Over the Top Rope

Rock Riddle's
Wrestling Revue

by Rock Riddle, the Original "Mr. Wonderful" of Professional Wrestling

Initial Publication Date:   May 3, 2007

Click on any of the smaller photos to enlarge

It was the early 1980s.  Professor Toru Tanaka had been a major internationally known professional wrestler for over a dozen years.  He had won virtually every major title that existed.  He had lived his dreams and it had been a wonderful life.  The injuries had taken their toll, however, and it was time for him to make a transition.  He asked me if I could help him break into the acting business.  He wanted to do movies and television roles.  I had reduced my personal wrestling schedule substantially and had founded a Hollywood-based production company and “marketing machine” for professionals in the entertainment industry.  I was happy to be able to help my longtime friend and fellow wrestler Toru Tanaka.  I created a résumé and marketing materials for him.  My organization, APS, had marketing minimums for each of our clients.  One of those was to deliver the actor’s photo and resume to at least fifty active film and television producers per week.  We did that for Tanaka, with surprisingly good results.  Although he had never acted before, producers loved his look and they knew we would not submit someone to them who would not be a credit to their project.

In last week’s column, I described Tanaka’s first audition.  He asked me to join him for the meeting.  It was very interesting to have two living legends in the room – wrestling legend Toru Tanaka and film-producer legend Frank Capra, Jr.  When director Steve Carver asked whether I was Tanaka’s manager, Tanaka replied, “No, he’s my bodyguard.”  The director didn’t know it was a joke until Tanaka and I could no longer hold back our laughter.  Here was a tenth-degree martial arts grand master, weighing a very solid 325 pounds, telling the producer, director, and casting directors that I, weighing a hundred pounds less, was Tanaka’s bodyguard.  It was an event to remember.  If you missed last week’s column you can read it, along with over sixty others, on our HollywoodSuccess.com website.  Just click the “Wrestling Revue” link.

They liked Tanaka and were considering him for a fairly large role in the upcoming feature film “An Eye for an Eye.”  The film would star Chuck Norris.  Several additional "name" actors were already confirmed for the project.  I talked with the producer and director privately.  “We like Tanaka,” they said, “but the part was written for someone bigger.  Tanaka is big, but we were looking for someone about a foot taller.”  “Well, we can certainly put Tanaka on platform-type shoes, and that would give you an extra five or six inches,” I suggested.  There was no verbal response.  I hesitated for a moment before I continued, “Are you telling me that you want Andre the Giant?  Andre is about seven foot five and weighs over five hundred pounds.”  “Yes, that’s more what I think we had in mind – although we are still interested in Toru,” director Steve Carver said.  Reading between the lines, I think Steve was actually saying, “We’d like to go with a really big guy like Andre but I don’t want Tanaka to be mad at us if we don’t choose him for the role.”

“I know Andre very well.  He is a friend of mine also,” I said.  “If you want Andre, I can get him.  But,” I cautioned, “he is going to be very expensive and you’re going to have to work around his schedule.”  They asked, “How expensive?”  “Well,” I responded, “I’ll have to check with him and with the wrestling promotion that currently has him under contract, but suffice it to say that he will definitely take a chunk out of your budget.”  The producer and the director looked at each other.  The director asked if I could get back to them with actual figures.  “I will do that if you really want me to pursue Andre for you, but I have to ask you a question first.”  With a serious look of concern on my face, I looked them directly in the eyes and asked, “Is this meant to be a comedy?”  I paused before I continued, “Or, is it supposed to be serious?”  I knew the answer and neither of them said anything.  “Because, if it’s supposed to be serious, you really need Tanaka.  You’ll save well over fifty thousand dollars, the film will be believable, and you’ll be much happier.”  I paused again, looked at them both, and said, “So, would you like the appropriate bird-in-the-hand or would you like for me to get Andre for you?  I will personally make a lot more money if you hire Andre, but I’d rather see you produce a better film.”  Director Steve Carver looked at producer Frank Capra, then turned to me and asked, “Do you know a shoemaker who could create those built-up shoes for Professor Tanaka before we begin shooting?”  “Absolutely,” I said, smiling slightly.  “And, what’s Tanaka going to cost us?” they asked.  “Keep in mind,” I began, “that I just saved you fifty grand and made your film more successful before it started.  So, we’ll probably go with seven times what you had originally budgeted for the role … as long as we can get Tanaka first position, separate card, co-star billing.”  We negotiated and signed the contracts the next day.

I felt good.  I provided what I thought to be the perfect nemesis for Chuck Norris in the film.  I was successful in obtaining Tanaka’s first movie role ever, and I secured the highly sought-after first position co-star billing for him.  Additionally, he was to be compensated very well.  When I told Tanaka what I was able to negotiate for him, I smiled and pushed my chest out with my thumbs facing forward as though I were pushing suspenders forward in the “look at me – I’m so good” pose.  While I was striking my pose, Tanaka stood up from his chair and quickly came toward me.  My eyebrows elevated for a moment, not knowing exactly what was coming until I felt slight pressure around my arms and chest, and my feet left the floor.  Tanaka was hugging me.  It was a special moment that I will not forget.

The producers called for a “table read.”  That meant that all of the stars of the movie would sit around a large conference table with scripts in their hands and read their parts.  Tanaka had no dialogue; only the occasional grunt.  But those grunts, his actions and reactions were important, so they wanted Tanaka there.  Once again, Tanaka wanted me there for moral support.  Sitting at that conference table were some very powerful people.  In addition to the aforementioned producer and director, there were Christopher Lee, Richard Roundtree, Chuck Norris, Toru Tanaka, Matt Clark, Mako, Rosalind Chao, and me.  The reading began.  I felt honored that I was invited to be a part of this momentous occasion.  I had been given a copy of the script, and I was following along.  I was impressed with the talent I was witnessing in a “cold reading.”  Steve Carver was directing and would occasionally give suggestions and additional input to some of the actors.  At one point, Tanaka saw that it was his turn to deliver his line.  It was “Auuugh.”  Tanaka smiled and said, “Ah.”  “Tanaka,” Steve Carver advised, “You’re angry here.  Could you say it again?”  Tanaka said “Ah” a little louder.  Steve looked at me, unsure, as though he wanted my input.  I looked at Tanaka and said in a stern voice, “Tanaka:  Tojo Yamamoto Chung!”  A look of hatred overtook Tanaka’s face.  In a bellowing voice that shook the room, Tanaka roared, “AUUUUUGH!”  Steve Carver was shocked and speechless for a moment before he said, almost in a whisper, “Perfect!  Thank you.”

Steve Carver approached me after the reading.  “You have an amazing rapport with Tanaka,” he said. I could see that he was a little concerned about directing the 325-pound “machine.”  “Is there anyway you could be on location with us next week when we shoot Tanaka’s first scene?  I don’t know if there’s anything in the budget, but you could ask Frank.”  I smiled.  “I’ll be there,” I said. “I’m a pilot, and I need an excuse to fly sometimes.  Just get me a ride from the airport to the location.”  He agreed.  The next week, on location at a BART station in San Francisco, I watched Carver direct Tanaka.  Tanaka took direction wonderfully.  I walked up to the director.  “I told you he’d be easy to work with,” I said smiling.  “Obviously you don’t need my help, so I’m going to fly back to Van Nuys before the fog gets too thick.”  He thanked me … several times.  Until next week, keep those e-mails coming!

This column welcomes your wrestling-related questions.  You may contact the author via email: RockRiddle@hotmail.com or Rock@HollywoodSuccess.com.  Be sure to put "Wrestling Question" in the subject line.

About the author:  Rock Riddle wrestled professionally for over 8½ years and helped sell out major arenas all over the country.  He held numerous titles including the Americas Tag Team Championship (with John Tolos) and the East Coast Tag Team Championship (with Rocky Montana.)  At the height of his career, he was given top billing over the heavyweight championship of the world.  He is extremely well-connected in the world of professional wrestling and knows the business exceptionally well.  His fascinating biography, complete with over 100 photos and lots of additional information, is available at www.HollywoodSuccess.com – just click on "Rock Riddle Bio."    If you have missed any of Rock’s columns, they are all available on the website by clicking "Wrestling Revue."

© 2007 Rock Riddle & Hollywood Success.

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