A great entertainer is able to portray a completely different persona when necessary. Marlo Stanfield from the The Wire is a brutal drug kingpin who will have you go "missing" if you want it to be one way. Jamie Hector works with charity and actually smiles from time to time.
David Otunga doesn't play a Baltimore drug dealer in the WWE (although it would be an interesting storyline) or anything with that sort of dramatic weight, but there's dualities when it comes to him. He isn't one of the most popular heels in the ring, but he's still an inspiration to many young fans thanks, in part, to his being African-American.
He also comes from a different pedigree from his co-stars. He graduated from Harvard Law School and left a job at a Sidley Austin, the best law firm in Chicago, to pursue acting and later became a contestant in I Love New York 2—which he lost, but he's probably not ruing the defeat. Otunga also starred alongside Halle Berry in 2013's The Call.
Otunga has been out of the ring for a while, but he's still been keeping busy. He spoke about how he's not simply falling on a backup, but a passion, the WWE's celebration of Black History Month, and just why he couldn't simply be content with hiding that six-pack underneath a suit and tie.
So first of all, what have you been up to these days?
Oh man, I do a lot. It’s mostly been stuff with the legal community. There’s the Michael Dunn Case over in Jacksonville, Fla., so I’ve been covering that for HLN. It’s good to be able to still flex my legal muscle a little bit. I’ve also been getting some time at home with my family.
It sounds like it must be a good time for you.
Yes, it’s a very good time. I’m enjoying myself.
I just wanted to get into more about your background. There’s been Harvard graduates before but passing the bar exam is still pretty noteworthy. What made you want to make that switch into acting and eventually the WWE?
I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer since I was a kid, but my mom always pushed me and told me that you have to have a fallback career. You have to get your education first. I’m grateful that I did. All this time that I was going through school, I was still going into auditions and trying to break into entertainment. It just so happened that I got my chance when I was a lawyer in the top firm in Chicago. I already have my degree and this is my one opportunity to try to make my mark. I could always go back and be a lawyer, so I made the decision to leave and go pursue entertainment. Luckily it worked out for me, so I’m very grateful for that.
I read your interview with Muscle & Fitness and saw that you were actually bodybuilding since you were young.
When I first started working out I really got into it and that was back in high school. I’ve always read Muscle & Fitness and those magazines…It was just something that’s become a habit to me and I’m very passionate about it.
Did your family and friends initially oppose or support the decision to move into show business?
Obviously it was kind of shocking to them at first. My mom was so proud of me for landing a job at the top firm in Chicago. But then I told them what I wanted to do and showed them the opportunities. It was my mom who really supported me and told me, “You know what? I think you should go after it.”…Hearing that from her, that’s what gave me the strength to finally make the leap.
African-Americans have been a minority in the WWE historically. When you’re performing, did you ever feel like you were representing all African-Americans or were you sort of in the moment?
I think that every African-American kind of feels that way: That we’re representing all African-Americans. I had this one kid come up to me and tell me I’m their favorite WWE superstar…His mom told me, “Really, you’re his favorite. He looks up to you because he looks like you. You’re the African-American and he sees himself as you trying to be like you." I was like wow, that’s really cool. Even though I’m not necessarily the fan favorite, to an African-American kid, I’m that guy for them. That’s awesome.
What does that mean for you in the context of Black History Month?
The WWE is doing a great job with making these awesome video packages every week and just highlighting different African-American stars of the past, which is great because a lot of the younger generation don't know these guys. They don’t know Ernie Ladd, they don’t know Bobo Brazil, they don’t know Ron Simmons (known as Farooq to some), the first black world champion, they don’t know Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas. People may know Rocky Johnson as The Rock’s dad, but not as the first African-American tag team champion.
Did any of them pave the way for you growing up? I know when I was coming up, Shelton Benjamin, Booker T, and Mark Henry were a few.
Two of the ones you just mentioned. Mark Henry is like a big brother to me ever since I came into the company. He’s always looked out for me until this day. We talk all the time and that’s one of my good friends. For 17 years now, he’s been doing it. Booker T is another one. That guy has done so much. He helped me out too and he’s one of the best in the company from an in-ring standpoint. Even just out of the ring.
It must be interesting for you to switch gears from being in entertainment and covering something that’s a big issue in the African-American community.
It is and that’s why I feel like it’s an important thing for me to do. I wanted to do entertainment because I wanted to be an entertainer, but at the same time, it’s something that I’m very qualified to do. And if it [concerns] me personally and I have a strong passion for it, then I’m also covering it.
Do you foresee yourself returning to the ring anytime soon or are you focused on your new gig?
I see myself coming back to the ring. There’s a bunch of different things I want to do, but I’m all over the place. But I do foresee that.
Who are the African-American wrestlers who are making an impact right now?
There is Big E Langston, who’s the Intercontinental Champion right now. Xavier Woods, that guy is awesome, too.