Pro Wrestling Post sat down with former NFL lineman and one of the current stars of NBC’s hit sitcom Young Rock, Matthew Willig who plays Andre the Giant, ahead of the premiere of tonight’s episode of Seasons 2, “Kiss and Release” on NBC at 8/7c. The episode focuses on The Rock learning the ways of love from the famous French gentle giant himself as the two learn a lot from each other on a fishing trip. Andre teaches him the ropes of navigating your first crush and learning how everyday life can teach some of the most important lessons you can learn even at a young age.
Zachary Perez (@ZachOnTheRopes) interviewed Matthew Willig prior to the debut of the episode tonight on NBC regarding a variety of subjects, such as the NFL, acting, sitcoms, Young Rock, and the cast, Andre the Giant himself, and much more. There will be more coverage of Young Rock from Pro Wrestling Post in the near future including a follow-up with a full video of this interview and much more to come so stay tuned! Full transcription of the interview is below.
Zachary Perez: “Hello, I am Zachary Perez, aka Zach On The Ropes, here for Pro Wrestling Post. I am back once again and very excited to be interviewing, from NBC’s hit Sitcom Young Rock, former NFL lineman and Super Bowl champion Matthew Willig who plays Andre the Giant! Thanks for joining me today, how are you?”
Matthew Willig: “I’m good Zach, thanks for having me, buddy. Boy, it’s always fun to hear ex-NFL and Super Bowl Champion that’s always cool!” (laughs)
Z: “Yeah, you’ve gotta get as many of the things in there in the intro as possible! (laughs)…Now obviously football itself was a huge part of your life. You know, a 14-year career in the NFL, was there anything you took from your work ethic or learning in the NFL you took over to acting that you feel helped you be successful in acting, or was it kind of like learning from scratch, learning something brand new entirely?”
MW: “No, well I mean there are so many things that are different about it. You are literally sometimes using different parts of your brain. But no there are some similarities you know sometimes it just comes down to work ethic and sort of that mindset of you know why not me, you know why can’t I do this kind of thing.
And so um, I was never a heralded football player coming out of USC I worked my butt off to kind of you know I don’t want to say scratch out an NFL career because 14 years is a long time but you know I worked really hard just to be a good solid player. And so it’s that mindset that I took on. You know people tell me all the time that I’ve chosen two like one-percent type careers.
There’s very few people that can be successful at either football or their acting careers. And my goal was to become both. You know not great, I didn’t have these grand illusions. I just wanted to be a good solid actor and football player so that sort of mindset I’ve taken on. You know preparation is a big thing I used that in football a lot and it saved me a lot of times and prolonged my career.
I try to do the same thing in my acting career. Something like doing research for Andre…the preparation of it and sort of having that sort of background and that knowledge and that sort of thing that I could bring right away to the character was something that I used. So yeah there are a lot of similarities that I can use for both.”
Matthew Willig of Young Rock discusses Kiss and Release episode
Z: “Yeah I think that’s a great mindset and I think that that shows between your longevity between both. Because you kind of have longevity between both and you get a lot of work between both. That’s something being that, like you said, being that they are both one-percent careers something that you don’t get a lot of success in unless you put the work in, in both.
And I think that’s definitely something that shows in your longevity between both careers. Speaking of your roots, I saw recently on Instagram you were able to actually revisit the home of your Mom and Dad recently in Pittsburgh. And with the show kind of being centered around a lot of family and kind of experiencing the journey of family what was that experience like to kind of be able to revisit and kind of reflect on that whole journey and kind of come full circle on that kind of with that longevity and going through all of that now?”
Matthew Willig: “Oh, it’s really cool that you brought it up because it was really a special time. My mom has passed so we visited with my dad. I’m one of six boys, so we are a big family and it’s funny. We kid with my dad over the years thank you for bringing us from Pittsburgh down to LA. (laughs) Because we really appreciate the Southern California lifestyle.
But to go back to his roots, he’s an older man, and to see the simplicity of where he grew up and sort of have him talk about things and where he hung out on the corner and how small their original house was. And you know, back East living there’s something like, again, simple about it but so rooted in family and it was really a treat to do that with him, drive around the streets, have some food from the neighborhood, see what’s still standing, what’s not, all those things that kind of was just really cool.
I will share that my dad paid for the whole trip! You know that is how important it was for him. After we all committed to going, so he paid for all of his sons, and the families so it was really a treat. I give him a lot of credit, he’d probably hate me for telling people that but it was really a nice treat for my pops…he was hardened for a lot of years and we didn’t see a lot of emotion from him.
But in his later years, especially when we got to go back to Pittsburgh, to see sort of the emotion and the pride that he brought his family back was really a cool thing and really nice to share with him.”
Z: “That’s really awesome, yeah! I’m up east myself I’m an upstate New Yorker so I get a lot of that same feeling you know, I’ve been trying to move West probably my entire life trying to get away from this weather and get away from all the falling buildings and the crumbling stuff so I know all too well a few of the things we do have is the food, the atmosphere, and the family so I know all too well exactly what it is.”
Matthew Willig: “You’re right, and it was a treat you know got to see some family, some cousins, just having that hang with everybody and that feeling of being even at a bar in Pittsburgh with family and friends it was just really, really kind of a unique experience. I put pride and stock in family, I try to anyway, and it’s nice to have those sort of moments.”
Z: “That’s awesome to hear. And speaking of coming to your roots too, your roots as an actor are also tied in a lot of ways to your roots as a football player. And I was doing a little bit of research, and if I’m not mistaken you actually got your start as an actor in a Campbell’s soup commercial, is that right with Kurt Warner?”
MW: “It is, it was literally my first audition I went on. You know, it’s always with the caveat of I was playing a football player. (laughs) So, you know it kind of made it easy, a nice transition but yeah it was my first audition and it just came after, I was with the Rams and I won a Super Bowl and the commercial included Kurt Warner, the Quarterback for the team.”
Z: “He did quite a few spots for them for a little while right?”
Matthew Willig: “Exactly, he had a little campaign exactly. It was him and Terrell Davis in the commercial. So to kind of put a uniform on and then be on camera for it was a nice little transition to that which got me started in the right direction anyway!” (laughs)
Z: “That’s great, so did you kind of when you first got into it being that it was kind of an easier transition did you kind of stick to it right away did you kind of fall in love with it or was it something where your agent kind of had to keep giving you a few calls like ‘hey, if you wanna come start working again for acting we’ve got a few things lined up for you we’d love to have you back’ was it something that they needed to be more persistent on you or did you love it right away?”
MW: “No, no I fell in love with it right away. I’ve sort of always had that personality. You know, I’m the fifth of six boys so…we’re always looking for attention so that was sort of my thing. You know, hosting some radio and TV shows in the NFL and sort of got used to being in front of the camera and sort of doing that sort of thing.
And so it was kind of suggested hey there’s this agent that deals with a lot of ex-athletes you know doing those types of commercials and those types of shows where they use you know athletes. So that, again, it was a nice transition because I had an agent who understood who I was and what I was doing so I started doing commercials before I was even done playing ball.
You know I was doing it in the offseason so it was a nice, I didn’t have the burden of sort of having to everyday audition for things I was doing it for a very short period of time in my offseason and it was only once I retired that I kind of established myself a little bit especially in the commercial world and started doing it full-time so.
No, I loved it from the get-go. I really enjoy the art of acting, it’s obviously not an easy craft to…learn things as opposed to the physicalness of football.”
Z: “Definitely, yeah. And your acting credits have landed you around a lot of different roles in sitcoms, some kind of famous different sitcoms such as Malcolm in the Middle, Everybody Hates Chris, My Name is Earl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I feel like I’m naming off some of my favorite shows more than I’m just naming acting credits. And a role that I really enjoyed a lot of in We’re The Millers.
You seem to kind of really thrive in that environment, do you really enjoy kind of taking and gravitating towards those roles as an actor? And when you stepped on the set of Young Rock, did you kind of feel some of that similar magic like you were kind of onto something…with a similar success path there with Young Rock?”
Matthew Willig: “You know, it’s interesting because I didn’t plan on it being that way. I knew I always had a sense of humor about me and sort of could always play off that. I think sometimes when you’re a big man on screen it helps to be able to be comfortable making fun of yourself or you know the comedy timing of things and I seemed to kind of have that early on.
And I thought for sure when I started it was gonna be more of all of these Herculean-type roles and shirt off and all that kind of stuff. But it turned out that yeah, having that comedic timing I think is crucial. And so I think it lent itself to kind of getting some of those roles early on. And then obviously all the way to being on Young Rock, it’s sort of that same feel.
You know on playing a character that is this lovable giant so you know sometimes you don’t have to take yourself so seriously. And sometimes that’s a fun thing to do and can be an easier transition, an easier step to doing. So yeah, I think stepping onto the Young Rock set, number one it was I had done a lot of research on that part of it but instantly feeling the people around me and so the sense that this was going to be a good show and that something that was going to be, that people were going to enjoy at least.”
Z: “Definitely, and I’ve already just from the last interview and from interviewing you I really get the sense that the cast has a real sense of cohesion and a real sense of family, that you guys really get along, and that you guys really seem to be connecting on the show not just on the material itself but also just as a cast. Is that something that you guys really feel, and seem to be connecting not just on the show but together as sort of a family unit as well?”
MW: “Yeah one hundred percent. And there were different nucleases of it. I think it started with me and a couple of the wrestlers Kevin Makely, John Tui, Fasitua (Amosa), these guys that were kind of were in this little wrestling circle and we hung out and went back to Australia.
You know, when you have people from the US, and they were from New Zealand, so you had kind of like this molding of these different of these people coming together there was automatically a sense of bonding together, and sort of doing things, going to dinners. You know we did a lot of our dinners were together and just hey calling up this person what are you doing oh okay let’s…so it was immediately.
I consider some of these guys brothers. You know literally, these are guys that I love, and would do anything for. And to have that in a situation with a sitcom I think is, you know you hear people all the time say that you know it’s a great family and we all get along but we truly do. Cut to this past season where we were there for Thanksgiving and we made sure we all got together, and we were all gonna have a US Thanksgiving over there.
Well, New Zealanders and the Australians they started bringing things…’that’s sort of how you guys do it in the US’ and it turned out to be an amazing moment of just everybody brought food from their own sort of cultures and kind of all took a moment to give thanks and it was just a tribute to the love that we have shared over the last year and a half.
And it truly has been one of the most gratifying things in my career as far as that goes as far as having a family and being able to trust you know the people you’re working with it truly is remarkable. I’m blessed to have kind of gone in that route.”
Z: “Definitely, I really get that sense both from interviewing you guys and also the sense from watching as a viewer, you get that sort of sense of connection from seeing the way people interact on screen, it sort of jumps off in a different way when there’s that chemistry between actors and actresses where it just connects in a different way to the viewer where you can see that people are enjoying themselves on a different level and it definitely comes across.”
Matthew Willig: “It’s so true, it’s so true. And you know as an actor you hear people talk about that you hear other actors say about how it does transfer. There have been moments where I have had that in my career but not to this extent. There is no question that for me at least, watching it like you said I can see that transfer on-screen and see that sort of comradery and love for one another.
Whether it’s you know Joe (Lee Anderson) and Stacey (Leilua) interacting with themselves as they do so much. Or you know or Ana (Tuisila) or you know or just the wrestlers themselves we had a lot of fun and when you had that sort of respect for each other and the love for each other no question man it shows on film.”
Z: “Absolutely, it does. And your role as Andre the Giant is obviously a huge one to the show in many ways, not only for the sake of the pun but also for the sake of the legacy he left behind in wrestling and just as the man himself. He was beyond larger than life, and that was shown both in the ring and out and I think both you and the show have beautifully captured that in your portrayal thus far. How did you begin to prepare for this kind of role, with your research and in talking with The Rock and such like that?”
Matthew Willig: “Yeah, those were important things. Obviously, it starts with just learning as much as I could about Andre, you know studying the videos and things that were out there and you know obviously lately there’s been some documentaries about him, a couple of really nice ones. And you know, listen I’ve lived that sort of gentle giant life you know so I understand that.
So coming in I understood how to be a big physical you know guy but have sort of a humble, a sweetness about him, it’s how I try to live so it’s important. Having Dwayne talk to me about his real-life experience with Andre and what he meant to him was huge, it really brought it home together because you know he was Uncle Andre to Dwayne.
And he really was for a period of time, someone that he learned life lessons from. You know how to kind of be a man, to show respect and give respect, and earn respect! You know those things that a lot of time we don’t learn. And I think that the show is sort of very discreetly sometimes and very poignantly showing that the relationship between Dwayne and his dad was ‘Rocky’ pun intended.
But you know there were times where he needed someone else. And needed another voice you know I think what better voice than the commanding, you know not only larger than life, but someone when he spoke people respected and listened to. So yeah, there were all those things that I used that really sort of helped me get the character in motion and sort of bring that to life in the series.”
Z: “Definitely, yeah. And this week’s episode focuses on Andre once again kind of playing as the mentor to The Rock, or little Dewey as he was known then. Andre kind of shows off his gentle giant side in teaching about love and kind of its many dealings and emotions. Kind of something many on the inside of wrestling loved about the man himself and is that something you kind of keyed in on with a lot of the stories from The Rock and a lot of going through those documentaries, is that something you kind of tried to comb through and look for in the different stories about Andre himself is kind of the gentle giant side of things?”
Matthew Willig: “Absolutely, so look especially when you talk about love you know. Something that all of a sudden he realizes, oh shoot, we’re talking about love here. And there’s kind of a funny part of it where I don’t know if Andre really wants to talk about love! Because let’s face it someone in his position in real life, I’m sure struggled with that the ability to have someone love him for who he was.
And so there’s that feeling that I brought to it of…Andre he’s known love, but how does he try to teach that to somebody new who is trying to learn about that so yeah. There were absolutely those moments of sort of bringing that. Unlike last season where I think he was more than willing to share everything to little Dewey, this time he’s a little bit sort of unsure if he really wants to dive into that and talk about his own experiences with love.
So I think there’s a nice mix of sort of realness in there of you know sharing his experiences with love and how that translates to little Dewey and how he can sort of do it. So there’s some sort of cool, fun, and poignant moments that we’ll share in tonight’s episode.”
Z: “Definitely, I did notice that a lot in the back and forth exchange and kind of in sharing that moment in that life lesson. And one of the little details that I did notice that was kind of briefly addressed in the episode was Andre’s affinity for wine, beer, and alcohol. Kind of the glass stayed more than half full throughout the episode and one of the famous stories that goes around about Andre was the between 119 and 156 12-ounce beer story. Are there any similar Andre stories you maybe hear, or from your NFL career even, or maybe from The Rock, maybe his wrestling career, or even along the lines about Andre that might touch on that a little bit?”
Matthew Willig “Well, I mean just like you said the one story is very well know that in one sitting he drank that many beers. The crazy thing about it is he would drink all this stuff, and he would drink bottles of wine um…”
Z: “As if they were juice boxes!” (laughs)
Matthew Willig: “Exactly! As though they were bottles of water. And be able to function and do things that most guys would’ve been passed out with. So yeah, it was legendary. I’ve had people ask me if I was going to go method in that regard and really try and do those things.” (laughs)
Z: “Did you maybe carry around any bottles of wine in between scenes?”
Matthew Willig: “Right? Well it’s funny because I would always make sure you know there were scenes that I would shoot you know for the show and they wouldn’t have wine and I’d say ‘no, no, no Andre’s gotta have some wine nearby!’ It’s just part of the deal. Even for that scene, if Andre’s going fishing he’s gonna have wine you know so.
It think it lends to a little bit to the humor of it but when you think about it in reality that’s the way he was. You know Andre, not a lot of people know this but we share a similarity in that he had a disease called acromegaly which is sort of where you produce all this growth hormone in your body and it basically keeps your organs growing through life.
And he had the opportunity through his life to be able to have that removed and sort of stabilize his body, he chose not to because he thought that was who he was. I was diagnosed about 10 years ago with the same thing, and I had it removed because I knew it would prolong my life, you know.
But, part of the reason he drank and did all of that stuff to his body was number one, he felt he had a certain life expectancy and wasn’t gonna live and was in a lot of pain as the years went on and sort of his drinking became more of an issue.
But you know, we look on it and kind of laugh and find the humor in it and it is, it’s amazing but there’s some sadness in there you know going back to your point it’s some of the things I use when we’re talking about the character is there was some sadness in him and the way he felt about his place in the world. I didn’t mean to get all seriousness on you!”
Z: “It does show the duality of the man in a lot of ways, and if you think about it too in the scene that we see in this episode it kind of show the duality of what he’s talking about in his love lost. In the sense of the bottles of wine were both happiness and sadness throughout that flight because they were kind of the love he was having in the moment but also the love that he knew he couldn’t keep so it kind of shows a lot of the duality of the human being that he was.
Where he was trying to enjoy the moment, but also that was the ONLY way he could necessarily enjoy the moment in a lot of ways because of what he was going through. So there was kind of happiness and sadness to a lot of those glasses and bottles of wine.”
Matthew Willig: “Well put, well put and I think that was a little bit of my mindset as we did that is to show that. And look it’s the story of many people who drink a lot it’s the happiness and the sadness of it all, like you’re right. So well put by you and definitely something I was thinking about as we were doing this kind of stuff.”
Z: “And going forward, it seems that Andre and your role as him as really resonated with fans a lot and speaking for myself included I think that this week’s episode will be another fan favorite just as “My Day With Andre” was in Season 1. Can we expect to see more of the Giant, and if so any hints or teases or anything like that you may want to drop for Season 2 going forward?”
Matthew Willig: “You know what, um, I will say that sort of I’ll be in some more episodes there’ll be some things coming up you may even hear Andre do some singing later on in the season. But listen, this is first and foremost this is Dwayne Johnson’s story and there are so many pieces that are involved in that, you know it’s tough to kind of fit in the wrestlers here and there and Andre and that sort of stuff so, you know I definitely think this is a highlight of the season for me.
I think just where the character goes after this moving into another season hopefully and we’ll see where we explore. I’ve told people that I’d like to be able to sometime soon put on the black singlet and get in the ring and do some of that stuff. That’s something I’m really looking forward to, but we’ll see. I’ve been so humbled and so happy with NBC and the way they’re doing things and so it’s really been a cool ride and I’m hoping that it’s not over.”
Z: “That’s what I think a lot of wrestling fans are hoping to hear myself included!”
Matthew Willig: “And by the way Zach, I will say thank you for the compliment as far as my character and the episodes not only this one coming up but last year’s. It means a lot that what I’m doing is resonating with people and it’s a nice touch to Dwayne’s story, so thank you.”
Z: “Absolutely, it’s been a compliment to us as wrestling fans to kind of see this fan service and to kind of see NBC do this on such a grand scale and to see The Rock’s story told in such a fan servicing way to us as wrestling fans kind of seeing that nostalgia and getting to deep dive in such a nice way it’s been a real treat. So it’s been more of a thank you to us as wrestling fans so we really appreciate it so we can’t thank you enough we really appreciate it as fans more than anything.”
Matthew Willig: “Thank you, yeah it’s just been so cool to be able to share that with and see the response by you know people our age you know the older wrestling fan…The nostalgia of the 80’s wrestling and the back in the day sort of style of wrestling and those characters and all those things. I think it’s really been a cool you know side note or angle of the story as far as Dwayne goes and it’s his life!
That’s the crazy thing about it too it really was his life. You know and he lived around all these crazy characters I mean could you imagine if he had done that and still not gotten into wrestling, imagine what a crime and shame that would have been it seems everything was leading him to that.
And we’re sort of seeing that in the series now there was a point where it came where this was his destiny so yeah the wrestling part of it has just been a treat.”
Z: “It really does, it’s crazy to think about how all signs pointed to how he led up and to think how drastically the world may have changed we might have not had the Hollywood actor The Rock, we might have not had Dwayne Johnson the man that he is now as a result of who The Rock was as the wrestler so.
It’s really crazy to think about how many roads led to where we are and that including too Young Rock being the success that is now, and leading to your role and leading to me being able to interview you here, and that being such a great opportunity, and I really appreciate you taking the time out to be here with me today and taking this opportunity to speak with us for Pro Wrestling Post and hopefully we can connect sometime in the future.
And maybe, who knows, one day we’ll have on of those maduros [cigar] out on the golf course together!” (laughs)
Matthew Willig: “I love it, absolutely! Zach, thanks man I really appreciate it you’ve been really supportive of not only my character and what I’m doing but the whole sort of side of that has been really cool. Because it could have gone so wrong! You know the wrestling fans are, they are boisterous it could’ve gotten to the point where people aren’t enjoying that so I’m really happy that they are. So thanks again!”
Z: “Absolutely, man. We couldn’t be more supportive of something we like, we love to shout about it when we don’t like it and we love to shout about it when we do like it so we’re at the top of our lungs right now about it right now so keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll be happily here supporting you for it!”
MW: “Very cool, thank you Zach I really appreciate it!”
Z: “Absolutely, thank you so much!”
Matthew Willig: “Alright, we’ll talk soon!”
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