This version of John Cena is different—not that you’d be able to tell when watching him kick ass and blow stuff up as the titular vigilante in HBO Max’s Peacemaker. But while for decades the star pushed himself to be as strong as possible, he’s coming up on 45 and longevity is now his central focus. He still attacks the gym with the same vigor, but there are no more 600 pound squats. He still has about seven small meals per day, but there is no more lugging around a cooler full of pre-cooked meals. He allows himself to enjoy his food while keeping himself accountable—and can get all the way relaxed on vacation.
Ahead of the final three episodes of season 1 of Peacemaker, GQ caught up with Cena to discuss his experience filming the Suicide Squad spinoff, buying his first tub of protein powder, and the movie experience that changed his life.
In terms of physical preparation, is there a huge difference in shooting for a film as opposed to a TV series?
It’s more about knowing that you won’t get as much time for physical training. The days are long, and it’s every day. The show is called Peacemaker, so I know I’m going to be involved every day, and you have to set expectations realistically. You’re probably only going to get two workouts in a week rather than the four I’m used to. If another one fell out of the sky where I could get three in then that was a blessing. You have to move the focus more towards being surgically correct about nutrition, hydration and making sure you get enough sleep.
What was the experience like on set?
COVID protocols have certainly taken away a lot of the interactions that happen on a set, an connections with castmates can difficult. But when you get someone like [Peacemaker director and creator] James Gunn, who allows you the freedom to improv and do these long takes, you kind of build those moments in. James does always get the material that he has scripted, but he also allows for the relationship building of these giant improv takes that we’ll never use. A lot of times it’s probably just to establish a connection, get the crew to laugh so they’re not feeling isolated and away from us as it seems because it’s literally like mask on, isolate from everyone and here we go…Act! The idea is to extend that time a little bit more, let everyone enjoy it for a hot second—it allows us to bond for a little bit.
Food is a totally different thing now, but I always kind of bring my own stuff to set. I just want to make sure I know where it’s coming from, and it allows me to hit the numbers and the nutrients that I want to get.
Without having to deal with the consistent physical toll of pro wrestling, how has your philosophy changed on how you go about working out?
If anything, [wrestling] allows you to be healthier because you have to be there for the shows, but you have so much time during the day. You’re on the road all the time but I have such a network across the world of gyms to go to and healthy places to eat that the road actually becomes your home.
But my training has switched a lot because I’m old. I’m going to be 45 this year. I started lifting weights in a dedicated fashion when I was 12 years old. If you do the math, I’m coming up on 35 years of that. That’s a long time. The biggest shift when I was in the WWE is, every day, I tried to be the strongest version I can be that day. Now, I’m trying to be able to lift weights when I’m 80, so I need to take a little bit more care of myself for the long term. I have a 40,000-foot perspective. It’s a lot more work on flexibility and a lot more warming up. The stuff that I hated to do? I’ve learned to like just because it gets me feeling good for the stuff that I like.