By Chuck Carroll
Pro wrestling, as in life, is a cycle comprised of ups and downs. As Frank Sinatra famously sang, you’re riding high in April and shot down in May. WWE superstar Luke Harper, born Jon Huber, knows this all too well. Recently, those lyrics from Ol’ Blue Eyes have chronicled his journey inside and out of the ring.
Two years ago this month, Harper suffered near catastrophic knee injury that required immediate surgery and extensive rehab. The timing could not have been worse, given that WrestleMania was coming in just a matter of weeks. For any wrestler, this would have been a severe blow.
But as fate would have it, Harper would not spend the next six months feeling downtrodden and staving off depression caused by the unfortunate injury. His phone rang, and although the caller-ID said Stamford, Connecticut, it was really Hollywood calling. On the other end of the line was a representative from WWE talent relations relaying an offer from a movie production company that was interested in casting Harper for the film Mohawk, which was set to begin production shortly thereafter.
The role of Lachlan Allsopp presented a number of challenges. For one, the War of 1812 drama takes place deep in the woods. With Harper still recovering from surgery to repair a dislocated patella and reconstruct a torn medial patellofemoral ligament, the uneven terrain could prove problematic. He would also have to find a way to split his days between continuing rehab on the ailing knee and being on location during filming. Although his character did wear a knee brace, neither challenge would be easy. Coincidentally, the knee brace had been written into the script long before producers knew of his real-life injury.
Compounding the issue, Harper had no acting experience outside of wrestling and knew next to nothing about the war in which the movie was set. But like the first time he set foot in a wrestling ring, he embraced the unknown and became a student, soaking up knowledge of both. It wasn’t long before he became a history buff with the chops of a seasoned thespian.
The Allsopp character he was portraying was a far cry from the crazed member of the Wyatt Family he was portraying in WWE at the time. The American soldier had a conscious, and Harper relished expanding beyond his take-no-prisoners, make-no-apologies in-ring persona. “It was nerve-racking, and anxiety ridden,” he said of his character’s moral compass, “but I thought it was okay, and I enjoyed the character being different than what people expect.”
The film is currently showing in select theaters and available for download on iTunes, offering fans a little detour on the road to WrestleMania.
As WWE chugs along to its biggest event of the year, Harper has been given new life as one-half of the Bludgeon Brothers. The new character has reunited him with fellow Wyatt Family member Erick Rowan. With massive mallets in hand, the pair have been steamrolling the elite tag teams on SmackDown and appear to be headed for a major role at WrestleMania next month. He’s been entertainingly chronicling that journey on Twitter.
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I had the opportunity to speak with Harper recently about Mohawk and how the concept of the Bludgeon Brothers came to pass. He told me that although the characters have the classic earmarks of a Vince McMahon creation, it was actually a collaborative idea between the company patriarch, Rowan and himself. The group was all tired of seeing the ex-Wyatt Family henchmen sit on the sidelines. McMahon came up with the idea for the mallets, and the rest is history.
The first thing that I noticed in the movie was that you were wearing a knee brace. I’m assuming this filmed while you out injured?
I had dislocated my patella [a few months earlier], and this was filmed in July, so I was in the middle of rehab at the time. So we’d film all day, and then I would head to the gym and do rehab at night. The knee brace was actually written in before I was sought out for the part. And so he said “Hey, would you mind wearing a knee brace and limping?” I said “No, no, that should be fine.”
Was it difficult for you filming, because the movies set in the woods that’s tough terrain? I imagine you’re limping around a little bit.
Yeah, they took really good care of me. There was only one instance where we had to run up a hill two times, and on the third, I said “I’m not gonna do that” and then the director said “Okay, the day’s over.” And I thought I had ruined the movie. Come to find out just the day was over, and it just worked out, and there was no problem. It was physical, it was tough. Every day was rough, but nothing debilitating except for that one hill.
I also notice you weren’t involved in many fight scenes or maybe your action there was limited. Was that also to protect your knee or how the script was written?
I don’t think it had anything to do with my knee. I think it had more to do with my character understanding that the atrocities of war maybe weren’t worth it anymore, so he wasn’t as willing of a participant. He still would follow orders, but I think it was just his mindset of maybe this isn’t the right thing.
It had to have been a little more refreshing for you, given the fact that the character, Luke Harper, that you portray in WWE doesn’t seem to have much of a conscience at all.
It was actually refreshing. It was quite a step out of what I do in WWE. So it was liberating in a way, and it was a very big creative outlet for me during the time of recovery, when I didn’t have the outlet in the ring. I fell in love with acting throughout this process.
This was your first big acting role outside of wrestling, right?
Yes, this is it. This is my first one ever. And I told the director when I showed up, I said “I don’t know, man, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m terrified.” So, I get in the trailer, and sit there for seven hours, and then knock, knock, knock. They run me out to the set. And literally 20 minutes later, they’re shooting me crying over a dead man’s body. So that was my introduction to acting. It got a little bit easier from there.
Let me ask you kind of a crossover question. You’ve got the Rock, you’ve got John Cena, you’ve got Dave Batista, you’ve got The Miz. Of the five of you, who’s the best actor?
Clearly big Dave Batista. Just because my son adores the character, and I think the movie’s awesome, and I think big Dave’s awesome as a person. But outside of that, I would say that I’m a close number two.
You’ve got a new role now in WWE with The Bludgeon Brothers. How did that gimmick come to pass?
I just came from the minds of Rowan and myself and actually Vince McMahon. We were all tired of seeing ’em sit on the sidelines and put this together. And when Vince suggested that we carry giant mallets around, I was sold. I’ll tell you a little story. A couple weeks ago we had a match… and I messed up one of Rowan’s spots. We got to the back, and I apologized. He said “Hey, man, no problem.” And I watched it back, and he just waited his turn, and everything was better because of it. At that point, I knew, when he didn’t get mad at me, that maybe we were supposed to be together.
How much of an influence was Vince? The character seemed to be vintage Vince if you will, with the mallets. They’re not colorful or bright costumes, but they’re very vintage Vince, you know?
Yep. It’s a huge stamp of his. And then it’s just me and Rowan just being a couple of no-nonsense, don’t-care-about-anybody, go-to-the-ring-and-do-what-we-wanna-do kind of business now. And I’m way more comfortable with that. So I’m cool with it.
More often than not, you’ve been paired with… whether it be Bray or Erick. Do you consider yourself a full-time tag team guy, or do you have singles aspirations?
I would never consider myself a full-time tag-team guy. I have a list of aspirations as a singles’ competitor. Now, with that said, if a goal is to be the world champions, and if [I need] to be a tag-team champion to get there, I’m more than willing to accept that.
This last December I think it was, you were in the ring and wrestling. I don’t even know who it was. It was a squash match, and this wrestler gets up for a power bomb-type move, and he just screams like a little girl. How did you keep it together, because I was rolling on the couch?
I didn’t hear it. I did the move, clears the net. And we get to the back, and somebody goes “Hey, man, how ’bout that scream?” I didn’t know what they were talking about, and Rowan turns to me, and he goes “Was that you?” And I go “No!” So, then finally the kid comes back, and I didn’t see him. But they said that he did it, and then I watched it back, and I was like “Oh, my God!” And I must have watched it 30-50 times by now.
WrestleMania is right around the corner, and maybe there was a little bit of anxiety going into your first movie. Do you have the same kind a jitters heading into New Orleans?
I do. Only because we don’t have a spot locked down, and that’s kind of my and everyone’s goal, to make enough noise to get on that spot. And so it is a little nerve-racking, and maybe makes us a little [more] ornery than we’re supposed to be. But that’s the name of the game, to get on that show, and that’s our goal.
What is your take on the current tag division over there?
I think it’s been on fire with Gable and Benjamin, New Day and The Usos. And then you have Ascension, and Breezango doing doing their stuff. There is something for everybody in it. And now with the Bludgeon Brothers coming in, there’s a whole new force added to that. So you have all the teams that have been carrying it for the year, and now we’re involved. I think it couldn’t be better. And I don’t think RAW has a chance to be better.
Longterm, what are your goals in WWE? The ultimate goal for you would be the World Championship?
Of course, and I had a run — a very small run — with the Intercontinental title that I would love to redo. And me and Rowan have never won the championship, so that’s at the forefront right now. Longterm, literally I wanna be able to support my wife and my two sons, and be happy. A world championship would definitely help that.
Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.