Chyna is to the World Wrestling Federation what golf clubs are to Tiger Woods. So, when there’s an opportunity to stick a tape recorder in her face, you don’t question the timing. Even if it means interviewing her in the midst of a makeup session. Sure, the charismatic damsel is the current women’s champion and has won the Intercontinental title on three occasions. Yes, she was the first woman ever to compete in both the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournaments. True, WWF fans voted her Diva of the Year. Not bad for starters. Her book, If They Only Knew Me, was second on the best-seller list in mid-April. She shoots commercials. There’s her wildly popular poster. And workout pants. Comic T-shirts, jackets and shorts. Pendants, lighters and calendars. Hey, there’s even’are you ready for this?’a Chyna sports bra. Slip one on and you, too, might have big, shapely muscles. As makeup artist Yvonne Ouellette shows Chyna to the dressing room of Michael Neveux’s Gardena, California, studio, I show her my microcassette. In about an hour and a half she’ll be playing to Neveux’s lenses as she plays to the millions of fans worldwide who worship her every move. In go the hair curlers. Down goes the record button.
LT: When did this all begin? Where were you born, and who were you born as?
C: My name is Joanie Laurer, and I was born in Rochester, New York. I became the character of Chyna’and that’s a totally different thing. You noticed when I walked in the studio today, I introduced myself as Joanie. People always giggle when they hear that, but the reason Chyna has been very successful is that the woman behind Chyna is Joanie Laurer, who has been physically fit since she was 16 years old.
LT: Were you raised in Rochester? Were you always athletic? Bigger, stronger than the other girls?
C: I was pretty average. However, I always had a lot of energy. I didn’t have a lot of friends; I wasn’t very social and didn’t fit in. When the rest of the kids started going out on the weekends, going to the movies, playing Spin the Bottle, I was starting to do the Jane Fonda fitness videos. I was around 14, 15. My mother was following the videos, and I kinda wanted to jump around and do something with her. I’m very musically oriented, and I used to have so much fun. It was a great way of combining music with exercise without really knowing what I was doing. I would spend my babysitting money buying more fitness tapes; I used to go out on the front porch, jumping up and down to the music. I wasn’t that big then, about 5’8′ and 135 pounds. I wasn’t athletic at all. In gym class in high school you do pretty much all sports, and I stunk at everything. But I enjoyed them.
Eventually, when I was around 16, I started looking at the bodybuilding magazines and getting into lifting weights. A lot of the guys started to want that beefy look; in order to take notice of the guys and have them take notice of me, I began entering the gym world. I had a lot more guy friends than girlfriends, and I started hanging out with them. In the beginning it was more for social reasons, but when I began going to the gym, I realized I was good at lifting weights. I was really strong, had good form’my genetics started to shine through. The guys were intrigued by me. I worked out at Bally’s, and I loved it. They had all the neon lights, with a bunch of fun equipment. It was almost a disco atmosphere, with the loud music and stuff. I could dress up in my horrible headband, striped leotard and leg warmers. I was thin, but I had wide shoulders, a small waist, strong thighs, big calves and wasn’t very hippy.
LT: What’s your ethnic background?
C: German [follows with a sentence in German]. As my mom used to say, strong like bull. It became a lifestyle, and the more I saw my body develop.’ At that age you really want to be accepted. Kids can be very cruel’puberty, pimples, drugs and sex, all these things are coming into play, and you are really searching for an identity. One minute you’re with the punk rockers, then the druggie crowd, then the preppies. It was hard for me to figure out where I was. When people started noticing me for my body, it singled me out. Sometimes in a very bad way. Not too many women were working out to get big muscles back then. Even so, I loved the attention, so I kept with it.
LT: Any brothers or sisters?
C: Yes, I have one older brother and one older sister. My brother was in the Army and used to be very much into weightlifting. He was a wrestling fan when I didn’t even pay attention to the sport. I remember he used to invite his buddies over, and they would wrestle around the house. I’d even make them wrestling belts out of tin foil and beads. They were imitating all the stars of wrestling, Walter Kowalski, Sergeant Slaughter, Bruno Sanmartino. I thought they were just being a bunch of idiots, but I made some fabulous belts [laughs]. Little did I know that later on I would be working with one of my brother’s idols. My sister is very close to me. She is also genetically gifted. I consider her to be a wine glass among beer mugs. Very beautiful, a presence. There’s a presence, I think, in both of us. She was actually a little overweight, and I started training her. Then, about five years ago, she really started training hard and completely changed her body. Her goal was to do a bodybuilding contest, and she eventually did. She still has that picture on her wall.
LT: You went to college in Florida, right?
C: Yes, the University of Tampa. I had spent my last year in high school studying in Madrid, Spain, then got my college degree in 2 1/2 years. I was in a big hurry to do nothing. I majored in Spanish literature. I loved foreign languages and studied Spanish, French and German. There was a large Puerto Rican population in Tampa, and I took all the bilingual courses. I got a literature degree but took all my courses in Spanish.
LT: Did you continue your love affair with the weights in college?
C: Oh, yes. I worked out in the school weight room, which was a real crappy little place. Nutrition started becoming a major part of my learning process. That can be so confusing. At this point I was 5’10’ and weighed around 165. Tampa was a small school, and everybody knew who I was. That was my M.O.’the strong weightlifting chick with the body. I loved it.
LT: Any other interests in college?
C: Yes, I always loved the bizarre, the unusual, the arts. I always loved theater, the makeup, the big hair. I’m like a drag queen’s dream, very Cher. I did all the school musicals, sang in a band. I still play the cello. The problem is, how do you get a 5’10’, 165-pound woman who sings in a band into an evening gown, with eye lashes on? I was rather unusual looking, especially in that era. I always wanted to be an actress, to entertain. So my physique, as much as I thought it was a wonderful thing, was holding me back in the entertainment world. I was too large in a society where being as thin as you can is hip. We represent that on the covers of our magazines, in Playboy, on television. It’s still going on.
The more I tried to do things I had talent for, the more I got turned down. It made me very angry because I knew I had a beautiful body’knew that I was a lady with muscles. To me, without sounding pompous, I’m the epitomy of a woman because I’ve always tried to show strength, beauty and intelligence. To be a woman means that you’re secure in having as many qualities as you can, not to be a certain way so that men will find you attractive or that other people will accept you. The more I got rejected, the more I turned to other things. I competed in fitness competitions, I boxed, I tried out for this commercial, tried out for that part, and I kept getting turned down.
Then I saw wrestling on TV. I said, Okay, I’ll do that. That was six years ago, and they had female valets, but they didn’t do anything else. I saw wrestling as the perfect avenue: These people are entertainers, but they’re athletes too. They can wear the kooky costumes’it was the ultimate variety show of all the things I loved, and there were no women.
LT: That led you to wrestling school.
C: Right. I found Walter ‘Killer’ Kowalski, a legend in wrestling, who has a wrestling school in Malden, Massachusetts. I paid him $2,000, which left me completely broke. Kowalski is this crusty old guy, you know, with the bad toupee sticking out on the sides. He’s like an old cockroach that won’t go away [Chyna, L.T. and Yvonne bust up]. The place was filled with all guys, all Shawn Michaels wanna-bes, who were trying to jump off the top rope, doing a whole lot of nothing. I just watched, looked and listened. It was almost like playing house. There were a couple of people at the school who started to single me out, and I started learning from them. The first day I met Walter, he asked me to flex my arm. He started laughing, thinking it was the greatest thing in the world. I felt like I was at home; he got me right into the ring, and I was good right away. The guys there were great. I wasn’t pussyfooting around; I had a goal. From the day I started there, I would make pictures of myself and fax them to the WWF, the WCW; I talked to whoever I could talk to. I made videos of myself and sent them in.
LT: You weren’t going to sit around and wait to be discovered.
C: Exactly. At that time a lot of people felt Walter had all these connections, and he would get them in. That was not in my nature. Luck has a little bit to do with it, being in the right place at the right time, but you put yourself in the right place at the right time. I had gone against a lot of stereotypes, so I knew I had to try extra hard to get into that world, and I did.
LT: You connected with [WWF owner] Vince McMahon fairly quickly.
C: Yes, I did. I spent a year at the school. I wouldn’t take no for an answer from the WWF. I hounded them and hounded them. I was 185 at that time. I ate like crazy; sometimes I look back and wonder how I ate like that. It’s like the scene where the woman goes in and drinks all the guys under the table. That’s the way I was with the food [laughs]. Those were fun times. I loved tripping out all the guys in the weight room. At one point I had a boyfriend, Jerry Blaze, and I hired him to train me. It was his dream to be a bodybuilder, but he never made it. But he was crazy about me and pushed me hard. That was the highlight of my day. We’d go into the gym and add one pound every time. Maybe two pounds, to see if I could do it. I was training very heavy at that point; some days I would do just one set on four different exercises and that was it. This taught me what lifting heavy does for you, what lifting light does and so forth. What doing cardio does, what happens when you don’t. He really taught me a lot. At that time I wanted to get as big as I could possibly be, to be this large, menacing woman that could wrestle the men.
LT: Did you have in your mind even back then you were going to be the next superhero?
C: Not really. Now I maintain that role, but then I just wanted to go in and kick ass. I knew I would never really be comparable to the men, but from an entertainment aspect I could look like I could kick their ass. And I could still pick them up if I needed to, to hold my own, physically, in the ring with them. So I had to be larger, which gave me credibility. If I’d gone in the way I am now, it wouldn’t have worked.
LT: You’ve been with the WWF for five years. When did they come up with the moniker Chyna?
C: Right away. It’s a boring story. It came from a list. Vince liked it because he thought Chyna represented everything that’s not me’petite, fragile’but I was more like the bull in the china cabinet. In my role there wasn’t a lot of femininity or personality. That was done on purpose. Vince wanted people to be scared of me. I was the heavy.
LT: You had more than your share of boo birds in the audience. Did that bother you?
C: I know it’s entertainment, and it worked right away. I came in as [former WWF champion and current Intercontinental champion] Triple H’s bodyguard. It helped both of our careers. The fans didn’t know what to think of me. Remember, now we’re moving from the gym crowd, where I was accepted, to a live audience. All they saw was this huge, horrible woman who kicked guys in the nuts and threw them on their ass. Fake or not, I still had to carry that role athletically. Did I like it? I liked the fact that I was now on TV, in front of all these people, but I was becoming stereotyped to what was becoming so popular. People started seeing me as this big, horrible person out of the ring too. You try not to take it personally, but you do. Yeah, it hurt me. This is who I became in the media world. It sort of took me by surprise. I was thinking, How come people don’t know how to separate entertainment from reality? I maintained that role for about three years. By doing that, I really broke barriers. There could be a woman like Zena, who is playing the role of a superwoman, but I really did have to go into that ring and be an athlete against large, strong men. Believe me, when a man twice your size hits you, even if you know where he’s going to hit you, it hurts. I took large beatings for that.
LT: Were you wrestling men and women right from the start?
C: I never wrestled women until recently. It was just the guys. This had never happened before. Even the networks were giving us a hard time, saying, We can’t put this on TV, a man hitting a woman. Vince would fight for it, saying, Are you kidding? That’s the most empowering thing you could have. She’s not being abused, she’s fighting them as a credible opponent. Now people no longer view it as a woman fighting a man, it’s Chyna fighting an opponent.
LT: Do you like wrestling women now?
C: It’s enabled me to change my image. I can show a little bit of vulnerability, from a character standpoint, and maintain my body the way I want it, which is a little bit lighter. I’ve proved my point, winning all the titles against the men, and I wanted to grow professionally. I wanted to show a different side, show some femininity.
LT: Has anyone ever said, She actually acts as if wrestling is real, as if she really won those titles fairly?
C: People do say that, but what we do is entertainment. What happened when I won that title’millions of fans accepted me in a role. A company put me in a position, gave me a reward for having people accept me in the position. And that’s what that title meant to me. Did I win it physically off that person? No. But holding that position told me I would be accepted in the role I was playing.
LT: Speaking of femininity, you made the November 2000 cover of Playboy. Word on the street says you got a million bucks for the pictorial.
C: I got more than a million dollars.
LT: Wanna give me a number?
C: No! [All three bust up.] I got more than a million dollars for a million-dollar body. See how that works? It was the biggest-selling issue in Playboy history.
LT: Is an encore performance in the works?
C: I am going to shoot with them again; we’re talking about it right now; it will probably be in a fall issue.
LT: You obviously enjoyed the experience.
C: I loved it. And, not only did I find out I had a major male following who almost ‘changed’ their minds. I went from being this beastly looking woman to this amazonian, sexy hot woman’the fantasy woman who could beat them up if they were bad boys. And they found out that it’s okay to feel like that. Probably 40 percent of the people who waited in lines around the block to get their Playboy signed were women. They said they were very inspired. What I’ve shown them is that they can be who they are. It doesn’t matter if you are large, small, muscular, thin, whatever, you don’t have to be stereotyped into having to look a certain way. It makes women feel strong, powerful and accept who they are. I don’t know of the smallest, most petite woman who doesn’t want to haul off and punch something once in a while, to feel that strength.
LT: Your autobiography is number two on the best-seller list, and you’ve become a merchandising conglomerate, but there’s another character you’d love to represent. How does ‘T3’ sound to thee?
C: [Huge smile]. I think I would be the perfect counterpart to Arnold in ‘Terminator 3’ [laughs]. I think if you had to describe what that character is, it would be me. I’m a woman of the new millennium; again, I show strength, fortitude, grace and beauty. That’s what we need to be displaying. It’s realistic, it’s there. The Ninth Wonder Woman instead of Wonder Woman. Yes, I’d love to have a shot at that role.
LT: Where do you live now?
C: I have a home in New Hampshire, and I also have an apartment here in L.A.
LT: A lot of wrestling fans told me you’re married to Triple H.
C: Not true. Not now, never have been. I am single. Don’t believe everything you hear.
LT: You were on a TV show this week, saying you’re looking for a man. I’ll let you write your own personal ad here. What will it take to be your mate?
C: I don’t know how to describe him. Well, I’m definitely attracted to big, muscular men, but I guess my ad would say I’m looking for a man who takes care of his body, is funny, would spoil me like a queen. He doesn’t have to be Donald Trump, but he has to have a good job. I have goals and am very aggressive; I’m looking for someone who will stick with me, support me emotionally. It’s almost a double standard. I want to be treated like a woman at the same time. If I find a guy like me, who is very driven and aggressive, I miss out on the chivalry, the romantic stuff. I don’t know.’ I don’t think I’ve met that match yet.
LT: Sounds to me like you need two men.
C: Two men and a boy toy [huge laughter erupts]. As a matter of fact, I tried to add that into my WWF contract, but Vince wasn’t too happy with the idea. I’m not in a big hurry. I think when I look into the future, I can see it’s about having a family, but right now I’m very selfish. If I meet a man, I would like to do all the things I haven’t been able to do yet: spend a lot of time with him, take vacations, experience love, be spoiled. I would want to experience that first before I move on to having children.
LT: You have a fitness video out now. What’s your training like these days?
C: I train with Billy Gunn, who is my training partner on the road. He’s unbelievable. We train very hard together. I like to alternate upper body with lower body or train my entire body in a single workout. I do higher reps now, working in my cardio simultaneously. I try to train four times a week; I couldn’t do any more than that because my body is so sore from the pounding I take in the ring. Lately, I’ve been carrying a watch and going to failure, timing myself. I don’t like counting reps. I can push myself beyond failure by setting a time goal rather than a number goal. I go a minute and a half for certain exercises, like dumbbell presses or dumbbell curls, and it’s really thrown my body for a loop, trying to achieve the look I want.
LT: It must be working.
C: Yes, I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been with my physique. I weigh 165 now. I eat in moderation. I used to be fanatic about my nutrition; at one time I’d set the alarm for 3 a.m. to get up and eat yogurt. I did that for so many years. I decided I needed to start living. I love eating, love the social aspects. I keep my protein intake up, cool it with the carbs and candy. But if I go out to dinner, I’m going to eat a piece of cheesecake, have a glass of wine, have a good time. Because of the way I work 365 days a year, you will always see me looking fit and healthy.
LT: Some cheesecake, eh?
C: Sure. Boy toys like cheesecake too.
LT: Any final words of wisdom?
C: Tell the fans they ain’t seen nothin’ yet, ’cause there’s a new female terminator, new wonder woman that’s going to take them by storm. A new female action hero that we’re missing. That’s my new challenge to conquer. Also, I’d love to get on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. After everything that I’ve been through, I’m having the time of my life. It’s a really great feeling, being happy.
Editor’s note: To get Chyna’s new workout video or book, visit www.home-gym.com or call 1-800-447-0008. To bring some Chyna into your world, log on to www.chyna9.com or contact Rich Minzer, M&S Personal Management, at (310) 823-1318 (fax) or via e-mail at [email protected].