And there weren’t just cheers at the end of tonight’s premiere at the Ray Theater in Park City, but tears for this triumphant tale about Norwich, UK born wrestler Paige who worked her way up from working class roots, defied TV wrestling’s glam female stereotype and became the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history at the age of 21.
Johnson sprung to bring Paige’s story to the screen after catching the documentary about her life, The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, on late night British TV in 2012 when he was in London shooting Fast & Furious 6.
“I knew this family so well, this was my family, we lived like gypsies, my family promoted wrestling in bars; any place you can put a ring,” said Johnson tonight about how the doc spoke to him. “Lineage is the biggest reason why I identified with the documentary,” added the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle star.
Johnson appeared after the Sundance surprise screening for a Q&A with the pic’s director/writer Stephen Merchant (a cast member with Johnson on Tooth Fairy), the real Paige, Florence Pugh who plays Paige in the film, Vince Vaughn (who plays Paige’s coach), Nick Frost (Paige’s father), Lena Headey (Paige’s mother) and Jack Lowden (Paige’s brother).
Asked by an audience member if Johnson would ever make a movie or doc about his own wrestling dynasty, the Maivias, Johnson answered, “We considered it…possibly one day. The lineage is long, if I can find the right writer who understands it. Stephen Merchant, maybe.”
Merchant prior to the screening joked “there are only two English people” in Johnson’s cell phone: “Me and Jason Statham.”
Quipped Merchant, “Jason Statham has a good upper body, but he doesn’t have my typing speed.”
Even though Johnson was inspired by the doc about Paige’s family, he had actually met her previously on two occasions. In the movie Johnson plays himself, and his depicted encounters with Paige actually did occur, including a latter sequence in which he delivers some news to her.
Johnson was also one of Pugh’s wrestling instructors during production.
“As a guy who had a little bit of experience in the ring, she really did an amazing job that required her to not only embrace the character, but to go from never wrestling to learning how to wrestle; it’s a hard thing. It takes people years and years to learn, and she killed it,” said Johnson about Pugh’s learning curve with the sport.
Johnson and Dany Garcia’s Seven Bucks label went outside of the studio system to get Fighting With My Family made. Seven Bucks brought producer Kevin Misher early on in pre-production, and received seed money from Film4 and further financing from The Ink Factory before MGM acquired global rights for the movie out of Berlin in 2017 for $17.5M, an unprecedented pick-up for the market as exclusively reported by Deadline. Fighting With My Family reps the first time that Seven Bucks has premiered a movie at Sundance.
Earlier today, Stella Artois and Deadline hosted a panel for Fighting With My Family led by Deadline Senior Editor Dominic Patten.
Fighting With My Family, from MGM, opens on Feb. 14.