In a recent podcast, Roman Reigns discussed the influences behind his heel persona and how Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York served as inspiration.
Since returning in shocking fashion at the climax of WWE SummerSlam 2020, Roman Reigns has quickly become one of the most captivating characters in all of WWE.
His methodical transformation into “The Tribal Chief” has made WWE SmackDown, as well as his matches at WWE Payback and WWE Clash of Champions, truly must-see.
Roman Reigns was recently a guest on the Complex Load Management podcast in an episode that was recorded just prior to WWE Clash of Champions, and he shed some light on the influences guiding his heel persona and the chilling movie character he’s molded it around.
Earlier in the conversation, he discussed some of the nuance he’s trying to bring to the table each week.
"“How do we deliver it in a different way, opposed to just being like ‘oh, he’s a bad guy, he’s just this nasty human being now.’ I wanted to be able to do it kind of in layers. That way the character’s just not defined as being a bad guy. He’s a guy. He’s the guy who is faced with these decisions,” Reigns said. “In my mind, and in the character’s mind, [he] is justified in what he’s doing. So, he’s technically not wrong, but is just maybe rubbin’ everybody the wrong way. Or it might be a different route than what people are used to seeing the old character take.”"
While WWE isn’t always the best at providing a subtle and engaging approach, some of their best storylines and characters have brought that to the table. Roman Reigns talked about the reasoning behind his choices, and the credit he gives the audience to come along for the ride.
"“That’s kind of what I’m trying to do with playing everything very under. I don’t wanna insult our crowd and our audience and try to spoon feed you so you understand what’s going on. I want you to kind of decipher it on your own. I want you to ask questions. I want you to think about it the next day and the next day,” Reigns said. “I don’t want it to be a checkers type scenario. I want you to play chess with me and kind of see the ride of this character and the different emotions that we can convey and the stories that we can tell and see how I truly get to that deep end when it is time to really start killing people.”"
Roman Reigns looks to Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York
The hosts of the podcast took a moment to ask if there was anyone in the wrestling industry, or WWE history, that Roman Reigns had molded his heel persona around or studied. While Reigns didn’t name someone in wrestling, he revealed a chilling inspiration behind “The Tribal Chief.”
"“I’m sure you guys have seen Gangs of New York. The Butcher. In his mind, there is a bad element to him, but he’s the native. He’s the one that’s from America. I like those type of characters to where there’s a justification, in their own mind at least, to what they’re doing,” he said. “For me, in the character I’m trying to portray going forward, not everybody on our roster is going to be able to understand where I’m coming from and the reason why I’m doing it, because they’re not in the position that I’m in.”“They’re not in that hoss role, that top of the card role, and if they are they haven’t been there as long as I have. So, of course you’re not going to be able to understand it,” Reigns said. “There are some justifications and a lot of rationalizing that this character’s going to go through to convince him that he’s right, even when he’s wrong. I’ll have conviction going forward.”"
The revelation of Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York providing inspiration for his heel persona is powerful, and speaks to some of the things we’ve seen Roman Reigns do even after he recorded this podcast. For those who haven’t seen Gangs of New York, the character he’s referring to is the cold-blooded antagonist of the 2002 film.
Bill the Butcher, portrayed in the film by Daniel Day Lewis, is a ruthless gang leader who will not hesitate to kill those who get in his way. After an attempt on his life during the film, he delivers a powerful and succinct speech to another character that speaks volumes about the character’s violent philosophy.
"“You know how I stayed alive this long? All these years? Fear. The spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals from me, I cut off his hands. He offends me, I cut out his tongue. He rises against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all on the streets can see. That’s what preserves the order of things. Fear,” he said."
With those words in mind, it’s hard not to look back at the actions of Roman Reigns at WWE Clash of Champions 2020 and not see the inspiration behind his unrelenting assault on Jey Uso. Like Bill the Butcher, the only thing that mattered in that moment was fear.
Roman Reigns didn’t just need to win, he needed to send a message. He needed “the spectacle of fearsome acts.” That rivalry will continue, and potentially culminate, at WWE Hell in a Cell 2020. If the words of Reigns are any indication, it could be a very difficult night to watch for those who care about Jey Uso.