The WWE star-turned-actor produced Fighting with My Family, based on Paige's life
Former WWE wrestler Paige didn’t always want to get in the ring.
“I always loved wrestling growing up,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was obsessed with it. But I just scared of getting inside the ring. That wasn’t something that I was willing to do. It was terrifying.”
But as seen in the new movie Fighting with My Family, inspired by a documentary of the same name, Paige went on to dominate as a WWE Diva, becoming the youngest woman to hold the Divas Champion title, which she won in her debut match.
“It felt good knowing I could be a role model to people,” the 26-year-old says. “I’m from humble beginnings and now I’m getting fan mail, I’m blowing up on social media [with fans] just saying thank you. It’s really wonderful to see.”
Paige, born Saraya-Jade Bevis, grew up in a wrestling family. Her parents Ricky and Julia Knight (played by Nick Frost and Lena Headey, respectively, in the film) were professional wrestlers and promoters who ran their own gym in Norwich, England, which resulted in Paige loving the sport as a kid.
But it wasn’t until her father — a wrestling champ who retired in 2013 — needed Paige to fill in one night during a match that she saw a future in wrestling.
“One of the girls didn’t turn up for a show,” Paige remembers. “My dad was like, ‘Get in the ring. You have to fill in tonight.’ I was like, ‘Uh, okay.’ And then as soon as I walked out of the curtain and into the ring, I just fell in love with it. I was like, yup, this is what I want to do.”
Putting her focus on wrestling caused Paige to keep to herself as a teenager. “I didn’t really have many friends back then,” she admits. “I just concentrated on wrestling so much. I realized I had to get friends and I had to not just concentrate on one thing. They thought it [wrestling] was different. They think it’s cooler now that I came over to America.”
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Paige trained alongside her brother Zak (played by Jack Lowden) growing up, and they always dreamed of making it to the WWE. The first time they tried out, “We both didn’t get in,” she says. “We were never going to give up.”
So they tried out a second time, and as the film shows, Paige made the cut and Zak didn’t, driving a wedge in their relationship.
“We thought we’d either both make it or we both won’t make it,” Paige says. “We never thought it’d just be one of us. That’s where the problem came in.”
She adds, “It wasn’t because he was jealous of me in any way, but it was that he was upset because he lives and breathes wrestling. He’s loved it so much since a young age, and it’s just frustrating to him for his sister to get it. It caused a little bit of a riff in our relationship, but in a couple months he came around.”
Paige didn’t let that riff stop her from missing out on the chance of a lifetime, and in 2011, she went to train in Florida. Though she still missed certain aspects of home.
“I would go to Publix and there would be an ethnic food section, and I would like go and get tea bags there or biscuits,” she recalls. “My mom would send me stuff over.”
Her family came around by the time Paige made her WWE debut in 2014, which she calls a “surreal moment for me.”
“It was something that I’d been fighting for for so many years, and to get the opportunity to be the Divas Champion, it just soothed my mind because I wasn’t a typical Diva,” Paige says. “I didn’t look like the rest of the divas. I was the oddball, the misfit. The reception from the fans was amazing. Even when I watch it back now, it’s insane to me.”
Paige admits that, as seen in Fighting with My Family, she did feel real-life pressure to change her look to fit in.
“I didn’t go as blonde because my hair would’ve fallen out, but I did lighten my hair back to my natural color, which is like a dirty blonde/brown color and I got a spray tan,” she says. “I took my piercings out. I tried to conform to what I thought was Diva, but it just didn’t work out for me and I wasn’t comfortable.”
It was actually her brother Zak who encouraged her to embrace her appearance. “My brother said, “The reason why you got signed was because of the way you look. Why are you changing?’” Paige reveals.
“It all started with Dwayne,” Paige says of the film, in which Florence Pugh plays her. “I didn’t know it was going to be made the day of Wrestlemania 2014. I get a text on my phone, ‘Hey, it’s DJ. I would love to talk to you at some point today.’ I didn’t know who D.J. was! I didn’t know he had a nickname. And then I go, I get taken to his room, he comes in, he’s like, ‘Hey, I just want to let you know that I stumbled across your documentary. And I fell in love with the family. I fell in love with your story and I think it’s so beautiful and so relatable that I want to do a movie on it.’”
After Johnson, 46, left Paige “speechless,” she says, “I was crying my eyes out.”
Now the WWE star-turned-actor continues to be a mentor to Paige. “He’s such a good human being and he always makes time to speak to you, even though he as the busiest schedule of anyone in the world,” she gushes.
Since retiring from wrestling last April due to a career-ending neck injury, Paige has moved to Los Angeles, released makeup and clothing lines and is excited about getting involved with movies. And thanks to Fighting with My Family, Paige and her family are closer than ever.
“They’re so excited,” she says. “I’m just so happy for my family. They deserve so much. I came and I got signed to WWE and I felt like I got a lot of stuff, whereas this is something that’s for everybody. To see my brother smile, he deserves it. “
Fighting with My Family is out now in New York City and Los Angels, and opens nationwide on Friday.