Cody Rhodes is one of the leading figures in professional wrestling, but his path to the top has not been a straight one.
In the new Peacock documentary “American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes,” the WWE star delves deep into his past and sets his sights on the future. In the feature-length doc, Rhodes talks at length on his feelings growing up as the son of legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes and how he learned to trust his instincts and bet on himself in his quest to reach the highest echelon of sports entertainment.
In the following Q&A, Rhodes tells Variety about how he felt ready to become “The American Nightmare” in tribute to his father, known as “The American Dream,” as well as the one part of the documentary he struggled to watch.
You talk in the doc about how you weren’t ready to be The American Nightmare early in your career. How do you feel stepping into that role now?
That’s what it feels like. You use the term “stepping into this role.” It feels like I just stepped into it, if that makes any sense. And I mention in the documentary had I become the American Nightmare five years earlier, it wouldn’t have made any sense. It’s because I needed every failure, every success, every left turn — and I took a lot in my career. I needed them to figure out who I am. It’s something that’s relatively recent, this discovery of the American Nightmare. What does that mean? Who is Cody Rhodes? And I think I’ve been fortunate that the fans have watched the whole story, and if they haven’t, now they can watch the documentary.
This film no doubt required you to revisit a lot of your past. Are you someone who typically spends a lot of time looking back?
I saw a really great quote the other day that said, “Don’t trip over anything that’s behind you.” And I think that’s really great advice, because looking at what’s behind you in the industry puts you in a position where you’re trying to prove a lot of people wrong versus what’s happening here. Now, the amount of new fans and the amount of excitement over “Monday Night Raw,” “SmackDown,” and, selfishly, over me and what I’m doing, I’m all about that. That’s what I’m about because the one main thing that’s behind me is the undisputed WWE Universal Championship, and the opportunity to get it to get this thing that my dad never got to finish the story, as had been said. That’s all that I can carry from the past. Everything else would be far too heavy.
Considering the amount of archival footage, were there any segments you were surprised to see?
Ben Houser from ESPN and Matt Braine from WWE, our outstanding director, they kept me in the loop on a great deal of things and asked me for a lot of what I wanted in there and what was important to me. But there was a piece that I would never watch when I got a screener or anything like that. And it’s an interview before SummerSlam, where I wrestled Stephen Amell as Stardust. And they’ve got that whole interview in this documentary. I don’t even remember it, but it’s so dark. And it’s okay to be put in this package because there’s a resolution to it. But at the time that was someone very much struggling with grief. Dealing with the death of my dad was such a shock to our family. Dealing with that grief and how poorly I was dealing with it is on full display in that interview. And it’s one of those where even when I saw it at the premiere, I really just almost kept my head down just because you don’t want to find yourself back in that spot. Maybe that’s something that people can see from this is that’s a really low point, a rock bottom, and we were able to dig out, but that that piece of it surprised me to see that interview in its totality.
Speaking of interviews, major figures, like Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Ric Flair and more, are featured in this doc singing your praises. How does that feel?
When you see such luminary figures saying things that you would have only ever dreamed about — Hulk Hogan has a line in there about being an attraction, and what that means and the difference that makes feels amazing. This has not been a career wasted. This has not been a frivolous hobby. My obsession and my passion for wrestling and sports entertainment has yielded fruit and this is a time to celebrate it. Really, if you’re able to hear something like that from Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, Randy [Orton], Triple H, I had no clue that these interviews were even taking place, and to hear hear those things about yourself gives you a lot of confidence as you enter the next block and what you’re doing.
You talk a lot about your early memories of being around your dad when he was in WWE and how that influenced you. Do you ever think about how you are influencing your two-year-old daughter, Liberty, and if she will want to get into wrestling?
I haven’t thought about her and what it would look like if she wanted to enter our business. For me, when it comes to Liberty, I thought more about how do I appeal to her so that she always wants to be around and that she always feel safe. I was thinking about this on the ride here today. One of the things that I love so much is that she just took to me. I just thought it would be such a harder sell on this. My wife is her best friend and I thought she would just kind of think I’m this goofy guy living in the house. And man, she just really took to the concept of “papa.” And I want to keep that going as long as possible. I don’t want to hear anything about jobs that she wants to have or anything like that. I don’t know if I’m ready for those conversations. I just want her to smile and get all the things that she could possibly want. I intend on spoiling Liberty very, very, very much as long as I possibly can.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
“American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes” streams July 31 and WWE’s SummerSlam streams August 5, only on Peacock.