WWE 'SmackDown' Breakout Sonya Deville Wants to be the Next Batwoman
Viewers of Total Divas saw Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose pitching a storyline for themselves that ultimately never came to fruition. The setback didn't stop the Fire and Desire tag team from regularly crafting angles and hoping one would stick. Fast forward to today, and their perseverance has paid off, as the duo are embroiled in a heated feud on SmackDown.
“We probably pitched ideas every two weeks or so from then until now,” the MMA fighter-turned-WWE superstar says. “We just kept motivated about it. Everyone is going to have ups and downs. You can’t always be number one. We understand that. We are also relatively young in the business and very hungry and wanted to make something great happen. I think what came to fruition this year was meant to be.”
Deville, real name Daria Berenato, found her sweet spot in the process by cutting passionate promos and turning up the intensity in recent weeks. The out and proud 26-year-old was revealed to be behind a manipulative plan alongside Dolph Ziggler to keep Rose and Otis apart, leading to a build-up that will culminate this week on SmackDown with a mixed tag team match between the four.
Before the big showdown, TV Insider chatted with Deville about her onscreen evolution, serving as a mentor on the Quibi series Fight Like a Girl and why she would make the perfect new star of Batwoman.
Long-term stories are not guaranteed in WWE. Was there ever a concern that this one would be cut short?
Daria Berenato: We had faith in it. We worked with the writers a lot and were very passionate about what we came up with. I don’t think it was too much of a concern because when the fans are interested and invested, that’s number one. We want to entertain and interact. I think they are loving the story.
What was the moment for you where you knew you had something special?
There are a couple. Just the idea of working with Mandy and Otis together to begin with. When we saw them on screen together, the fans went crazy. Then the second moment was seeing the hurt in Sonya on TV four or five weeks ago on Smackdown when she told Mandy how she really felt. I think that was the moment where we thought this is something people can relate to. Everyone has a best friend and fights with their best friend. Working with Dolph, I don’t know if it was ever in the plan. But as soon as we began working together, I thought we really had something here. His experience and vibe and character just meshed well with Sonya.
With Dolph, he has kind of given you the floor when you’re cutting these promos. That is cool to see, as even his body movements and facial expressions complement what you’re saying.
He is such a pro. He doesn't’ have to say anything to make a statement. That’s what makes him such a good performer. I think that is why it works so well. He is so willing and able to help me progress as a performer.
During the May 8 episode of SmackDown, you had this really physical match with Mandy. How has it been working on the other side of the ring from one another?
I think I like beating her up more than teaming with her. It has been great. We learned a lot by tagging together. Now we can use it against each other, which is the cool part about fighting your best friend.
Your recent work on the mic has been one of the highlights of SmackDown, and doing these promos can’t be easy without a crowd. What do you attribute to your recent success?
Public speaking is nothing new to me. It has been a passion of mine since [I was] 11 or 12-years-old. I’ve been training with an acting coach for the past two years consistently. I’ve been asking for mic time. I’ve wanted to prove to everybody what I do in the ring is compatible [with] what I can do on the microphone. Timing is everything, and I’ve finally got my opportunity. I believed in myself and had faith in myself. I just needed to show everybody what I was capable of. I feel like this is just the beginning for Sonya. She has a lot more in there for people to see, and I’m excited.
Also, I spent a lot of time alone in this quarantine. I’m at my house. I love decompressing and being by myself and thinking. That’s when I feel the most creative. I kind of just channeled a lot of real-life stuff into what came out on TV. We are real-life best friends. She did come to my sister’s wedding with me. We did live together for years, so it’s really easy to have that authentic emotion when it’s someone [you have] a lot of history with.
You have a big mixed tag match coming up with you and Dolph vs. Mandy and Otis. What can fans expect to see?
I haven’t even scratched the surface with what Mandy deserves and will get. I’m more confident than I’ve ever been. I beat Mandy already. I have nothing to prove to her. She has to prove herself to me and why she deserves to be in the same ring as me.
You’re featured in the Quibi series Fight Like a Girl, where you work with Samantha Henson. She is looking to find the courage to come out to members of her family. What was it like to mentor someone who is in the same shoes you were once in?
It was one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on with WWE. That’s what makes what we do so much fun. I have a story and a journey and share that with someone who is going through something similar. Samanatha was incredible. She was a young woman who wasn’t out to half her family and was struggling with being open with herself and them. We helped her gain the confidence she had within her [and] get rid of the doubt. Training so hard and working out, you see, not only did she transform herself physically, but she had a new vibe of confidence that allowed her to feel good about who she was. It’s very similar to my journey in real life.
Are you still in touch with her and monitoring the progress?
We email back and forth weekly. She updates me and tags me in stuff on Instagram. We talk, and she is doing great. She has the same girlfriend and is living her new life. I just feel her energy because I remember being that. I remember when I first came out publicly on Tough Enough. My life from that moment to this moment has changed drastically. It has been uphill ever since, and I see the same for her starting now.
You’ve been campaigning on social media to fill the shoes of Batwoman after Ruby Rose announced her departure from The CW superhero series. Why do you feel you are right for the part?
When I was a girl growing up, I wouldn't play with Barbie dolls — I’d play with Max Steel dolls. I remember watching Superman and Batman and thinking, 'Why can’t there be more female superheroes in the spotlight?' You had Wonder Woman, but that wasn’t at the forefront like it is now. Ruby Rose being a member of the LGBTQ community and being Batwoman, I remember when I heard she got the role. I was so excited. I thought it was huge and inspiring. When I saw she stepped out, I was like, 'This is a no-brainer. I can do my own moves. I fit the role. We can also keep on the message you can be a woman. You can be gay. You can be a superhero.' I think it speaks for itself. It’s definitely a dream role. I’m going to continue my social media campaign. I like to speak things into the universe because you have to believe it for it to be possible.
With June's Pride Month parades canceled due to the coronavirus, what are you doing to mark the occasion?
It's a total bummer not to be in the parades like normal. I have a couple of things in the works that will definitely help with Pride Month. Some charitable organizations I’ve been talking to and can’t wait to announce. Stay tuned.
We saw you and other Total Divas cast members last season coming together at a South Florida pride parade. Any update on that show?
I would love to continue doing it. It was such a cool experience for me. It’s so weird to watch yourself back when you’re just being you and not a character. It’s a lot more nerve-wracking, but it’s interesting because you learn a lot of things about yourself. It helped me grow as a person, so I’d love to do it again.
Now that your character really has something to dig into, what are your initial goals moving forward on SmackDown?
I want to continue ruining Mandy Rose’s life. When I’m finished there, Sonya is going to go on to prove she is not only the best in the ring, but on the mic. She is the best all-around athlete. I don’t think anyone fights with the level of aggression or passion as Sonya does. She brings something unique to the division and will get that SmackDown women’s championship.
SmackDown, Fridays, 8/7c, Fox
Fight Like a Girl, now streaming, Quibi