August 2019

The Sky’s the Limit for WWE Superstar C.J. ‘Lana’ Perry

Author: Iain Denholm | Photographer: Krisztian Lonyai

Silver jacket by Shahar Avnet, Silver bodysuit by Ezgi Cinar, White mirror belt (stylist’s own)

Power, talent & determination. WWE Superstar C.J. “Lana” Perry has blended these and much more into a singular career—her work ethic and gritty determination nothing short of remarkable. Here, the American-born performer shares where this drive comes from and why it is so important for her to lead by example and prove that, if you are willing to work for it, then you really can do anything!

Iain Denholm: To WWE fans, you are ‘Lana the Ravishing Russian.’ How did you move into the WWE world?
C.J. Perry: I always loved watching it as a little girl, but I never thought that becoming a WWE Superstar and a pro-wrestler was attainable because I was a skinny ballerina. I just never thought I would be strong enough or tough enough. Then, in 2012, WWE had a huge ‘Divas’ search, and I was able to get a six-month tryout where they narrowed it down to 12 girls. They put us through a month’s camp, teaching us the basics, and I was one of the five they signed. I love storytelling, I love entertaining, and I have always been really athletic, so WWE is everything I always loved in one. It’s a dream.

lD: Was it difficult to step out from behind Lana and present as yourself in Total Divas?
CJP: In Total Divas, you have to be yourself and be willing to show your flaws and imperfections, and that can be challenging because the world is gonna judge you. In SmackDown Live, I was Lana, the Ravishing Russian. I spoke in an accent, and I was a villain—well, I still am a villain (laughs)—so if I wasn’t liked, it meant that I was doing a good job. However, when people don’t like you and judge you for who you are, that is a little more challenging, and it can be hurtful. But you have to be prepared; that’s the job—that’s what you are signing up for.

lD: You exude confidence, so it was reassuring when you talked about feeling that you don’t always fit in, and it really helped a lot of people.
CJP: Thank you! That really means a lot to me. I got an overwhelming response from people on Twitter saying that is exactly how they feel, so I say that we can be the misfits together. We can start our own little clan. I always hope that my own journey in trying to overcome my insecurities and learning from my mistakes and setbacks can help and encourage others. I think a lot of people look at me and think, oh you’re blonde, you’re pretty, you always fit in. But I was always a minority of one, and I have always felt like an outsider. That’s why I was really happy to be able to show that on Total Divas. I want people to know that they are not alone.

lD: You differ from the reality star stereotype in that you are obviously talented and have worked extremely hard to achieve success. Where does that determination come from?
CJP: Definitely a mix of my parents and my childhood. My parents are both very diligent, disciplined, hardworking people. My dad always taught me that the sky’s the limit for my dreams, that hard work leads to profit, and to never to give up. My mom always said that opportunities meet those who are prepared, so prepare yourself. I would definitely say growing up in the former Soviet Union also instilled a lot of discipline in me. Eastern Europeans are very disciplined and working hard is part of that culture. Making an A minus is a failure there (laughs). You pick a craft or a sport, and you train until you master it. At 10 years old, I was dancing ballet for 40 hours a week, seven days a week. Then in school, I was the only American and the first international student to graduate from the Latvian National Academy of Arts and Culture, and they made it hard. They would tell me that Americans are fake and don’t take things seriously, so I had to prove constantly that I was very serious, that I was disciplined, and that I was as good as everyone else and belonged there.

Black leather dress by Malan Breton

lD: It sounds like you are not easily held back by obstacles.
CJP: I would like to think so. When I was in college I found out I actually have a learning disability; I have dyslexia, so it took a lot of self-discipline for me, as a little girl, to find that resilience to keep reading slowly, even if it was just The Cat in the Hat—to keep on trying and not give up. I have always had to prove my doubters and naysayers wrong, and that has taught me resilience that I carry through entertainment, through WWE, through life in general. To me, obstacles are just a part of life. It’s like, okay, I have an obstacle! I’ll either build a bridge over it, dig a tunnel under it, or make a detour, but we will get to our destination—don’t you worry! (laughs). I hope to be able to encourage others to dream, you know, go for it. Don’t be afraid; chase your dream no matter what others say or think.

lD: I know that you grew up a fan of Star Wars and Princess Leia. What was it about Leia that appealed to you?
Oh, gosh. When I was really little, there weren’t a lot of roles where women were the leading hero, but Princess Leia was a badass! She was beautiful, she was cool, and she ran it. I loved that! She wasn’t just a pretty face; she wasn’t just a wife or just a girlfriend or just the eye candy. Don’t get me wrong. You can be those things, but you can also kick ass; you can make your dreams come true and be a mom and be a wife and run a company. You can be anything you set your mind to. And being a mother, bearing children … if we can bear children, we can do anything.

lD: As a woman in business, have you ever felt that there was a double standard?
CJP: Yeah, I remember in 2011, watching Captain America and asking my friend why all of these leading heroes are men. He said that no one was interested in a woman being a leading character, and that women couldn’t sell a movie. I got so mad (laughs), but thankfully these things are slowly changing. It was really cool to see Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman both do so well at the box office when people said that would never happen. And I think that it started with characters like Princess Leia. She was not to be messed with, and I think she was one of the first. Now, more women are saying, “We can do this,” and when we are given opportunities, we kick it out of the park. No matter if you are a girl, a boy or whatever race or sexual orientation, we all deserve opportunities. I am a big human rights activist.

lD: Absolutely. For young people, that inclusivity is so important to see, especially on social media.
CJP: Definitely. WWE reaches over a billion people on social media, and it’s crazy to think that so many people follow me and that I can influence others. I believe in working hard and also playing hard, and I like to show that on social media. I try to keep it real. I really love fashion and beauty, and I like to show that a lot on Instagram. So often, people paint this picture of perfection with all the apps and the edits, and that’s great; let’s make a flawless picture, but let’s also show reality as well. I love to dress up, put on makeup, and put different wigs on, but, in life, sometimes your wig might fly off, and I’m not afraid to show that. I think it is funny. Let’s show that we don’t always have perfect skin or maybe the wig is ungluing, and let’s laugh. Growing up, my brothers would always tell me, you’re only funny to laugh at. But now I have realized that if I am making people laugh and I’m laughing too, that’s all that matters.

lD: This year’s WrestleMania included a women’s match at the main event for the very first time. As a female WWE Superstar, you have played a key role in moving this forward. How does that make you feel?
CJP: It’s an incredible honor. I can’t even express how grateful I am to be a part of history. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to entertain and tell stories, but I would always tell my parents, I wanna make history. When I started in WWE in 2014, women only had three-minute matches, and I was one of the few to be given microphone time and be on promos. Women just weren’t given those opportunities, so to see how all of us women have worked so hard to push the limits in matches and in athleticism, and to push our character development in our promos and in our acting, is amazing. We have really shown that we belong, we deserve this, and we can deliver. To be a part of those moments and to be able to walk with these incredible women and to make history is such an honor. That’s what I have to say to all the little girls and all the little boys out there. You can do anything you set your mind to, and you can be a history maker.

Silver sculptured corset and cuff by Graham Cruz
Black latex panties by Kim West Latex

lD: You continue to diversify with your career. What influenced your upcoming comic book project Dark Country?
CJP: I have always been a big comic book fan, and I love that world of imagination and good vs. evil where magic comes to life. What I also love about comics is that I could read them when I was younger, because the art tells the story and there are not as many words for people who read a little slower, like myself. So, I’ve always been attached to comics in that way. This has been a dream and a long time coming, and then suddenly it was just the right time. I had the right idea and connected with the novelist Jason Starr, who has written comics for The Punisher and Deadpool. He’s incredible! I don’t wanna give too much away, but the two leading characters are derived from my husband Rusev and me, and we are doing something with this comic that I don’t think has ever been done before. It would be a dream for it to move into some kind of series on television or streaming or a film; that’s the end goal for sure.

lD: Finally, do you ever have those ‘pinch yourself’ moments where you realize how much you’ve achieved?
CJP: Gosh, I have so many but, recently at WrestleMania, it really caught me. I’m so grateful, because I get to go out there and compete and I also get to manage my husband as well. People dream of being in WrestleMania, but only a select few are given this opportunity to be WWE Superstars and perform in front of thousands of people. And here I am doing two performances as part of two acts in two competitions. I would definitely say that it’s a privilege and an honor to be able to do what I do. It’s really cool, and it reflects on who I am. It’s like yeah, you can be a wife and you can also have a career; you can be a wife and have a business. One day I’ll have children, and I’m still gonna be kicking ass and running my own business and maybe winning WWE championships—maybe winning Oscars. Who’s to say? The sky is the limit!

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