After having his lengthy pro-wrestling career cut short due to a stroke in 2002, Bret "The Hitman" Hart subsequently dropped out of the limelight, eventually re-emerging in 2007 with a 592-page autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life In The Cartoon World Of Wrestling. Culled from an audio diary he kept while working the wrestling circuit, Hitman brought Hart back into the public's eye long after he'd left the ring. Now, Hart is on the road again, this time for a string of non-wrestling appearances with Philadelphia-based, independent pro-wrestling company Ring Of Honor, whose ring, backdrops, and wrestlers were featured in several scenes of last year's Academy Award-nominated The Wrestler. Before hitting the Chicago Ridge Mall tonight, Hart talked to The A.V. Club about The Wrestler, his ideas for his next book, and why his appearance on The Simpsons didn't sound like him at all.
The A.V. Club: Is attending Ring Of Honor shows a little bittersweet because you don't wrestle anymore?
Bret Hart: No, the thing I miss the least is the actual wrestling. I do miss the wrestlers, the fans, and some of the cities. I don't play a character at any of the shows I go to. I don't want to go out there and act as a "chairman" or a "commissioner" or anything like that. I can't pretend to act like that matters, anymore.
AVC: Ring of Honor operates on a much smaller scale than WWE. Do you think they're legitimate competition for the WWE?
BH: After Vince McMahon bought WCW [in 1999], but before TNA came along in 2002, you either worked for the WWE or you didn't work. Ring Of Honor was still very small back then. The WWE basically had a monopoly on the business. Now, Ring Of Honor is a reasonable alternative brand. They're one of the few companies in the world that's still trying to produce wrestling. Sure, they'll lose a star here and there to the WWE, but at least there's places for wrestlers to go, even if it's only a handful. Ring Of Honor has a lot of risk-takers. They'll do some things that will startle you a little bit.
AVC: Do you still follow wrestling on TV?
BH: I've been watching a lot of the old AWA Classic and old WWF. I'd much rather watch the old, storyline-driven shows, because the fans are so much more passionate. Now, some of the fans just want to hold up a sign, get on TV, and care too much about the backstage-politics side of the business. There are still plenty of great talents, but sometimes you get wrestlers that will put on a hold and do it wrong, or some of these guys will try and put [Hart's signature move] the Sharpshooter on, and I'll think, "You should at least try practicing that!"
AVC: Why did your appearance on The Simpsons sound so, well, weird?
BH: They approached me about doing a voice as a wrestler, but not Bret Hart. It was the Mad Russian or something. I said, "I don't want to be the Mad Russian, I want to be Bret 'The Hitman' Hart!" We went back and forth for a while and they eventually said, very politely, "This is the way it's written, take it or leave it." I agreed, and flew down to FOX Studios. They had blocked off this huge chunk of time for my three lines, and were saying things like, "We need you more mad," "Okay, not quite that mad!" I did my lines about 100 times in two minutes! I went outside to wait for my limo that had gone to get gas, and I signed autographs and took pictures for 45 minutes. The guy that was in charge of my episode came up to me and said, "I had no idea you were this big of a star! If we haven't already started the artwork, we're going to draw you in as yourself." That's why the voice doesn't really sound like me, because I thought I was playing a crazy Russian!
AVC: Have you thought about getting involved in the training aspect of wrestling?
BH: If I thought I could do it properly and run a productive school, I'd consider it. I still have a lot to offer wrestling and I think about it lots of times, but I also don't mind being free from wrestling. I think my book was my last lifeline to it, and after that came out, I've moved on. I'm starting to think about writing another book. I'd like to write a fiction book, but I might do a wrestling book that goes back in time. I would love to know more about wrestlers like Gorgeous George or Buddy Rogers and what it was like to be world champion in 1948. That's a world that nobody understands anymore. A lost era. This is a time when they'd load up six cars with wrestlers and everyone would drive from Calgary to Salt Lake City just for one show. No one ever documents it!
Wrestlers have never gotten the credit they deserve for being great athletes or great actors because they're just seen as circus performers. The media sees wrestling as its own special category and doesn't cover it. Back in the '80s, though, when Hulk Hogan would come to town, every channel would show up trying to get a shot of him, and I've never seen it that way, since. Maybe the business is just waiting for the next, big superstar to come through. Wrestling is so unpredictable in how stars are created.
AVC: What did you think of The Wrestler? Has it helped change the public's perception of wrestling?
BH: Before I saw it, I heard about how great it was, but I was hoping that it would give wrestling a little bit of respect. When I watched it, as good as the acting and story was, I thought that people would think there was no high end or reward. There's a lot of better stories. Wrestling was a good life for me. I had some bad things happen, but the truth is, I had a great time. One thing I didn't get from The Wrestler that bothered me, was that they made it look like wrestling doesn't take any athleticism. I think they showed Mickey Rourke working out one time, but for me at least, I trained every day! I think that helped reinforce some opinions that anyone can walk in the ring and wrestle. Some people will watch that movie, never watch wrestling again, and think that's how it always ends.