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John Cena is expanding his relationship with Nickelodeon.
The TV network announced Thursday that the WWE superstar, who hosted the Kids’ Choice Awards last year, has decided to return and emcee the slime-filled ceremony for a second consecutive year, on March 24. In addition, Cena has been cast in Nickelodeon’s upcoming reboot Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, voicing the series’ newest dastardly villain, Baron Draxum, in a recurring role. (He previously voiced the titular character in the feature film Ferdinand.)
And finally, Cena is venturing into a new area: producing. He’s behind Nick’s upcoming reality competition series Keep It Spotless as an executive producer; in it, teams of kids go head-to-head in various paint-filled and physically demanding challenges, with the mandate to stay as clean as possible. Both Keep It Spotless and Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are slated to premiere later this year.
Cena spoke to EW to discuss his new partnerships with Nickelodeon and the direction he’s headed in the world of entertainment. In our interview, which you can read below, he explained why hosting the Kids’ Choice Awards reminds him of WWE, why he was drawn to the TMNT reboot, and what went into his first-ever producing gig.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you sum up your first experience hosting the Kids’ Choice Awards?
JOHN CENA: I love the Kids’ Choice Awards, having been part of many of them before even hosting. The audience and the environment is very similar to a WWE audience, and the show is built for the kids. Not only are the kids in the live audience, but it’s the audience in the home as well. I think it’s the only one of its kind in that format: Nickelodeon goes above and beyond to not only produce a great show that translates well to television, but kids have so much fun. They’re empowered to just let loose and go crazy. The show is just that: It’s crazy with stuff you don’t necessarily see at your typical awards show, and I just really love that environment.
Is that kind of experience what led you to develop Keep It Spotless for the network?
It’s funny you ask me because the Kids’ Choice Awards is literally all about getting messy, and seeing how children react to that, the audience just eats it up. This show kind of came out of that thought process. It’s really a fun show and it’s done extremely well and gives kids a chance to get a little bit of cash at the end, but at the same time, they go through this unbelievable universe where I think every kid playing Keep It Spotless is going to want to go back to play, and every kid watching at home on Nickelodeon is going to ask, “How can I play that?” Just knowing what I’ve seen of these kids, it’s going to be fantastic.
It’s your first major producing credit, correct?
Yeah. Honestly, after talking with the folks at Nickelodeon, I’m very passionate about this show, and they hooked onto that passion. We’ve both put together what I feel is going to be a wonderful experience, for everyone who watches on Nickelodeon.
Were there any logistical challenges in working on this, getting into producing for the first time?
It’s been a slow process. I’ve been a part of weekly episodic television for 15 years now and then movies come along and other TV shows come along. The more diverse that I’ve been able to be — hosting American Grit or doing the Today show or doing Kids’ Choice or being more involved with Nickelodeon — I think more ideas come from that. Especially, in this case, when I got to know the brand of the network more and more. That’s where the inspiration comes from. And you throw a bunch of ideas against the wall, and one resonates with folks and you’re off to the races making television.
Transitioning to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, what was it like playing an original villain in this series?
It was awesome, man. I kind of dropped my voice down a bit [mimics dropping voice], but it was really cool to get into another character and doing some VO work, I’ve been able to explore the dynamics of what merely a voice can do. It’s pretty funky and great. I was right on the cusp of the age who truly enjoyed the first incarnation of Ninja Turtles — I played the heck out of the Ninja Turtles video game for NES back in the day — so it’s really cool to not lose that childhood imagination and be able to put it in something I can relate to. Oftentimes when you become older, the culture kind of passes you by in what young kids think is fun and cool; as an older person, you’re like, “I don’t get that.” This is one thing that I totally get and was honored to be in — kind of like the new Shredder. It’s really an honor.
So it sounds like you’re a big fan of the franchise.
Yeah, and it’s cool that Nickelodeon’s bringing it back. I also have a 4-year-old niece who is obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I think she’s going to have so much fun when she sees the new show.
What is it about youth programming that really appeals to you and has convinced you to work more heavily in it?
I’ve been performing for kids for a long time, and WWE is just a wonderful environment: I can’t speak highly enough of it, because not only do you perform for the audience at home, but that fanatical audience is in the arena with you. You can see their faces every night and you can feel the effect that you have on them. We have everyone walking through our turnstiles, every age, every race, every religion — everyone. But there are a lot of kids, and you can directly see the honest effect you have on children. I guess it’s because I’m so excited by that. I always say when I’m in the ring, it’s the child’s reaction that’s honest and pure. If they don’t like something, then that person is bad; if they do like something, then that person is good. It’s really easy to mine, and it makes it exciting. Something in that creative process about making a show for kids and putting your mind in that space: It’s a lot simpler, it’s more fun, it’s more exciting.
The broader climate feels so divisive and intense right now, I think adults and kids alike are looking for a little fun, too.
That’s the thing. I don’t want to say kids aren’t bogged down with those problems, but — well they’re not. They’re worried about being kids. That’s fun. When kids have fun, there’s no denying that experience. Trying to come up with ideas that recreate that experience is the coolest thing.
As you continue to branch into new areas, is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to do?
It’s so cliché, but one opportunity at a time. Would I have told you that I was going to be not only hosting but coming back to host another Kids’ Choice Awards, and being a voice in the iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, or producing a show on Nickelodeon? None of these things I would have told you, “This is the plan to do it!” But like I said, once you release that energy and things evolve, when you realize “This is good and I’d like to be a part of it,” you begin to become passionate about it and then you push it. I don’t know what those things are, but I’ll know them when I see them. Who knows? I may get another idea at the Kids’ Choice Awards this year.