When I initially heard about Total Divas, I was immediately intrigued, specifically because it was being produced by Bunim-Murray Productions. I knew that the brains behind The Real World would give the phenomenal concept of a reality show exploring the world outside of the wrestling ring, the proper treatment that it deserved. I, along with millions of others, wasn’t disappointed.
Total Divas is a bonafide hit and breathed new life not only into E! but into the docu-lifestyle reality genre at large. The show follows the lives of five divas, both in and out of the ring and offers a first-hand look at their personalities, personal lives and ring personnas.
I grew up on professional wrestling and covering it was my first job in the journalism field. I used to cover all of the major pay-per-view events for a variety of outlets before I made the professional decision to jump into television and more specifically reality television. That is why I was the most excited about Total Divas, which was the first fusion of my two primary areas of interest. While everyone now knows that professional wrestling is scripted, that doesn’t make the sport any less compelling. Similarly, up until this E! series, wrestling fans never got to know the superstars as real people as there was always a curtain preventing fans from getting too close for fear it might ruin things for them if they got to know who the people were behind the characters that they portrayed.
Back when I covered wrestling full-time, one of my very first major interviews was with Canadian professional wrestler, Natalya in 2005. At the time, she was just breaking into World Wrestling Entertainment under the wrestling psyedonym of Nattie Neidhart (a nod to her legendary wrestling father Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart). Eight years later, she is now at the top of her game and when she is not fighting for the women’s championship, she stars in E!’s new WWE spin-off reality show, Total Divas.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Natalya and talk to her about the success of Total Divas. Check it out!
Murtz Jaffer: I actually interviewed you many years ago, right when you were first breaking in. Around 2006, 2007…
Natalya: Oh so when I was first getting into WWE.
MJ: Yup, exactly. So I feel like things have come full circle. I have always felt like there was a certain comparable element between wrestling and reality TV in the sense that they are both really great at building characters, do you see any similarities between the two even though you are sort of a character in World Wrestling Entertainment but we see the real Natalya on Total Divas.
N: Oh, that’s great analysis because in WWE, our characters kind of an extension of who we are. Now, by watching Total Divas, I can really get a sense of how I really am. How dramatic I really am in real life. The show really depicts all of my vulnerabilities. I laugh. I cry. The thing with the WWE is that you only get a limited time to find your character. With Total Divas, you get up close and personal in that concentrated environment. You get to see what the girls are like behind their WWE characters.
MJ: The casting on Total Divas has been totally on point. It showcases both established divas like yourself and the Bella’s, but it also gives a great push to new divas like Jojo and Eva Marie. It’s almost like a VJ search on MTV in the sense that it can give more exposure to the people we are already familiar while also allowing new people to be introduced to the viewing audience. Is there any part of you that is envious that you didn’t have something like this when you were coming up the ranks since it is such a great way to push the new people really quickly?
N: I actually was thinking about this the other day and I think everything in my WWE career was leading up to the show because I probably never would have been a part of Total Divas if I had gotten everything handed to me to start with. My role on the show . It is the most important role of my career so far and it is what I have been waiting my entire career for. If I had just walked in and been fasttracked like what is happening with Eva Marie and Jojo, I would be the rich and diverse character that is Natalya because part of my character is really about experience. If there was ever a time where I felt sorry for myself and I was like ‘man, I wish I had gotten this’ or ‘why wasn’t this about Nat?’ or ‘why wasn’t this about me?,’ I don’t think I would be where I am now. It was all part of my destiny. This has been the most rewarding experience of my entire WWE career. I have gotten the chance to share my entire relationship with my husband TJ (also known as Tyson Kidd, WWE Superstar!) on the show. I have gotten the chance to share my personal life. I have gotten the chance to show the world my struggle and not be afraid to talk about it. One of the most liberating parts of the show is that I have gotten the chance to show my vulnerability. Before I used to sometimes feel frustrated but I would always put on this brave face, no matter how much I was hurting inside. Now, I don’t have to pretend anymore. It’s very rewarding for me and I think people respect me more now then ever because everybody relates with struggle. Everybody has gone through struggle in their lives.
MJ: Was there any part of you that was apprehensive about signing up for it knowing that typically the WWE goes out of its way to ensure that the personal lives of its superstars are kept private? On Total Divas, the private lives are the most important thing.
N: It is a little scary to put yourself out there and lay your life on the line and not know what people are going to think. Part of me never wanted to talk about my relationship with Tyson because we have always kept things so personal at work and I was like ‘Nattie, what are you so afraid of?’ ‘What are you so afraid of showing what you did at work today?’ ‘What are you so afraid of showing what you did at work today or what your family does?’ It’s okay. It’s okay to be real. This has been the most successful and biggest gig and the biggest part of my career. It’s meant the world. Now that I have laid it all out there and revealed everything, I don’t have one regret about it.
MJ: Can you tell me about how you feel you have been presented on the show? I almost feel like you are the Lisa Simpson of the program. You’re the voice of reason. While the Bella’s are always talking about their relationships with John Cena and Bryan Danielson, Jojo and Eva Marie area always concerned about how they are going to be pushed, the Funkadactyls are always in-fighting… you’re the calm one. Was this by design or is this how you really are?
N: I think that’s really how I am. I try to be the voice of reason. I really try to keep everybody cool under pressure because in the locker room, that’s the most dangerous place in the whole company. It’s the lion’s den. I really think that cool heads prevail in situations like the Divas locker room where there is always mayhem and drama, especially with the Bella Twins who are very feisty and emotional at times. They also fight with their emotions and they feel bad about it later. Then you have the Funkadactyls who are very snappy and then there’s Eva and Jojo who are like these little kittens that you have to nurture and guide. The thing is, I have been through it all. I have realized that in every situation, the best way to handle it is just to relax and take a step back (laughs).
MJ: The Divas are greatly benefitting from all of the attention that Total Divas is getting. How are the wrestlers reacting and do you think that we could maybe see a behind-the-scenes spin-off that just focuses on the guys?
N: I don’t think the guys are strong enough to lay out their lives! (Laughs).
Other than Tyson Kidd, John Cena and the others on the show of course. John Cena said “these girls are great and these girls are pioneers because it is scary going out there and showing the WWE Universe who you really are. For example, our champion right now. She likes being the champion and she likes being her character and being at the high point of her character. It’s easy to hype your character than to show who you really are.
MJ: You’re talking about AJ Lee right?
N: Yeah. She has this wild character and she’s a little crazy and a little off-the-hook, but it takes a pioneer to say ‘no, I am not going to hide anymore, I am not going to hide behind my character and this is who I am.’ It’s scary because you have to be prepared for the backlash and so with TJ and myself, we put our relationship out there, even with problems that we are having. TJ almost had a career-ending leg injury. We went through a really tough time in our relationship where his main focus was getting himself back in the ring and my struggle was making him work on our relationship as well. It’s scary to go out there and talk about it, but you’d be so surprised at how many people connect to that. I don’t think every WWE superstar and Diva wants to do that because it is scary. Putting yourself out there, people might not like it and you have to be prepared for the backlash.
MJ: Your wedding has become one of the major storylines of the show and it is how the last season ended. Can you elaborate on your relationship with TJ versus Jaret and how Jaret came into the picture? Did this happen in real time because it is such a classic reality TV storyline to have the love triangle?
N: Everybody is so intrigued by Jaret. It’s crazy how the whole Jaret incident ended up evolving. Jaret has been a friend of mine for over a decade, so yeah, it did happen over the course of filming the show. I went back to visit a couple of friends in Calgary and Monday Night RAW was filming there. I ended up meeting up with Jaret and I found out that his father had recently passed away so Jaret was going through a pretty rough time and we kind of connected. It was during the same time when TJ and I were planning this big wedding and we were having problems with mom and so on and so forth. Jaret, even when the cameras weren’t around, told me that I was beautiful. And there were no cameras. I was blown away by it. The story started to evolve because I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be filmed because I didn’t want TJ to get upset but then I was like ‘I have already gone this far so I have to finish what I started.’ It made it incredibly awkward because I didn’t know how TJ was going to handle any of it. I also didn’t to ruin my relationship with Jaret because we have been friends for 10 years. I had to go through that awkward phase and it almost ruined my wedding and almost ruined my friendships with the girls. The girls were really upset that I was even chatting with Jaret and asking me how I could do that to TJ. It was a messy situation. We’re still going through it.
MJ: No spoilers, no spoilers! What’s been the best part of doing the show?
N: The best part of doing the show is that it just allows me to feel totally liberated. It’s very much like Darren Young, the WWE superstar who just came out and said that he was gay. It was such a proud moment for our entire company to have him come out and tell the world who he is. When I saw Darren go through that whole process, I considered him to be a hero. In the same way, Total Divas allows us to stop being scared. It’s really one of the best feelings to not have to hide. I want everyone to own the emotional rollercoaster that life is. Part of life is being who you are and not being perfect and letting other people know it. It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is or what the color of your skin is, your race or religion or what is going on in your personal relationship. What matters is that you are real and the content of your character. People can really see the content of our characters on Total Divas. They can celebrate our characters and that is what being a role model is all about.
MJ: You come from the best wrestling pedigree that there is, growing up in the Hart family and training in the dungeon. Does that put an extra degree of pressure on you to perform the high standard that has already been established.
N: Of course. That’s the pressure that comes with being born into a family that obviously accomplished a lot, like the Hart family. One of the greatest families in WWE history. I have put the most pressure on myself. Once again, Total Divas has been a positive release because I could actually talk about it. I put the most pressure on myself because I want to be perfect. I have such high standards. I often am the one that beats myself up the most. Over the last few years, I kept my struggles private. I did a few interviews, just like this one, where people would ask me if I felt like I was getting my due in the WWE. I would always hide and say ‘no no, everything is great and everything is fine’ and then when I was going through personal stuff with my family, I would always hide. Now I realize that the one who puts the most pressure on me is myself. Yeah my family is great, but so am I. I am a trailblazer. Yeah, the Harts have a legacy but I also feel like I am creating my own legacy. I am helping the term of WWE Diva evolve. For me, yeah, there’s pressure but my family are very supportive of me and I am continuing to grow. If I fall down, I will continue to get back up.
MJ: Have the Harts watched Total Divas? They seem like such traditionalists. What do they think?
N: They are SO traditional, but I have to tell you (and this will shock everybody), my uncle Bret has not missed an episode.
MJ: Laughs. That’s a very humorous mental image.
N: He has not missed an episode! Every episode, he gives his play-by-play commentary. Absolutely loves the show. Loves the Bella Twins. Thinks they are beautiful. He loves their personality and their characters. He knows them too, in real life. He knows that that we started together. So Bret loves the Bella Twins and loves the show. He is so into it and it makes me happy because I always love to hear what he thinks. Now the entire Hart family has something to do on Sunday nights. When my grandfather was alive, they would do this Sunday Dinner where every Sunday they would get together at the Hart house and they would kind of congregate and update each other on what was happening. Now, they all get together and they get together at my Aunt Alice’s house, Bret, my other uncles and they all bring a dish and they have a potluck and watch Total Divas. They don’t miss it. It’s become their tradition. I have really had my family rally around me and that’s one of my proudest achievements.
MJ: Where do you see yourself at this point next year?
N: I see myself as being the champion. I can’t emphasize how much I love love love performing in the ring but I also feel like I am a pioneer in this way and that I am now a representative of the WWE. I feel like a strong role model for women. I am really proud of the charity work I have done with the Be A Star campaign and the Special Olympics. Even with Make A Wish. I have had so many opportunities come up because I am a WWE Diva and those are things I want to continue and move forward with.
MJ: Why should people watch Total Divas?
N: It’s one of those things where when there is a lot of heavy stuff going on in the world, sometimes you just want to let loose. Everybody loves a little drama and you’re going to get your fill of it on the show. You’re going to see us laugh. You’re going to see us cry. You’re going to see what goes on behind-the-scenes with our relationships and I think more than anything, people will connect with us and I think it will be a great stress relief for everyone to know that they are not the only ones going through stuff in their lives.
MJ: That’s awesome. Thank you so much. I feel like we have grown up together since that first interview we did was one of my first. Now this one is so many years later.
N: Right,we both have evolved together. Thank you!
MJ: Thank you.
Total Divas returns for the second half of its first season tonight and airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on E!
Tags: Natalya, natalya neidhart, Total Divas, WWE