While she’s no longer smashing opponents in the ring as WWE superstar Lana, the real-life woman behind the character, CJ Perry, is still smashing down barriers as a housemate on "The Surreal Life" reboot currently airing on VH1. The rebooted series sees the same premise as the original — a house filled with celebrities just trying to co-exist — but with a whole new slate of faces. Perry is joined by such notable personalities as former New World Order member Dennis Rodman, former child star Frankie Muniz, singer Tamar Braxton, and even adult film star Stormy Daniels. The debut episode of the reboot sees all of the house guests down in Mexico City, trying to channel their inner pro wrestler inside a CMLL ring. It’s exciting to see Perry back between the ropes, but it’s her tease that she may not be done with pro wrestling that has many fans talking.

A Surreal Life

Let’s talk about "Surreal Life," because I am a big "Surreal Life" fan. I watched all the seasons early on. I was very excited to hear that you had joined the cast for the reboot. So how did this come about? How did your casting for the "Surreal Life" happen?

Oh, it’s so wild. I actually got a call from my manager, probably a day or two before I got released, and he was like, "Hey, ‘Surreal Life’ wants you." And I’m like, "Wait, what? The reboot of that show that Chyna was on and Brigitte Neilson and Flavor Flav?" And so I was really shook. I was really excited because I’m like you, I was a big fan growing up and watching it. I would run home from school and watch it. So I couldn’t believe it, and I was super excited about that. But also I was still focusing on wrestling at the time and training with [Natalya] and training with [Tyson Kidd] and going to the Dungeon 2.0, that I was like, "I can’t go do a reality show. I want to win Money in the Bank."

And I’ll never forget talking to PR, and Miro as well, and I was like, "Maybe I shouldn’t do ‘Surreal Life.’ Maybe I just need to keep on focusing on wrestling and try to win Money in the Bank and then become champion." And then two days later I got a call of my release, so there you go.

Oh, no.

So I took it as a sign that, no, I need to go do "Surreal Life." And this is going to be a different and a new chapter in my book, so let’s go for it. I’m ready. And now we’re here.

So did WWE know you had gotten the offer?

Yeah.

So would they have tried to stop you from doing the show? Were they pro you doing the show? What was the reaction when you told them?

They were very pro, very pro. I just always go through all the proper channels. I went through the approval thing, and I even was like, "Well I don’t have to… Is it because of this? Is it because of the show? Is it because ‘Surreal Life’ offered me? I don’t have to do it. You can take all my money towards the downside if it’s budget cuts." And they said, "Stay in touch." That was what Johnny Ace said to me. And that was that.

Wow.

Yeah. I’m giving you some super exclusive tea right now.

So wait, did you getting "The Surreal Life," do you think that played into you getting released? Is that a thought in your head or no?

No, no. Don’t stir my pot and make me overthink things. I just took it as that they were doing budget cuts, and probably no one had my back in the room. And that’s just how it goes. It’s a checklist. You have to… If they have to make cuts for deliverables, it’s just, we’re a spreadsheet. I looked at it as kind of the opposite. Instead of being like, "Oh, is this the reason?" I was like, "No, the universe has got my back, and I’m good." The next thing is here for me, and I’m going to run into it, and hopefully I get to come back to wrestling and have a great comeback story.

Bonding With Housemates

The very first thing they did on the show was put you back in a wrestling ring.

I know! I know, it’s so crazy. Because it was literally six weeks after my release, so I was really going through it because I love wrestling. I love WWE … There’s nothing in entertainment like it, where we’re able to be storytellers and be physical storytellers as well as verbal storytellers, and the glitz and the glam and the athleticism. And then you could throw dance in there, and then you could throw a body slam … You could say things that you won’t really say in life. So because of that, it was really shocking for me, and that’s what I was going through on the show. And they can’t put all of that on the show because there’s just not enough time. But I was really thankful, because Dennis Rodman and Tamar and Kim Coles, they really helped me, just giving really good life advice and wisdom of being like, "You know what? You’re going to take this and run with it, and everything happens for a reason. Evolve, change."

And that’s what I really took from it … Dennis would tell me all the time, when he saw me in the ring and I started doing the character, and same with Kim Coles, she’s a great actor. And when they started seeing me do the Russian accent and then the character, Dennis completely changed to me. All of a sudden I realized I earned his respect. And he’s like, "You’re so good at what you do." He’s like, "Go be great at what you do. Go be the greatest manager of all time. Don’t try to be the greatest competitor of all time."

And it was so harsh. I kind of hope they show it on the show, but I was like, "What? Freaking screw off." But now taking that wisdom, it’s like, yeah. I want to come back to wrestling … I want to come for Paul Heyman’s throne. I want to go down as one of the greatest characters in history. And if that means I have to step away for a second to find more of the story, the character, the writing part of it all and then return, then I’ll do it. But when I do return, I’m going to burn the house down.

How was it bonding with Dennis over pro wrestling?

Amazing. It was amazing. When I saw him, I was so excited because I’m a fan, of course, of Dennis Rodman … People can think of destiny or believe in God. At the end of the day, that was a perfect picture for me out of everyone that could be in this house. The guy, this man that retired at 36, and then after he retired from his sport, he became even a bigger star. Someone that was in wrestling, someone that was tagging with Hulk Hogan, so much of a superstar that I want to be, like in the sense of, I don’t want to just be a one-trick pony. I don’t want to just be known for one thing. I want to be known, iconic at so many things like the J-Lo’s of the world and the Rocks of the world. And Dennis Rodman in his own right, he’s been able to somehow always be relevant and create conversation for so many decades, and that’s incredible. And wrestling also happens to be one of the things that he did, which is just epic.

Surreal Life Vs. Total Divas

This is not your first foray into reality TV. You did "Total Divas" as well. How was this experience different than the other reality work you’ve done before?

Oh my gosh, it’s completely different. I know it’s in the same genre of reality television, but when it comes to actually… You know what it would be comparing to? It would be kind of comparing "Friends" or "Big Bang Theory" sitcom to… I don’t know, "It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia" … The way you format the show is just so different. And very similar in this route with "Total Divas," it’s a doc-style reality show. So one, it’s drama. "Surreal Life" is comedy, so from the get-go that’s already different.

And then also, doc-style reality is a little bit story … It can also be completely reality, but sometimes there’s just a little bit more structure. This was no structure at all. You’re just thrown into a house, cameras literally everywhere, mics everywhere, in the bathroom, in the closet, everywhere, plus cameras and humans with mics and booms following you, so it’s just… 14 days straight. And it’s just kind of they put you in these crazy scenarios, and it’s wild to see how they edit it all together because there was a lot of drama … And they kept on telling us, the producers and the executives, they’re like, "It’s a comedy." And then seeing it all come together, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is a comedy.’ And so far I’ve been so entertained watching it.

Which do you like doing more, "Total Divas" or "Surreal Life?"

Well, with doc-style, things happen. Nattie’s dad passed out of nowhere. So things happen in life, and that’s … this is reality. This isn’t the History Channel where they’re just going to shoot the birds and stuff. And so you just kind of know what to expect a little bit more. With this, we had no idea. No idea … It’s a lot more anxiety on "Surreal Life" in the system. Maybe now doing it differently, but I just always felt like there was some other twist to it, and that’s probably just my own projection of not trusting reality producers.

You and Anvil had awesome chemistry, I really thought you guys were a lot of fun to watch together. Were you surprised that you developed this relationship with him?

I loved Jim so much. Oh, miss him. Well, I can’t say I thought it was odd because I just live my life freely and happily and whoever I connect with on the way. And if we can have the moment of connection and love and life and laughter, I think that’s the most beautiful thing of life. And I was just so blessed and thankful to be able to experience these moments. And maybe originally it was Total Divas kind of put us there, but we then had this genuinely awesome connection, kind of like an uncle I never had. The fact that I was taking Fireball shots, my parents and my entire family are very conservative people. My dad took maybe one Fireball shot his entire life, and here I’m chugging Fireball, freaking cups down. Not even shots, cups down with Jim. So he just made me laugh. He was so funny. I feel so grateful to have that.

Interest In An In-Ring Return

One of the big things obviously on the show that’s gotten a lot of wrestling fans’ attention is you kind of questioning if you’re done, right? You’ve got the filming behind you on this. You’ve got some buzz on you obviously right now. Are you interested in going back to pro wrestling, or are you content with other projects at the moment?

Oh no, I definitely want to go back to professional wrestling. Are you kidding me? There’s nothing like it in all the world. I believe I’m so young. The Rock kept on coming back. You never know when he might make an appearance and tell me that I’m really flexible, like that one time … It’s just the right story, and I want to create something that becomes undeniably undeniable, and has to be brought in even if people are hesitant. And I think with a lot of us, women of my generation and younger being in manager roles, we are literally changing the game as we go. Because 10 years ago, five years ago even, Triple H was giving women a lot of opportunities in this space of being a manager, but Vince was a little bit more traditional and he almost didn’t want me to be paired with Miro, because he’s like, "A hot girl can’t be with a heel guy, or he’ll get cheered."

And it’s like, "Well, why can’t you be hot and evil?" For what? I don’t understand. There’s a bunch of people like that in real life. Why can’t we do that? And so now seeing Triple H and that create a spot, and seeing so many more managers that are women with these factions, I get really excited and also really encouraged. And yeah, I got into professional wrestling because I loved the character Paul Heyman played and Stephanie McMahon played. And I’d love to come back and be an incredible heel and have an incredible faction of my own, have my own people that will bring titles to my management company.

And so what’s your relationship like with Triple H? Obviously it’s a huge change in power since you’ve left, and he’s kind of the guy running the show now.

With professional wrestling, anything could happen. Triple H hired me in 2013 during the Diva Search. That was under his "NXT" time when he was in charge of the development program, and he taught me so much. And Road Dogg taught me so much. I learned so much from them of how to be a storyteller, a character, entertaining, serious. And I absolutely would love to work with them again. It would be a dream. But I don’t put… I’ve said this many times. I don’t put anything in a box. And one of the main reasons why I would love to return to wrestling is it’s the one place that we can resolve our conflict in the ring. So I love to get people to think outside of the box, use social media. Look at Logan Paul. We use social media to push stories, and then all we can resolve our conflict in the ring. I think we’ve barely even tapped on the surface of the new era of storytelling that we will be capable of doing.

All Elite Updates

And what about the other side of the coin? Have you ever spoken to Tony Khan about joining your husband over at AEW?

Everything’s on the table. Nothing’s off the table. Everything’s on the table. I absolutely would love to do something with my husband. I met him working with him. There’s nothing more that I truly miss than being on the road with him and telling stories and entertaining people and making people boo us. So yeah, I don’t want to put anything in the box, but I absolutely would love to tell something really compelling and interesting and engaging. And know if it’s in AEW or if it’s in WWE, I don’t put it in a box.

Should we expect Miro to break into the house and cry in the backyard and you guys recreate the Chyna, Sean Waltman scene from Season One? Is that in the cards or no?

Oh, that’s so funny you bring that up, because I suggested that to him. I was like, "Can you just come here? Because I’m actually having a breakdown right now." I had several really intense breakdowns there, and every time I’m like, "Can you just come here please? Like Sean did to Chyna?" That’s so funny.

Other than Dennis Rodman, who obviously has a history in pro wrestling, which of your housemates do you think would make the best wrestler, or a pro wrestling personality, I guess?

Ooh, Tamar Braxton for sure. She has so much personality, and she’s so hilarious. She’s the one-liner queen of the house, that’s for sure. She was just incredible. And she’s also really competitive. Really, really, really competitive and pretty athletic, so I would say probably her.

All right, fair enough. Well, CJ, I want to thank you so much for the time. Very, very excited for you and everything you’ve got ahead of you. Any other projects you’ve got coming up that you want to promote before we wrap up here?

Oh yeah, there’s always stuff. Subscribe to CJPerry.com … There’s new incredible drops coming, but also different things of what we were just discussing about I’m going to start putting on there. So different ways of the management company that I’m starting that I want it to be in wrestling, and I’m starting to do character work over there that I will show bits and pieces on social. But the bulk of it is going to be on CJPerry.com, and it’s going to be really spicy and steamy, and I’m really excited about it. And I think the wrestling fans will really enjoy it as well, so subscribe to that. It’s definitely going to be blurred line stuff going on and story stuff going on that could… Maybe our conflict will be resolved in the ring there, so definitely subscribe.

And then I also have a movie coming out with Paramount. I can’t give all the details yet, but where I’m playing an assassin. And I’m super excited because I’m one of the lead assassins in it. And it’s definitely a cool departure from WWE where I was always in pink and getting my ass whooped. There I’m whooping all these big men’s asses, and I’m in black. And it’s actually, the character was inspired from The Undertaker.

Wow.

Yeah, so it’s super cool. I can’t wait for everyone to see that. And yeah, I’m producing three movies as well right now and about to direct my first short that will also air on CJPerry.com, so subscribe.