Paul Heyman finds himself at the start of a new challenge in his career after being relieved of his duties as executive director of “Monday Night Raw.” The 55-year-old is now the on-screen “special counsel to the tribal chief,” WWE Universal champion Roman Reigns, who is in the infancy of a long-awaited heel turn. Before standing in Reigns’ corner for his match with Braun Strowman on the season premiere of “Friday Night SmackDown” (Friday, 8.p.m, Fox), Heyman took time for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski.
(Edited for length and clarity)
Q: Is this the version of Roman Reigns he was meant to play?
A: Yes. This version of Roman Reigns needed some experience, adversity, seasoning and age. We were doing the interview on last week’s SmackDown that Roman did behind this fantastic power desk and he delivered an interview regarding Jey Uso and a lesson that Roman learned from his father, who was a WWE Hall of Famer Sika of the Wild Samoans. And I said to Roman, do you realize you could not have presented this facet of your personality even two-and-a-half, three years ago. You were still too young.
Now when you look at him and you look at his face, now you see a more mature persona. You can sign off on the fact that he has a decade of experience on a day-to-day basis with enormous main event battles over the past 10 years.
Q: There were thoughts he should have turned heel a long time ago. But do you think this wouldn’t have worked as well if it had been done at an earlier time?
A: I find it very funny how everyone is so quick to jump the gun that we are presenting this purely villainous version of Roman Reigns. The reason why I say that is, we haven’t even scratched the surface of the depths this character can go to. We’re not even out of the gate yet when it comes to that. There’s a long narrative and a fascinating journey ahead. All we’ve done is taken away the kissing babies and smiling into the camera and trying to put smiles on people’s faces of his personality, which a lot of people had trouble buying into from the get-go.
That’s always the responsibility and the obligation of the top star. I think it’s very accurate to say that what you’re seeing now is what they like to call a shoot because you’re seeing the weight and the pressure and the enormous burden that a top star, whether it be in WWE, the NBA, the NHL, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the No. 1 rated series on television, the biggest box office attraction in movies, the pressure and the weight and the burden is enormous on these people. And what you’re seeing is a characterization of someone living with that burden on a moment-by-moment basis and what it can do to you and the addiction that a perfectionist like Roman Reigns will develop over staying at that level above everyone else.
Q: How did you get brought into the creative with Roman? Had it been something he pitched to you and had it been something you guys talked about years ago?
A: This has been in the works for several years and the time was never right to pull the trigger. This was a classic case of all the stars aligning, all the boxes being checked and we all felt this was the perfect time to pull the trigger on something we had thought about for many years.
Q: How did you believe the character Paul Heyman standing next to Roman Reigns needed to be different from the one we saw standing next to Brock Lesnar?
A: Brock Lesnar and I first appeared on WWE television together in 2002. I was this “legendary manager” that had this enormous body of work behind me and Lesnar was the next big thing in this industry, an NCAA Division I heavyweight champion. So I mentored him. I was this rabbi. I showed him the path to the top. It’s a completely different dynamic with Roman Reigns because he has been on top for eight years, four WrestleMania main events. He doesn’t need someone to help him with his trajectory to the top. My role is to keep him on top.
Q: Braun is someone Roman has fought before and we’ve seen a lot of matches between him and the old Roman Reigns. Is this a good opponent for him to be able to show how different he is because we’ve seen what a match looks like between him and the previous iteration Roman?
A: The best example I can give you about Roman Reigns is this: Watch any legend in their first year, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter. And then watch them when they hit their prime. Roman Reigns just entered his prime and anything you’ve seen before this year’s SummerSlam with Roman Reigns is like watching Tom Brady or Michael Jordan or Derek Jeter as a rookie. You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Q: Can we expect any more changes with Roman aesthetically with his look or his music?
A: We are constantly on a day-by-day basis evaluation of the next update in the presentation that we will offer the WWE Universe and that’s for both of us. It’s a constant evolution now with Roman Reigns. So what you see, seven days from now will be much different than what you saw seven days ago, let alone what you’re gonna see seven weeks from now, let alone where we are going to be seven months from now. We have a long-ranging plan with week by week changes to how this character is presented and perceived.
Q: As someone who has known Roman’s family and knew him way before this, what’s it been like watching him and Jey work together and a very emotional family story on television?
A: Fascinating. This hits very close to home for a lot of people. If you look back many, many years. When Afa and Sika were the top tag team in the entire industry, they fed many members of their family. When Yokozuna was on top of the industry, he fed many members of the family. When The Rock was on top of the industry, he took care and employed and fed many members of the family. Roman Reigns said it on television, the family needs him to be at the head of the table because he feeds many generations of that family, both immediate and extended. So this is truly a look at the dynamic of a very tight-knit family and who is put at the head of the table made the decisions that benefit all branches of the family and all generations at the same time.
Q: You mentioned The Rock. Do you think a mega-heel Roman Reigns might be something to draw Rock back to WWE, especially when we are pulling family ties into this story?
A: Right now there is no one in this industry that is on Roman Reigns’ level and The Rock recognizes it or he would never have been the first person to float the idea (of a match). The Rock floated this idea. Roman Reigns didn’t even have to mention The Rock’s name.
Q: So you guess you think it could happen?
A: It’s clear that the Rock wants it to happen. And The Rock is not the only one, I might add. There’s a line. There is a list of phone calls for Vince McMahon to return of high-profile, WrestleMania, main-event legends that are just aching to get the rub from Roman Reigns at this moment.
Q: Triple H has recently said that he thinks WWE has a big future rivalry brewing with Roman and Drew McIntyre and compared it to a Stone Cold-and-The Rock level down the road. Do you believe that could be the case?
A: I would hope that the box office that could be offered by Roman Reigns versus Drew McIntyre would make Austin versus The Rock pale by comparison.
Q: What do you think Brock Lesnar will do next? A return to wrestling? MMA?
A: If you want to know what Brock Lesnar is going to do next, go by this philosophy: Brock Lesnar does whatever Brock Lesnar wants to do.
Q: How much do you think it’s dependent upon what happens with the pandemic? Brock lives in Canada, he’d currently be subject to quarantine if he left for the US and came back.
A: Brock Lesnar is a dual citizen and is not only allowed to both countries, but is welcome in both countries, except by people that he trains with because those poor bastards catch a beating.
Q: What do you feel your biggest accomplishment as Raw executive director was?
A: To be the Raw executive director, you have to be in the absolute highest level of the inner sanctum of WWE. There is an expectation of confidentiality or secrecy even that I believe goes with that job and I refused then and still believe in the refusal to violate that part of the responsibility of that position.
That being said, my favorite part of being the Raw executive director happened after my time as Raw executive director when Vince McMahon, that chairman of the board, on a quarterly investors call, was asked about Paul Heyman no longer being the Raw executive director and the only comment Vince had was how much he liked the creativity I brought to the job. When someone has been replayed from an executive position that high up in the company and the chairman of the board has nothing but praise, it speaks to the level of satisfaction he had with the job that I had done in an overall sense … and I mean that very sincerely by the way.
In a general sense, my favorite part of the job was doing the job. I love working with talent and I love developing talent. I always did. Loved developing talent in an unofficial capacity in WCW, certainly loved it in ECW and built my reputation on it. Working with Brock Lesnar or Ronda Rousey and developing them in this industry and as the Raw executive director, it was a crucial part of my job, a crucial component of my job to develop talent and I loved every single moment of it.
Q: Braun is a very different opponent than a Jey Uso is. What does the audience need to see from Roman on Friday?
A: Well everything that Roman Reigns has done since he return at SummerSlam has been new, unique and different. And our gameplan walking into the season premiere of SmackDown this Friday is to breakout something, new unique and different again Braun Strowman.