and he’s always putting just a little bit of “Adam” into whoever he’s portraying. Think too much about Edge, and it’s easy to forget that Copeland dug this opportunity largely because he’s an avowed Stephen King fan – particularly “The Stand” and “Dolores Claiborne” (even the movie).
He didn’t walk away from wrestling the way he’d have liked, on his own terms. But he walked away with a solid sense of who he is and no regrets about his career. He’d welcome getting a call to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame some year during Wrestlemania weekend. However, he points out, he hasn’t watched wrestling since leaving after helping to build up an angle in which his former tag-team partner Christian – in real life, Copeland’s childhood friend Jason Reso – won his first-ever World Heavyweight Championship immediately in the wake of Edge’s retirement and surrender of the title.
It’s just not time to show up on-camera yet. Not for Edge. Not for Adam. It wouldn’t be easy for either to have to only sit on the sidelines and watch even beloved friends and colleagues do what either would still love to be doing.
“I’ll never shed Edge, never want to,” Copeland said. “It’s part of what got me to where I am now. That’s how everyone knows me. But I’ve never introduced myself as ‘Edge,’ not to this very day. I always introduce myself as Adam. That’s never going to change.
“I guess I don’t think you ever really shed something that’s so ingrained with people.”
Change is Good
The acting bug never sank its teeth enough into Copeland to get a good foothold. He’s never had an agent, he said, and doesn’t sound like he ever plans on having one. “I never put any misconceptions out there that I’m this talented thespian or anything,” he humbly admits. He made odd here-and-there appearances on “Deal Or No Deal,” “Mind of Mencia” and “MADtv” during his WWE career. He played an immortal in 2000’s “Highlander: Endgame.”
And his timing, charisma, build and look all lend him a natural presence. It helped that at no point did he ever really have to stop just being “Edge.” Still, he didn’t look to be headed the way of The Rock, Hogan or Austin toward a full-time acting career.
Things changed this past April. Edge lost a year of his career spanning from 2003-2004 to a neck injury that required spinal-fusion surgery. Injuries only continued mounting over the next seven years. He tore his labrum. He tore a pectoral muscle. He broke his wrist. He broke his jaw. Not a little less than two years before he finally retired, he’d torn his Achilles tendon.
But around April 2011, it was his neck again. He started having trouble with sensation in his extremities. The pain became constant. He didn’t know it the moment he stepped from behind the curtain and before a sold-out Wrestlemania crowd at the Georgia Dome, but his World Heavyweight Championship match with Alberto Del Rio would be his very last.
He got through the match just fine, though he admits he wishes he could’ve wrestled it injury free and given even more. Not long after, doctors diagnosed him with cervical spinal stenosis. They couldn’t clear him to wrestle. His next bump, however minor, could paralyze or kill him, he told a live “Monday Night Raw” crowd April 11.
It wasn’t long after his retirement, and a commitment to appear as advertised but not wrestle on a WWE European tour, that a WWE representative wanted to know if he’d fancy a jaunt to Nova Scotia to film a few episodes of SyFy’s new show.
“It kind of helped with the retirement aspect, going from like 120 miles an hour with the WWE to kind of, maybe 70 miles an hour,” Copeland said.
The change of pace doesn’t suit everybody so well. Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson backed out of a contracted fight for a major role in the movie “The A-Team,” but returned to fighting complaining that he couldn’t abide the movie-making process’ start-stop pace.
Copeland saw it as just what he needed, just when he needed it.
“With WWE, we basically gear our month toward the pay-per-view,” Copeland explained of the difference in grinds. “We put a month’s worth into a pay-per-view, which is a 20-30 minute (match) pay-off.
“With WWE, it’s pretty much as soon as you wake up, you hit the ground running and you’re usually done by about 3:00 in the morning by the time you hit the next town. After doing that for 20 years, it can get kind of monotonous.
“I like in between scenes or when I’m not in a scene, having a break to be able to read or go get a cup of coffee. I kind of like that. I also like that physically I can walk without being hunched over or something hurting. But I’m also at that point in my life where that’s kind of where I was already going anyway. So I haven’t had a problem so far with missing the instant gratification or the instant reaction from the audience it’s still really new to me.”
It’s funny he mentions the “instant gratification”; surprisingly, that might be the biggest addition-by-subtraction kick that gets out of acting. The suspense kills him in the most fun way possible, after years spent shifting gears and changing keys mid-match playing off a live crowd’s vibe.
“I kind of like that up-in-the-air ‘Did it work? Did it work? I don’t know, I don’t know until I see it’,” Copeland said. “That’s kind of cool, but it was also great to know instantly (in wrestling) whether it worked or not. They’re kind of like apples or oranges, I guess.”
Work-wise, he’s in a good place. He’s got a North Carolina home that he somewhat laments having barely seen since retiring over four months ago, and a dog he loves dearly. By all indications, he won’t be the penniless cautionary tale that many wrestlers said Mickey Rourke unfortunately nailed hauntingly well in Darren Aronofsky’s drama “The Wrestler.” Copeland will be happy if more acting comes his way. If not, he has no regrets.
Most importantly, “Haven” producers were informed and guarded about his health. Copeland’s long-time acquaintance and former WWE Diva Lita suffered a broken neck performing one of her own stunts while shooting an episode of “Dark Angel.” Like Copeland, her neck needed fusing and she spent a year on the shelf.
“Thankfully now, I’m at the point in my life where I can set boundaries,” Copeland said. “If I felt something was going to be that kind of danger to me going forward, then I just wouldn’t do it. ‘Haven’ was really cool in that they knew my neck issues. So anything that would possibly jeopardize that, we just wouldn’t do it or there’d be a stunt guy. And I have no qualms about someone else coming in to get thrown instead of me. I did enough of that.”