The WWE Universe knows Lana as the commanding beauty standing alongside the beast known as Rusev.
These same fans are in for an eye-opening experience as the “Ravishing Russian” sheds the trademark accent and opens her life up for the world to see on Total Divas. Lana, real name C.J. Perry, joins the cast of the reality series when it premieres Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 8/7CT on E!.
Plans for her to be on the show can be traced as far back as Season 2. At that point Lana remembers having only been in developmental for around six months. Even though initial interviews were done for it, Summer Rae ended up filling the open spot. Lana saw this it as a blessing in disguised.
“A month later I debuted with Rusev at Royal Rumble, and it would have been way too soon for me to come out as the Russian American that I am,” she said. “We had a great first year doing a lot of Russian patriotic, Vladimir Putin stuff on Raw. I think seeing my American family on Total Divas might have hurt the gimmick or confused the fans a bit. Then season four again they talked about it. I’ve always wanted to be on the show. I think it’s a great show. I think Total Divas has brought the women more mainstream and so many opportunities. However, I’ve always thought if I’m supposed to be on the show I’ll be on the show. It’s all about timing.
“Season 4 came and it was a big conversation whether they wanted the accent or didn’t want the accent. Did they want Rusev on the show because I was feuding with him onscreen because I was with Dolph Ziggler. The timing was always off. This was the perfect timing. It felt like it was okay for me to come on the show and fully be myself and not have to put on the accent or not.”
Despite her background as a dancer, actress and overall performer, Lana found the idea of Total Divas to be nerve-wracking. Now fans would see the woman behind the persona.
“You are going to see me for me,” she said. “And the truth is we all want to be liked as human beings. It’s human nature. We all want to be loved and accepted. Here I’m going to be vulnerable and let you into my life to see who I am. I have always protected my character, and Rusev has always protected his character. That said, I have always wanted to do interviews as myself like this because it’s who I am.
“Lana is 100 percent an extension of me, but just one side of me. I feel that’s what I get really excited about because on Total Divas you are going to see other sides of me. I feel it will also show I created this character. I grew up in Russia. I lived there for 13 years. I had crazy teachers who would yell at me and throw their bags at me at a Russian ballet school. That’s where I created this whole thing where I yell at Rusev when he isn’t doing well because that’s how they are.”
A big part of this season of Total Divas is the planning and wedding(s) of Lana and Rusev. The culture clash between the two becomes evident.
“Rusev is definitely the ‘Bulgarian Brut,’” Lana said. “He thinks Bulgaria is the greatest country in the world. I think maybe not. They may have some good feta cheese. He is like, ‘No, America is not as great as Bulgaria.’ I argue back, ‘But you live in America and you make a living in America and live in Nashville, Tennessee. You are going to see a lot of that conflict that you don’t see on Raw.
“On Total Divas you are going to see the American side of me, and my DNA is American. I grew up in Russia, so there is the discipline and that point-of-view. I appreciate America as the land of opportunity. It’s the land where you can see your dreams come true if you work hard. My parents are American. His parents are Bulgarian. So you are going to see this conflict a lot. When I had the Bulgarian wedding, I almost flew home and left just because there was some serious conflict. It was really hard. Those are the challenges that we have to work through. You will see when you tune into the show.”
There are also some lighthearted moments as Rusev can be funny. It’s his humor that initially caught the attention of Lana. She credits the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes for putting the couple together.
“I was notorious at NXT for having constant pitches and ideas,” she remembered. “I was that girl who would come in every day to Dusty Rhodes with a 10-page pitch for characters and posters of character development. I had a lot of ideas. My third day and first promo class I started speaking Russian. He pulls me to the side and says, ‘Baby, I want you working with Rusenoff.’
“I finally realized that was the Bulgarian I actually met the night before at a tanning salon. We started working together. I think I motivate him. He always jokes, ‘You are the brains of the gimmick. You have the promos and I take the bumps.’ I would have him come over every day basically coming up with different skits and things. It was a lot of fun. We’ve always had a lot of fun. That’s the most important thing.”
Lana is grateful to Total Divas’ staples Nikki and Brie Bella for helping her along the way. She refers to them as mentors.
“I always go and ask them questions,” she said.
“There are times where I get so stressed out. They can relate because they came from a modeling background as well. They weren’t on the independent scene or come from a wrestling family like Nattie. They’ve helped me with being able to transition from Raw and SmackDown to having the reality show cameras on me. They encourage me to keep practicing and wrestling because the day is going to come that WWE is going to say, ‘You’re wrestling tonight.’ That’s why I’m training because I do want to be an in-ring competitor, but it’s about timing.”
Natalya is another Lana cites when it comes to being there for support. At the same time, she describes their interaction as a love-hate relationship.
“She is a veteran I look up to because she is an amazing story-teller and in-ring competitor,” she said. “I will go to her for advice, but I kind of drive her, crazy and she drives me crazy as well. You see a lot of that on the show. She helped me plan my wedding, which almost turned into a big disaster. You’re going to see a lot. We always make up in the end … even though there are times I want to pull her hair out.”
Early on in the Total Divas season, Lana is in her debut match at WrestleMania in front of more than 100,000 in Dallas. She is a big proponent of counting your blessings and how being a good person can manifest your destiny. In her eyes, the sky is the limit for the future.
“I would always joke around that my first match will be at WrestleMania. Sure enough that is what happened. That’s where you see me on Total Divas. It’s really exciting. I don’t know how this will impact the Lana character. It’s all entertainment, and we are here to put smiles on people’s faces. I think I’m an example of that. Here I am as a Russian American, but I play a bad guy and speak in a Russian accent. It shows how we are characters and extensions for ourselves. I hope it brings more awareness to the brand and what we actually do.
“I think I will surprise people. I think I’m a lot quirkier than what people envision. I’m a little eccentric. You are going to see another side of me, so I really hope everyone tunes in and watches. I look forward to taking viewers on this ride. Anything can happen.”
Total Divas premieres Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 8/7CT on E!