Former WWE star Paige (real name Saraya-Jade Bevis) has an incredible life story that is told in Fighting With My Family, opening wide Feb. 22. The movie, written and directed by frequent Ricky Gervais collaborator Stephen Merchant, is based on the 2012 Channel 4 British documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family, which chronicles how Paige’s family dynamic shifts once she auditions with her brother Zak for the WWE, gets in, and moves to the U.S. So how accurate is Fighting With My Family to Paige's real life?
According to Paige herself, the film accurately captures her journey into becoming a wrestling star. "With this movie, 95 percent of it was accurate," said Paige in an interview with HollywoodToday. "[Stephen Merchant] wanted to get as close to my story as possible. Obviously, as per a few tweaks in it."
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has closely worked with Paige in real life, and serves as an executive producer of the film. In an interview with Kevin Smith for IMDb, Merchant said that Johnson was the one who first decided to make a film about Paige, after seeing the original documentary about the family.
To convince Merchant to work alongside him, Johnson sent him the documentary — and Merchant fell in love with the family’s story. “It was a really inspiring, uplifting, funny story in which she and her brother are Norwich wrestlers with her family and they have to go off and train — or I should say audition — for the WWE. Only Paige got signed and her brother got left behind and it's a story of her being away from home, kind of finding herself while she's in America, and how the family deal with the fact that she's no longer there," the director said.
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Johnson explained why he felt like he needed to make a movie about Paige’s life. “Back in 2012, I was in my hotel room in London and stumbled across a documentary on a local UK channel. Not only was I intrigued by this loving and wild family, but I also felt it’s the kind of narrative that would make an amazing movie,” said Johnson. “The Knights’ journey is a universal one that all families are familiar with. I relate to Saraya (Paige) and her wrestling family on such a personal level and it means so much that I can help tell their story.”
Johnson played an important role in Paige’s career, too. In an interview with The Sun, Paige recalled the life-changing moment in 2014 where Johnson called her to tell her she’d be making her WWE debut. “He pulled me in a room and told me I was debuting the next day and I was just like ‘What!’ And then he told me I was going to win the championship and I was just like ‘Oh my god, oh my god!’,” said the former WWE star. But that wasn’t all. In the same conversation, Johnson said that he had watched her family’s documentary and wanted to make a family about them. He then became her mentor, as seen in the film.
To make sure the film stayed true to Paige's story, Florence Pugh, who plays the star, kept in contact with the real Paige, who couldn't meet in person until after filming due to a neck injury that forced her to retire from in-ring competitions, per WWE’s site. And in addition to phone conversations, Pugh had plenty of material to accurately get a sense of what Paige is actually like. "The greatest thing about her is that you just type in her name and there are so many videos, whether it's wrestling or her talking to anyone in the crowd or doing interviews, so I wasn't scared by [preparing to play her]," said Pugh during the IMDb interview. "Obviously it's lovely to meet people beforehand, but she was suffered with her neck injury and was around the world and it just didn't map out. But we were chatting all the way through."
Though Paige wasn't able to be there on set giving pointers, her brother Zak was able to visit the set and help out Jack Lowden, who plays him. "I had the benefit that Zak was around a few times during filming and is actually in the film playing a drug dealer, so it was great fun with him and I find him such an amazing man," Lowden told IMDB.
But Merchant also had the challenging task of accurately capturing the wrestling world, as someone who, as he confirmed in the IMDb interview, had no prior knowledge of wresting. According to The Hollywood Reporter, WWE Studios President Michael Luisi is credited as one of the producers, and WWE co-financed the film, so that element was taken care of. Fighting With My Family also features real wrestlers, including WWE newcomer Zelina Vega (real name: Thea Megan Trinidad), who plays WWE star AJ Lee.
By having the actual family involved and those who are close to Paige, Merchant and Johnson created a film that accurately delves into her story, showing how she achieved success within the wrestling world and continues to influence it post-injury.