WWE Legend Mark Calaway on Making 'Undertaker: The Last Ride'
The proverbial cloak of the greatest character in WWE history is pulled back for Undertaker: The Last Ride. Mark Calaway, the man behind the iconic macabre figure, granted unprecedented access into his personal life and career through this captivating five-part WWE Network series.
Cameras followed the legendary performer over the course of three years as the respected veteran comes to grips with a sobering reality. His final chapter as an in-ring performer.
Ahead of the concluding two chapters of the limited series, we sat down with the 55-year-old for a rare conversation.
Your wife [and former WWE Divas champion] Michelle McCool really helps paint the portrait of who you are at home when you’re with your family. What was it like hearing her feelings in this environment?
Mark Calaway: It’s really special. I know the relationship I have with Michelle, but we really don’t talk in-depth like that in the way the doc pulls out of us. I always downplay usually how I feel physically because I don’t want her to worry. She is a worrier by nature.
Then you have the boss Vince McMahon, who finds it hard to put your bond into words when asked by producers.
With Vince our relationship has far exceeded the boss-employee relationship. I still work for him, but he is a guy who is on the shortlist of those I consider dear friends. It was a little emotional for me to watch him not be able to put into words our relationship because he always has an answer for everything. To see him not able to answer the question, it was emotional for me to watch that. I’m not an overly emotional person, but it’s nice to know people have such strong feelings for you when you know how you feel about them. It was a strong moment seeing Vince like that for sure.
You present such a rare vulnerability throughout the series. Was there ever a point through the filming process where you had second thoughts about moving forward?
It was tougher in the beginning because I had to basically break some of my old habits. I have been so closed off and so protective not only of my character and Mark Calaway. I was protective of the business. So, I had to fight all the natural urges to keep people at arm’s length. There is no way to describe it. There were times early on where the crew would be following me around and the crew would be there. I would forget they were there and snap at them like, “Why are you guys filming me?”
Then I had to remember that they’re supposed to. It has gotten easier as we’ve gone along. I wouldn’t call it cathartic, but it has been useful to me in the sense of putting my own career into perspective and my relationships with people. It has been very helpful to me. I wouldn’t say I take things for granted, but this is a reminder how important people are to me.
For so long you were committed to being The Undertaker and, until now, haven’t been able to really lend your viewpoint. Do you feel a certain weight lifted off your shoulders that after all this time, you have the chance to tell your side?
It has given me that opportunity to express what I was thinking. Until this came out, people only had their imagination to try to figure out what I was going through. For example, in episode four coming up, the look on my face after the match with [Bill] Goldberg in Saudi Arabia at Super ShowDown. At the time before the doc came out it was, “Undertaker was so pissed at Goldberg.” Or the comments like “This was botched. This was not done right.” It has allowed me in those kinds of occasions to really give you what I was really feeling in that moment where in the past you can only speculate.
Or you had to look on the internet to see what some internet “expert” thinks and their analysis of what I’m thinking. It has been nice to be able to give my thoughts on things in different parts and things that have happened in my career. I think there has been a lot of light shined on these things. Obviously, you get a perspective of how I operate. It has been pretty cool to be able to relay my thoughts and feelings on things that have happened in recent years.
Something you allude to in the upcoming episode is how you’ve turned down business opportunities over the years because it conflicted with The Undertaker character. Was there one in particular that you really wish you would have taken?
Not really because everything got shut down early on. I made it known. I did an episode for Poltergeist The Legacy, a sci-fi show years ago. The character wasn’t far off from The Undertaker. I actually did that show around the time where it was so similar to what The Undertaker was. There were times I was offered things where I go, “Look, I can’t go and do this and then come back and be this guy.” The office would come to me with an opportunity to read for some part, and I’d go, “No. I’m not interested.”
I had already made the decision I wasn’t going to do anything like that. It wasn’t a big thing to me. I know where I wanted to be. I didn’t have aspirations at the time of being a crossover movie star. It was not where my motivation was. I was The Undertaker. I was in WWE. That was my passion and where I put all my time and energy. I don’t have any regrets.
What does The Undertaker watch or binge at home?
[Laughs] I don’t watch a lot of TV. In a normal situation I will watch a lot of sports. I’ll watch boxing, UFC, pro and college football. Every once in a while I’ll come across a show that I’ll enjoy and watch. I watched Dexter back in the day. Also, I watched Sons of Anarchy. I’ve been liking a show coming back for more episodes in Yellowstone. But episodic TV, there is not a whole lot I can stay dialed into. Every once in a while though I’ll come across something pretty good.
Last year at Extreme Rules you teamed with Roman Reigns to face Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre where you came back strong after a few match misfires. Many fans were particularly excited about your work with Drew. What do your thoughts on seeing him reach the top of the mountain as WWE champion?
I’m really proud of Drew. He earned it. He came in with a lot of fanfare, and it didn’t quite work out for him. He has been one of the guys from day one who has come to me and picked my mind on different things and asked me my opinion on a lot of things. He is actually someone who has listened and tried to apply some of the stuff that I’ve given him.
So I’m really happy for Drew. Sometimes it takes a while to figure things out. For a lot of guys, you have to taste a little bit of failure and regroup and find out how important all this is to you. He did that. He left and worked and came back. His confidence is so much better now than it was. He always had the tools. A lot of times it takes a little longer to put the whole package together. I think he is really starting to do that now.
Is there anything that you wanted to do with The Undertaker character that you never got the opportunity to pursue?
It has always been a collaboration. Once Vince had my trust, he kind of let me take this character and tweak it. When I turned into the “American Badass,” those were big chances I took because I felt the character needed it. The character needed a breath of fresh air. I feel like I took this character very seriously and didn’t it take anywhere I missed or wish I would have done. I think I’ve taken this character full circle from Mark Calaway to The Undertaker, turning it into the “American Badass,” turning it into “The Deadman,” and back into The Undertaker and Mark Calaway. It’s full circle where I like where we’re at right now.
The series really is a chance to celebrate your career. Another way is when you go into the WWE Hall of Fame. Have you given thought to who you would want to induct you?
I have an idea. I’m going to keep it to myself at this point. I don’t think I have to make a decision any time soon. I don’t want to give that away because I don’t want him to come up with an excuse not to do it.
As we approach the final two episodes, what do you want people to walk away with in regards to yourself and The Undertaker?
I want people to know how important it has been to me to be The Undertaker. Being The Undertaker and being that character that people year in and year out can count on. How important it was for me to be there. The things that these last years have shown is how far I would go and what I would put my body through to make it to WrestleMania or whatever shows I was booked on. I want people to really understand this was more than a job for me.
It was a passion. It was something I enjoyed doing and a responsibility I felt to my industry and our audience. Hopefully, they realize no matter what shape or condition or how bad I felt, I never just phoned it in. I always gave the best I could give. I don’t take our audience or their importance for granted.
How much of an impact has The Last Ride had on the decision-making of your career moving forward?
We just last week put the finishing touches on the last episode. I’m watching them like everyone else does week-to-week. I've got a lot of different perspectives putting this together. I have a better idea of where I’m at and how I want to leave.
Hopefully, we haven't seen the last of you in the ring. I'm not ready.
You never say never.
Undertaker: The Last Ride: Chapter Four, Premiere, Sunday, June 14, 10 am/9c, WWE Network