Rumble Star Geraldine Viswanathan On Becoming A Role Model And How John Cena Got Her Into Wrestling [Interview]

I first learned about Geraldine Viswanathan through an underrated indie film called "Emo the Musical," but she shot into public consciousness in 2018 when she played the daughter of John Cena in the hit-comedy "Blockers." Ever since then, Viswanathan has been popping up in films like "The Package," "Hala," "Bad Education," "The Broken Hearts Gallery," the series "Miracle Workers," and will soon appear in the cinematic adaptation of the viral New York Times story, "Cat Person."

The Australian actress first crossed over into the world of voice-over with a guest spot on "BoJack Horseman," and now reunites with star Will Arnett as the duo become the greatest tag-team monster wrestling has ever seen in "Rumble." I sat down with Viswanathan (over Zoom, of course) to talk about becoming a role model, how to convey emotions through voice-over, and how John Cena got her into wrestling.

"It's Shakespeare, It's Improv, It's Theatrics"

Rumble's been pushed a bit with the pandemic and everything. So how are you feeling now that it's finally out and people can actually see it?

Yeah, I know. That's crazy. It's super exciting. I think it's an adjustment. I thought we would go to the theater and have a premiere and stuff, and so it feels a little quainter with this release, but I'm excited to watch it with my family on Christmas. It's a sweet way to end the year.

That sounds wonderful! I don't know about you, but I am a lifelong fan of professional wrestling, so someone like Winnie really spoke to me, so I'm curious, did you have any sort of connection to wrestling at all before taking on the role?

I mean, kind of, strangely I did. I worked with John Cena in my first movie ["Blockers"] and he was kind of my introduction to wrestling. I was like, "What is that?" And we talked about it, and hearing his perspective on it really changed my preconceptions of it. He was like, "It's Shakespeare, it's improv, it's theater, it's theatrics." And I was like, "Oh, well that I can get behind." So then in quarantine I started watching Youtube clips of it all, and it's so fun. So I've definitely gotten more involved in the world of wrestling because of the projects that I've been doing.

"She Just Makes It Happen"

Yeah, I was thinking about that as I was watching "Rumble" with having your dad's character, being somebody who's so intertwined in this world, and then John Cena's your dad in "Blockers," So it's a fun little coincidence. Did you channel any of that while working on this?

Yeah, I think there's a similar kind of energy. I think it's this sort of like, "Let's go coach!" thing. That whole determination, sort of like aggression–definitely my character from that movie to this, it kind of carried over a little bit.

And in this, Winnie is a bit of a go-getter and a bit of a leader. Do you relate to that or is this you having to step outside a little bit of your comfort zone?

I definitely can be pretty bossy. As a child, my parents would call me "Bossy Boots." I definitely have that in me and I like telling people what to do, so that wasn't a huge stretch. I think something I related to her was that she sets her mind, and she just makes it happen.

Winnie as well, I mean, she's also kind of dealing with trauma and unpacking some serious, serious stuff. How do you prepare for a role like that when it's voiceover?

I think it was cool to get to play those more emotional scenes, because I think the rest of it, you can be quite animated and big, and experiment with your voice and make silly sounds, but with those kinds of moments, it felt like, "Okay, I'm really, this is acting." I wanted to be genuine and really feel these feelings that she's going through. You just have to kind of trust that it gets across, and the animation does so much, I think. They just open your heart right up. So you can empathize with them very easily.

"It Was Such A Trip"

What was it like the first time seeing your voice come out of the character's mouth and the animation?

It was such a trip, it was so bizarre. It was so weird. And there is a bit of a disconnect because I am doing an American accent. So it's not totally my voice. It does feel like a movie voice version of my voice, but it's crazy. Me and my family are big on animation films, so it was very bizarre to hear and see that.

Do you have any animated heroes?

"Finding Nemo" is a big one and I love "Moana." I really like Moana, that's a good one. She's a cool character.

Yeah, she's pretty great.

All the Disney classics ...and why am I thinking of Esmeralda from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame?" That's really random...

She's great.

She's cool. I remember being really into her and Jasmine [from "Aladdin"] of course.

Working With The Legendary Will Arnett

So with the way that you prepare for voiceover versus acting, do you have to change your motivations for it or are you able to kind of prepare similarly?

I think I did adjust a little bit. I think you need to be really clear in your intentions with every line. I guess I should probably do that for onscreen stuff too, but I think I'm a little like, looser in normal live action stuff that I've done. With animation, you really need to get across a lot with just your voice, so [you have to be] very, very sure about what your objective is. It was a lot of Hamish being like, "Say it like this," just giving me the motivation of what I'm actually trying to say and do.

Were you able to interact and bounce off with your co-stars or was this a very individualized approach to voiceover?

Most of it was just me alone in the booth, but I did get to have one session with Will Arnett, which was a special little treat. I'm such a fan of his and I learned a lot from him because he's such a legend, so it was really cool to watch how he did it, because I didn't really know because it was my first thing. So it was a lot of learning on the job, but it was cool to get to kind of improv with him and, and really feel there's a back and forth in the scene rather than me just standing alone and saying the lines.

On Becoming a Role Model for Little Girls

I think the general public may know you for roles that are a bit more mature than something like "Rumble," so now you're about to develop an audience that is a lot younger than maybe what you're used to and they may look up to you. How does that feel?

Aw, that's really sweet. I haven't really considered that, but I think that's really wonderful and something that I'm very, "Let's go!" about. I'm not like, "I'm not a role model". I'm like, "No, I'd love to!" I think especially little Brown girls, but all girls. I do feel it is sort of my life's mission to empower girls and women. So that feels awesome.

What do you hope people take away from "Rumble" after they've seen it?

I hope that they just have a really fun time and feel like they're in the stadium watching this underdog's story. And I think that the message of taking what's unique to you and turning that into your strength and bringing that to whatever challenge you have. I think that's a really cool message in the movie.

"Rumble" is currently streaming exclusively on Paramount+