The Very Ms. C.J. Perry! - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Very Ms. C.J. Perry!

The Very Ms. C.J. Perry!

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because fake pro wrestling never seemed so real.

By Eugene S. Robinson

How many Alvin Ailey dancers have ended up making their bones as staples in the pro wrestling confines of World Wrestling Entertainment? We’ll make it easy for you, one: Catherine Joy Perry, the daughter of a ballet dancer mother and a Christian missionary father. Which is where her story of unlikely connections kicks in and how she found herself on this episode of The Carlos Watson Show. You can find excerpts below or listen to the full interview on the show’s podcast feed.

The Journey to the Pro Wrestling Perry

Carlos Watson: C.J., who are you?

C.J. Perry: What a complex question. I am a WWE superstar. Currently, I wrestle for a living. Currently, I am a former professional dancer and former model, former ballerina. Girl living in Los Angeles, chasing the dreams to continue telling the incredible stories. I guess that’s a unique way to describe me. An actress. I’m an actress.

Watson: Now how does someone like you, who’s thinking about communism, thinking about technology, thinking about governments — and I can tell just by a few of the things you’ve said that you’re a very present, very thoughtful person — how did you end up becoming a wrestler? Because I can tell that there’s a lot there that maybe not every wrestler brings to the table.

Perry: Gosh, my journey to professional wrestling and the WWE has been a unique one. I think that’s why you asked these specific questions. I grew up in Russia being a missionary kid with, as well, my mother having, we all had a whole bunch of Jewish traditions on Friday, Shabbat. So even just from that get-go, already here I’m an American growing up in Russia as the only American with — both my parents are Christians, but with all these Jewish traditions as well — because my mom being Jewish, so it’s just like, from the very get-go, it’s a completely different point of view.

Parents always teaching me about the world and about religion, about cultures. So that was my foundation.

I got to be, started to become a professional dancer at 8 years old and at 10 years old, and this is in Latvia, so just to give an example of how Latvia was, the ballet school, the national performing arts school, Mikhail Baryshnikov went to my school. Yeah. So the best ballet dancer in the world.

Watson: The GOAT.

Perry: Yes, the GOAT of ballet dancers. He was in Sex and the City, he’s done a lot of movies. So he went to my school and it was very … think Nadia Comăneci, the Russians, 40 hours a week, 10 years old, literally 40 hours a week. So at a very young age, I was instilled … discipline and hard work and not taking “no” for an answer.

I also grew up with a lot of prejudice toward me because they didn’t like Americans. Latvians, specifically, didn’t. As a whole, the culture and the Russians, they were like, go mind your own business. So often, grades … I would get lower grades because they were like, you’re American, you smile too much. It gave me a very different point of view on life. I always had a struggle, and still to this day, of identifying to what culture or people do I belong to. Because it’s like I don’t always identify with middle-class, white Americans because I didn’t grow up as that. I grew up as a foreigner in a different country. So much of my encounter of life, my younger forming years was as a minority.

So then I moved to America and it’s like, I’m not into like so many of those issues throughout my life, which I think has created me to be the person I am today and hopefully showing more empathy to people of color and minorities in our nation, because I weirdly identify with this from a child.

And as a little girl, I always wanted to become a professional dancer. I always wanted to tell stories. I always wanted to be an actor. I always wanted to entertain stadiums. So I danced professionally, I was a professional ballet dancer, then I became a professional backup dancer for artists such as Usher, Nelly, Pink. It opened a lot of doors for me, professional dancing, even though I moved away from being a professional dancer.

I really believe that’s how I got my job at WWE. I had a tryout, I lived in LA, I was dancing professionally, I was acting, modeling, and I got a tryout for WWE. It was a six-month, crazy tryout. A couple of them having callbacks and one of the final calls with Triple H in there, who is, he’s an incredibly huge WWE superstar for years, for 25 years and head of NXT. I started break dancing and I started speaking fluent Russian, and I got the next callback, which eventually led to me getting signed with WWE, which was eight years ago to this day.

So dance has opened many doors for me, but I feel like always that longing to just not put telling stories in a box. I wanted to tell stories … if that was on film or that was on television, or if it was through Instagram or through ballet or Swan Lake. But it’s like, I feel like my calling in life is to put smiles on people’s faces and give them a moment of escape from life, entertain them as well, and when the time is right, do tell stories that are thought-provoking. Maybe not always the cotton candy ones, but stories that need to be told that maybe haven’t been heard.

And If Not Wrestling?

Watson: So what would happen if you had not gotten the WWE opportunity?

Perry: I would definitely be doing something in entertainment still, I’m sure. I don’t doubt that for a second. Right before my job with WWE I was in LA and I was auditioning, and it was like … you get a job, you get two great jobs and then you don’t really get any. Or you get small, small jobs for the next six months.

And it’s just so much of a marathon … entertainment and acting and wrestling and dance. It’s such a marathon. There’s very few Leonardo DiCaprios, and so even a lot of my really great working actor friends, sometimes they might go through a pilot season and book a pilot, or not … This is people that are in movies, big movies.

So it’s just given me a really, I guess, maybe a patient way of working in this industry. But right before WWE, I told my parents, I was frustrated with everything. I’m going to go be a nurse. And I applied to Santa Monica University or college and I was on the waitlist to be a nurse. Everyone and my entire family thought it was hilarious.

No one took me seriously. Of course, I thought it was … I was like, “Of course I want to do it.” If I’m determined to do something, I can do anything. And my grandmother was so proud of me because she used to be a nurse. I was just like, look, I mean, what about if I am working regularly, but I don’t have a huge, huge breakout role? What am I going to do when I’m 55, still going out for auditions? Book a guest star here, a guest star there? It’s like you can’t make a living off of that.

So I was, I don’t know, I would have figured something out. Maybe I would’ve. I don’t know. I’m sure. I always find a way, but I wanted to be in the storytelling business for the rest of my life. So I’m actually thinking about going to school to learn more about directing and producing. I produced some feature films already, but I just love learning, continuing to learn. So if I’m not always going to be in front of the camera, what other stories can I produce and make that are really compelling that I don’t maybe have to necessarily be in front of it, but I can be a part of it?

Watson: Give me a couple … what stories would you love to get to tell?

Perry: Oh, my God. Well, I’m very passionate about stories about women. I feel that there are so many stories that haven’t been told of women, definitely women of color, for sure. So many stories in America that didn’t make the history books, but maybe I read about it because my mom gave me a novel of it. And so in, yeah, just from all over the world, there’s so many stories about Middle Eastern women that we don’t hear about, they haven’t been told. And I think that’s really what I’m passionate about. Yeah. So, I would love to see more of that. And I would love to be a part of those things, telling stories that didn’t always make the history books, but happened.

Eastern Promises

Watson: You know Google and Facebook have so much information on us. When you think about it, your boys at Zoom have a lot of information on you. Do you know what I mean?

Perry: It’s wild. That’s why when the whole TikTok situation came out and they’re like, oh, they’re taking our information. All these companies have been taking our information, you know? Unfortunately, I’ve made peace with that situation because … this is the future and it’s terrifying, but at least we’re aware.

Watson: C.J., be careful, they’re coming for you!

Perry: Well, OK. Honestly … I am that person that believes in conspiracy. Partly it’s because I just read this article that … the people that question if the government is honest or not, the most in the world. are Russians. So, my sister-in-law is Russian and she thinks everything’s a conspiracy. I grew up in Russia, and so I also think a lot of things … nothing is, nothing is what it seems to be. When I saw that article about how Russians question everything and everything is conspiracy, I’m like, oh, that’s right.

KGB, you know, you’re talking about communism and they were lied to for so long, they believe that was the better way and that was truth. Then, for someone like my sister-in-law who grew up in that world where she thought Russia was the greatest country and patriotic and everything, and then to move here and have her eyes opened to how much she was lied to her whole entire life.

Of course, you’re going to question everything, it would be unwise not to question everything after you’ve been burned one time. So, I guess I grew up over there …

Watson: Where in Russia, or was it Latvia, that you grew up?

Perry: I grew up in Latvia, so the former Soviet Union. Not everyone knows where Latvia is in the United States of America. They get it confused with, like, Lafayette, Louisiana. Completely. But I did spend a lot of time going to Russia as well. St. Pete and Moscow, but Latvia is 50% Russian. I moved there two years after the Soviet Union fell so all my teachers were Russian, and so I identify with the Russian culture probably more than I identify with the Latvian culture, even though the country was 50% Russian and 50% Latvian.

The cultures are very different. Latvians, they’re a lot more similar to Scandinavian countries. The way they look aesthetically, as well as, like, their religion was pagan, up until being Lutheran. They still have pagan holidays, a lot like Scandinavian countries. While Russia is 50% of the nation, they’re a lot more American in a different type of way, but they’re very, like, passionate and loud and very opinionated. Latvians are a lot more stoic and they just carry themselves very differently. You can tell walking through the streets — even though they’re both white people — you can tell a Latvian versus a Russian.

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