One of the latest WWE documentary series’, and the first Peacock original WWE series, WWE Evil, debuted in late March before WrestleMania 38. A concept that came from the mind of WWE megastar John Cena, who serves as producer and narrator of the series, Evil explores the psychology of some of WWE’s most high-profile villains, and how external and real-world factors shape these iconic wrestling antagonists. The series, which director Micah Brown initially feared could have fell victim to becoming a generic show, ultimately became one of the more unique WWE-focused shows in recent memory. Not only is it a fascinating concept, but it’s driven by hard-hitting human stories and intelligent context to enhance and refresh the storytelling.

WWE Evil not only received plaudits from fans and critics, but garnered strong ratings when the Roman Reigns episode (with little to no promotion) aired on the USA Network and drew 631, 000 viewers. Although time will tell when/if the second series of WWE Evil will come – the first original WWE Peacock series appears to have been a big hit with viewers. Therefore, we here at SteelChair Magazine sat down with the series’ director Micah Brown to talk all things WWE Evil for an exclusive two-part interview.

In part one of our interview, Micah Brown discusses his previous knowledge of professional wrestling, how he came aboard to direct Evil, working with John Cena, and finding relatable themes and emotions to tell these various stories. This, and so much more, is discussed in this insightful chat with the brilliant Micah Brown. Enjoy.

I’m always curious to know whether the people behind these projects are fans of wrestling or not, so would you classify yourself as a wrestling fan in some capacity?

“I would say I was a fan, in the terms of like, I played all the video games. I played like N64, but it was more like middle school-high school. Then I would casually keep up with the guys I knew from that era. The “Hollywood” Hogan’s, The Undertaker, and stuff like that. But as far as being a fan, I would say that’s not really a fan if you kind of lose touch for a number of years. But the reason I think they [Evil producers] brought me in was when I did the 30 for 30: Chuck & Tito, I wasn’t really a fan of the UFC. So for me, it was about how do you tell a story from a POV (point of view) that’s not going to be so inside baseball that the general public wouldn’t like it? But then you can kind of blend those two worlds. And so I think me not having any kind of attachment to it allowed me to step back and really go, “Okay, how do I make something that everybody can enjoy?” So what’s entertaining to me in this world will probably be entertaining to someone who’s getting exposure to it for the first time. So that’s kind of what my brand has been. Is dropping into these crazy worlds or subcultures and try to make diehards like it, but also have the general fan who knows nothing about it, be entertained by it too.”

How was WWE Evil presented to you? Did they have it all pre-planned and tell you, “This is what we want to do?” or was it presented as more of a vague idea of what they wanted to do?

“Yeah, so basically, how it worked was John Cena came up with the idea of exploring the evil characters, the psychology behind it, and how they kind of interacted with pop culture. And it was basically a logline at that point. Then WWE and Peacock came to Bunim Murray, which is a big production company that does Miz and Mrs. and a bunch of other things. They have strong UFC ties, and they said, “Hey, we want to bring in a 30 for 30 director” or somebody who’s done long form that can make this a premium documentary series that can help us crack the code on how to take this logline into something that can be a series and has multiple seasons. At that point, I was brought in, and we tried to figure out the format. Started trying to figure out how we would tell these stories and who the characters were going to be. What we were going to do to make them feel different, so it was not just the same thing over and over.

“We understood that people were going to watch the Sasha Banks episode, and then they may watch the “Hollywood” Hogan episode, and there may be some crossover on some things that you cover. But we wanted it to be that everyone is a little different from the next. So we set some parameters up on like, what is this series going to do that other series’ that currently exist within the WWE Universe don’t do? So the difficult thing was to make a distinction between the Biography series that they’re doing on A&E and ours. Some of the information we could talk about and some of the information we couldn’t.

“One of the rules we set up was, I said if we’re talking about the psychology of the character, we need to think about these [people] being method actors or method performers. And so, the only biographical information we were going to give them is something that directly relates back to their character. And so, if we’re going to go into that, we need to be able to see that come through in their evil persona. So those are some rules we started to put on it, and it got tricky, but then eventually it was like, how do we balance that? As with all WWE projects, what makes it difficult is, are you telling the story of the character or the performer? So one of the things we wanted to make an intentional chose on was, when you talk about Terry Bollea [Hulk Hogan], you say Terry. You even title him Terry. You title Mark [Calaway], Mark, instead of The Undertaker, which hadn’t really been done before, but we had to separate those two a little bit in order to really understand the psychology behind it in a different way than it had been done before.”

WWE Evil - Hulk Hogan

Did WWE have the eight superstars they wanted to be involved in the series, or was that also a talking point, deciding who would be featured?

“I mean, there were numerous conversations, and whenever you’re balancing celebrity talent, you’re like: “Can we get them? Who else do we get? How do they fit within the landscape of this?” We wanted to mix some legends with current people, female and male competitors – there’s a lot of different things that go at play. Ultimately WWE figures out who they want and who we can get in that rushed timeline. Also, you want to balance – you know if you’re trying to do multiple seasons of this, you don’t want to do all of the best classic people in season 1. So, I think the goal for them is to do multiple seasons, just like any series. So if you do that, you kind of want to spread those out too.”

I mean, you do come out with some heavy hitters.  From the legends side, you have guys like [Ric] Flair and Hogan, and then today, you have Roman, Sasha, and Randy. Premiere talent across the board.

“Yeah, and what was interesting for me to was, from my perspective, because I was more familiar with the classic guys, the legendary people, it was interesting for me to start getting into the Roman Reigns and the Sasha Banks’. Also, on the other side of it, to see how the fans have responded [to them] because, in my brain, I’m like these [other] people are like the Mount Rushmore of this. Then when you start to see Sasha Banks, Roman Reigns, and The Miz getting so much push, you’re kind of like, “Oh, whoa,” like I had no idea that they were in some ways at that level. So it just puts everything in perspective of how times are changing and how huge this universe, and the fandom in it is.”

I believe Roman says it at the beginning of his episode quite ruthlessly but truthfully, to be honest, he said, Hulk Hogan doesn’t work in 2022, I work in 2022. It evolves and changes, so I guess even for you, you got to see that evolution.

“Yeah, it was really a fun project to work on, especially from that, because all the things that you think you know, and all the stories frankly, that you think that you know, when you start hearing things from the different POV’s, and that’s one of the challenges, of many, of doing documentaries is someone can tell you a story, the other person tells you the story, and the truth is somewhere in the middle (laughs). So you’re always kind of like, “arghhhh.” How do you find the balance there? (Laughs)”

I think I read somewhere, documentaries are versions of truth. So you’ll never quite be 100% accurate.

“That’s probably 100% accurate.”

What was John Cena like to work with? Obviously he was the producer and narrator of the series as well. Also, a perfect middle man between Hollywood personalities and WWE.

“Yeah, he was awesome. I mean, I had never met him before. One, the idea, the concept was genius, so I think it was very clear and close to his heart, and the fact that he was willing to come up with the idea and then get WWE on board to kind of peel back the curtain, I think that says a lot about his influence. And a lot about how much he’s in tune with the WWE Universe and what people would want. For us, it was really just a couple of conversations about what he was looking for, and he was really hands-off as far as letting me be able to go and execute it. He just said: “Hey, I trust you to go do it, and I know you’re a quality filmmaker, and I don’t want to be in the way.” So in a lot of ways, that’s what you always hope for in a good leader, and that’s what you hope for from a good executive producer, and he was able to do that. And it sounds like we delivered on that expectation, so I’m really proud of it.”

Also, it’s a genius move for Cena to narrate the show, having the ultimate good guy narrate the series about the ultimate villains.

“Yeah, it is. It was really cool because one of the things that I appreciated about John and his sensibilities was, when we talked about how we wanted to use him as a narrator; there was some back and forth. Sometimes the network was like, “Well, you got John Cena, does he need to be a character? Like, is he playing John Cena, the wrestler?” Is it going to be that type of thing where he comes in and he says: “He beat everybody, well, not everybody (laughs).” So there was a lot of discussion about if we were going to put John over, even though he’s the narrator. And John was like, “No, I do not want to distract from the story that we are telling.”

“He [Cena] told us to pretend and write it as if he was just someone else. He could’ve been Morgan Freeman, he could have been anybody else. It was just his voice. So I think that was a great note, and it really spoke to me because I was like, thank God because, it could’ve got into this self-promotion mode. But he didn’t want that, and I think it speaks a lot about his intelligence. I think there are a lot of people that realize what a great performer he is, but when you talk to a storyteller that just gets it on the other side of things, it’s just really refreshing. And so, I think that was one of the notes that he made that was really impactful.”

John Cena

He certainly seems like a great guy, so it’s great to hear that what we see is what you got as well.

“Yeah, and a lot of these celebrities, and I’ve worked with a bunch of them, some of them can be very hands-on and screw up stuff because they have so much pride, they want to put their fingerprints on everything.”

A bit of ego?

“Yeah, so much ego and John was not that way at all. John was very much like, “Hey, this is the idea, and this is what I want out of it, and I trust you to go execute it.” He didn’t give any crazy notes. He didn’t do anything other than that, and luckily, we struck. We did it, and it struck a chord with him, and everybody was popping bottles. So it was what it was.”

One of the reservations I had was this series being a little corny or a bit of a generic documentary, but it was not.

“I had the same reservations. When I took the gig, it was the same reservations. I was like, are we really going to be able to do it and not have it feel like this propaganda piece for whatever person we’re doing, because that’s kind of what a lot of stuff has been in the past. So I think that, to WWE’s, Peacock’s, and Bunim Murray’s credit, they were all like this has to be different, and if they were going to do something premium, they were going to bring in premium filmmakers, editors, cinematographers, and they were going to peel back all of those boundaries and try to do something different than what they had done in the past. There is a place for that stuff, but there’s a place for this too. I really, really cannot speak highly enough about the people that we were able to collaborate with. They really understood that and wanted it to be different.”

And peel back you do. I mean, it felt this way to me, but each episode seemed to be driven by a certain theme. For example, The Miz’s tale was driven by respect. Randy Orton’s was finding himself. Was that a conscious effort on your part to have these episodes guided by themes?

“First off, thank you for saying that, because as a director it makes you feel so good that it lands for somebody. So for me, I’m like, “Oh, thank God.” But that was intentional because, for me, when you do a project, there is a version of the project that is the Wikipedia version of the project. That’s the easy story. That’s the easy spine. They’re a kid, they get into wrestling, and then they do this and that – that’s like the easiest part. But the hardest part is to get people to connect with it, and for me, it’s about what you really have to say, has to be some sort of a theme that all people can relate to. And ideally, your character grows in that theme. So it’s those themes for me that tend to bring out the human side. Even if it is a ton of wrestling, like in the Flair episode. It’s wall-to-wall wrestling, but the themes are what kind of give you the heart to a lot of it.

“As a filmmaker, when you’re doing a project and looking at something 200 times, it’s those themes, because if you can’t find something that resonates with you, then you’re going to be burnt out. So for me, I like to find something that makes it feel more important – like there’s something to say. Rather than, this guy became a wrestler, and then he got super famous because that to me is trivial. If you do trivial stuff, eventually, as a creative, you just want to punch yourself in the head. There are projects like that that happen, and those are commerce projects, and you just hope that you can do some art projects and find projects that have meaning. So in this series, one of the things we wanted to do was find what are we trying to say with each of these?”

Was it kind of refreshing for you to find this deep-rooted meaning behind the stories, especially with the current talent, who you were not so familiar with?

“It is, and not to get too artsy on it, but you think about these method actors and how they have to get into their character – it’s similar as a director. You have to explore yourself in different ways to be able to get into the headspace of your characters, and you have to be able to get into a place where you can empathise with them and understand whatever their trial was. In some cases, if they don’t have those struggles or trials, it’s your job to become almost like a therapist and help them discover those deeper meanings through an interview, or about themselves, and so, I think that’s kind of an art form in itself to be able to help people put these pieces together. When you step back as a third party and look at their life, and then you can kind of bring it to them and be like, did this, blah, blah, blah, and they’re like, “Whoa, I never really thought about it.”

“Sometimes you live over here, in the here and now, and you don’t really have the chance to step back. So that’s the fun part for me, is to not only explore internally and think, “What’s really stood out to me about this?” but then also to kind of look at some of these stories in the big picture sense and be like, what does this say about them, internally, externally and, the world around it, how did all these context things, whether from their childhood or from the world around them, got them to the place that they’re at? So if you’re looking at The Undertaker – you’re looking at, say Satanic Panic, which was a role that stuff in the ‘80s played in people buying into this and him getting so famous. We ended up not putting too much of that stuff in there, but it’s one of those contextual things of like, “Why did somebody get so famous at this time? Why are people so into this?” And it’s because of the world around it and the contexts always make stories stronger.”

That’s a brilliant element, the use of the world around the time period you’re discussing, such as the Cold War in the ‘80s or paralleling Flair’s life with that of a movie mafia don. It was so refreshing.

“Yeah, man, and it’s tricky, and some episodes are easier than others. Some episodes, like Hogan’s has all the layers that you would want because you have his personal life going, then you have the conflict with the WCW, then you have the contexts of the world around him, which is networks battling and the war stuff. So sometimes you have stories that have that stuff organically come into play. And some of them haven’t happened yet. Roman hasn’t really had that type of thing, and in some ways, Flair is even like one beat, and you’re trying to figure out what that is all about because he’s kind of the same guy as his character. There are a lot of moving parts to a lot of them, but I’m glad we were able to filter them out and figure out where it goes.”

Stay tuned for part 2 of this exclusive interview.

You can find out more and keep track of Micah Brown’s work on his website by clicking here.

All videos and images are courtesy of WWE and Peacock. 

By Humza Hussain

Humza Hussain is SteelChair Magazine's Interviews editor. He has been a lifelong professional wrestling fan and has conducted interviews with names such as DDP, Aleister Black, and Bayley. He also writes film news, reviews, and interviews!

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