WWE movie puts model on same Paige as The Rock
Ellie Gonsalves didn't need to look up who Saraya Knight was when she got a call from Dwayne "The Rock'' Johnson about starring in his new film.
The Brisbane-based model already knew all about the wrestling star, who goes by the name of Paige in the ring, when she said yes to the comedy drama - which will be her acting debut.
Fighting With My Family, co-produced by Johnson and director Stephan Merchant, tells Knight's real-life underdog story of a teenager from a scrappy wrestling family in the UK who goes on to become the WWE's youngest ever Divas Champion.
"I'm a really big WWE fan,” Gonsalves says. "My partner (Ross Scutts) and I have been together for 10 years and I originally got into it because he and his little brothers loved it. I would go to his parents' for a Friday night dinner and they'd all be watching so I'd sit down with them.
"I'd already heard of Paige and I knew a lot about her story already; it's a very inspirational storyline on WWE as well. To have seen that and then to be in a movie about that is so crazy.”
The 28-year-old, who recently moved back to her hometown after living in Los Angeles for the past four years, plays one of the other recruits Paige meets in the WWE's developmental branch NXT.
Uprooted from her tight-knit family, Paige (Florence Pugh) doesn't feel as though she fits in with the other women - many of whom are former models and cheerleaders with no formal wrestling training.
"The contrast between her character and mine and the other two divas is pretty crazy. With the white teeth, tanned skin and busty figures, we represent the pretty typical look for WWE back in the day,” Gonsalves says.
"She comes in and she's very goth-like and has this serious wrestling vibe about her.”
Gonsalves, who shot to fame wearing a white bikini in Yellow Tail's 2017 Super Bowl ad, can relate.
"When I first moved to LA, I had a moment like she has when she is lying on her sofa bawling her eyes out because she misses her family and doesn't feel like she fits in,” she says.
But Paige eventually discovers there is more to the other women than meets the eye and the four divas eventually form a close bond. "It's very relevant in this day and age with social media that you don't judge a book by its cover,” Gonsalves says. "People make the mistake of having a perception of someone or they judge them too early on when they don't know their story.
"This is a true story that happened years ago but it's still relevant now. It sends a good message to people, and it's heartfelt and hilarious too.”
Playing the part of a WWE diva was a physical challenge for Gonsalves, who is currently training for her first half marathon.
Many of her scenes with Pugh and Vince Vaughn, who plays NXT boss Hutch, involved action in the ring or boot camp-style training on the beach.
"We were in the gym for hours every day and we did a ton of work with the stunt trainers to learn how to wrestle like divas. The most important thing for us was for this to be an authentic performance,” she says.
"I got to do all of my stunts except for one and I really enjoyed it. Of course there are a few bumps and bruises; you don't come out unscathed when you do one scene 25 times.
"With those beach drills, they made us do it from start to finish and we did those about 30 times. When Vince is yelling at us, we're acting but we are actually tired.”
STARS: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Nick Frost.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Merchant
REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: You don't have to be a wrestling fan to enjoy this uplifting and funny family drama based on a woman's real-life underdog story.
Fighting With My Family is in cinemas now.