She was touted as the most promising star to come out of WWE, but by 2017 Paige was depressed and suicidal.
After failing drug tests, a leaked sex tape and being forced to end her career in the ring from fear of being paralysed, Paige’s downward spiral led her to face the horrors of stress-induced anorexia.
“When you hit rock bottom and you know what it feels like, you never want to go back down to that hole,” says Paige during a conference call.
“I failed a drug test and the [sex] tape released and it broke my heart. I was cyber bullied. It was a really terrible situation and I remember being so depressed that I just stopped eating and my hair starting falling out...”
Paige, whose real name is Saraya-Jade Bevis, credits cutting out toxic people from her life, which ultimately rescued her from the abyss. That and a little help from a certain WWE icon turned Hollywood juggernaut — Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
The 26-year-old’s life story is now a subject of a movie, ‘Fighting With My Family’, produced by Johnson and earning solid reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. The film chronicles the story of a wrestling family — headed by father Patrick ‘Rowdy Ricky Knight’ Bevis and mother Julia ‘Sweet Saraya’ Bevis — who find their world turned upside down when Paige enters the World Wrestling Entertainment ring, while her brother Zak ‘Zodiac’ Bevis gets left behind.
Ahead of the film’s UAE release, we spoke to Paige about the film, collaborating with The Rock and what the future has in store for her.
How 'The Rock' got involved with the film
“He’s the one who told me about the movie being made,” recalls Paige. “I was at WrestleMania 2014 when I got a text on my phone saying, ‘Hey it’s DJ, if you have time I want to meet you at some point.’ And I was looking at the text thinking, ‘DJ, who’s that?’”
It was WWE star Dean Malenko who informed Paige that was The Rock’s nickname, and her response: “Holy crap!”
“Of course, I called him back and he goes ‘Hey, I am in England, shooting ‘Fast and the Furious’ and I stumbled across your family’s documentary [‘The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family’, 2012], and I think it’s very beautiful. I love your family and I love the story and it’s very relatable to my family too. We are going to make a movie on it’,” she went on.
Paige admits she was bawling by the time the conversation ended, with Johnson leaving her a final message before he hung up. “He said: ‘Tomorrow you are going to be debuting and you will win the [WWE] Divas championship’.”
Paige took on Divas Champion AJ Lee the following day and won, making her the youngest champion in history at the age of 21, the first Diva to win the title in her debut match and the only woman to hold both Divas and NXT Women’s Championships at the same time.
Watching her life story on the big screen
While Sundance is perhaps where Paige’s film was seen by hundreds, including John Krasinkski and Emily Blunt, the former WWE star admits that was the third time she saw the film on the big screen — although Paige’s first viewing with the cast and crew.
“At Sundance, I saw the film with Florence sitting right next to me and Dwayne was sitting there as well. [I remember] Florence kept sinking further and further into her seat and kept looking me, saying, ‘Am I doing this okay? It’s weird playing someone who is still alive,’” laughs Paige.
Although, watching the film for the very first time back in 2017, when Paige was battling her demons and struggling through physical rehab after sustaining multiple neck injuries, the story unfolding was no laughing matter.
“It was October 2017, and the movie was nearly done, it just needed some tiny tweaks. So, [writer-director] Stephen Merchant came to me at a time when I was in rehab for my neck. He left me along to watch the film and I was just sitting there crying my eyes out,” says Paige. “It was hard for me to get through the movie. It was so emotional and so surreal that I just couldn’t concentrate.
“So I watched it a couple of months ago again to concentrate on it but I was still crying so much. The whole cast was so well picked. My family is captured perfectly.”
Meeting Florence Pugh, the actress who plays Paige in the film
“We didn’t meet each other at all before the movie,” Paige says. “During the course of the movie, she would text and call me all the time and we became really good friends.”
“I didn’t want to give her too much and she didn’t take too much because she wanted to portray someone, not imitate someone. So glad we did it that way because she has done a wonderful job and she is going to be such a big star.”
Growing up in a family of wrestlers
“To be honest, it was normal for us,” says Paige. “[Brother] Zak and I were surrounded by wrestlers our entire life. Everyone thought it was a peculiar thing and it was kind of weird, but we loved wrestling and we didn’t care what people thought.”
Being selected for WWE while her brother Zak didn’t make the cut
“We are best friends. Yes, there were a few months when I was selected and he was a little disappointed but it wasn’t the fact that he was jealous of me in any way. It was more out of frustration,” reveals Paige.
“This movie is as much about him as it is about me. Your success isn’t measured by how famous you are and how many Instagram followers you have, or how many cameras are pointed at your face,” she further adds.
“Success should be any dream that you have or any goal that you have reached. He has a family with two kids. He wanted to help my dad in his company and now he runs the thing and he teaches kids how to wrestle.”
Making a mark in WWE, a sport dominated by male wrestlers
Paige burst on to the scene in WWE back in 2014, paving the way for many female wrestlers to make their mark in the ring, without being labelled as ‘divas’.
The whole point of being a WWE superstar is for you to stand out. You don’t want to be a carbon copy of someone else, because then you’re just a cookie cutter.
“It was never WWE holding the women back,” stresses Paige. “It was the fans not taking them seriously. They wanted to see more of the male characters many years ago. It was a male dominated sport.
“When I first started, there were only five women there. It was a struggle but WWE just believed in us. When I got into the ring, I wanted to prove to the fans that girls were capable of having good matches and sometimes, even better. That was kind of my mission from the get go. Now there’s obviously a revolution.”
In March 2017, various sex tapes and photos of Bevis were leaked online. Bevis addressed the leaks on Twitter at the time, writing: “Personal and private photos of mine were stolen and unfortunately they were shared publicly without my consent.” She later stated that the leaks caused her to be suicidal and she suffered from stress-induced anorexia and had to be hospitalised.
Then, one day, Paige was approached by a young fan at a grocery store in Texas, who called her the ‘most beautiful and most successful woman in the world’.
“It just changed me because it made me stronger. It made me take out the toxic people and things out of my life and now I just look at it way more positively,” admits Paige. “I am very open about it now. I made a mistake and I can share it with people now… so I can help other people with my mistakes.”
Learning experience from Johnson
“His advice to me was, stay humble if you want to work with everyone, and hungry so you always set goals and don’t become complacent,” shares Paige. “He has branded himself so correctly. He’s obviously a huge star in WWE and it helps when you are branching out into other stuff.
“Wrestling doesn’t stay forever. You have to always keep in mind, ‘what am I going to do afterwards’.”
The road ahead
“Therapy really helped me in my journey and now I am very excited to be on a positive path. I can’t do the wrestling side anymore, so acting is a possibility,” says Paige.
“My future target is to obviously keep working in WWE on screen or behind the scenes. In future, I would like to start going into movies, acting, just be the next Dwayne in that aspect.”
She has also launched a clothing and make-up line. Ask her to describe it and she says: “My clothing line is like what the movie says, preaching you to be yourself always. It’s okay to be different. I have a make-up line I am really excited will be doing more stuff.
Advice for future WWE stars
“Stay humble and hungry and remain patient because it doesn’t happen overnight,” she says.
Don’t miss it!
‘Fighting With My Family’ is out in the UAE on February 21.