Wednesday, August 11, 2010 Steve Austin Article

By Brian Truitt, USA TODAY

Steve Austin is quite the character — and has been a number of them over the years.

His antiheroic "Stone Cold" pro wrestling persona was a hit with fans in the late 1990s. That led to him playing mean hombres in action movies such as The Expendables, in theaters Friday.

But off screen, Austin's personality is more laugh-out-loud than rough-and-tumble, says the 45-year-old grappler-turned-thespian. "Believe me, if we hung around all day, you'd laugh your (butt) off. I believe in my comedic timing more than I do in my tough-guy abilities, trust me."

He's bad-guy bodyguard Dan Paine in The Expendables, a thorn in the side of the heroes of director, writer and star Sylvester Stallone's action film. For a guy who tussled with "The Rock" way before he was Hollywood's Dwayne Johnson, having a face-to-face with the likes of Stallone was a dream come true.

"I'd never met Sly in my life, but I'm a huge fan, and I've seen probably every movie he's done and grew up watching him," Austin says.

"It was an easy meeting — it was like I've known the guy for 10 years. He offered me the job on the spot, and I accepted it on the spot."

Stallone sustained a hairline fracture in his neck while filming a sequence with Austin, and he made sure to bring that up during the Expendables panel at Comic-Con last month.

"I love this guy," Stallone says. "He broke my neck. He snapped it, (but) it was my fault. I now have this little thing with three screws. People say, 'Don't get screwed,' and I'm like, 'I already have. Three times.' "

And Austin and co-star Eric Roberts bonded the first day on set in Rio de Janeiro when they had to jump through a large fireball. "For two heterosexual men, we all but held hands all day every day," Roberts reports.

A native Texan, Austin wrestled professionally for 15 years, living out of a suitcase and seeing the world one packed arena at a time. He reached the top of that food chain with his foul-mouthed, middle-finger-flipping "Stone Cold" character. He retired in 2004 when wrestling started to take too much of a toll on his body.

"And I did nothing for three to four years. I just hunted and fished a lot," says Austin, who owns a 2,100-acre ranch 90 miles south of San Antonio. "Then I said: 'You know what? I'm bored, and I'm way too young to not be productive.' "

Austin had enjoyed guest-starring with Don Johnson on Nash Bridges back in its late-'90s heyday. So he decided to move to Los Angeles with his three dogs, Hershey, Shona and Brio, to give acting a shot.

Roberts, whom Austin considers a mentor and friend, says the burly actor will do well in show business because he's witty.

"You never think that by looking at him because he looks like a monster, actually," Roberts says. "But he's not. He's a total sweetie-pie. I just love him like I love family."

Austin is starting to work out his acting muscles more these days. He's filming the family drama The Boxer and the Kid, about a former pugilist who takes a bullied kid under his wing, and he returns this week to the set of NBC's Chuck to film scenes for an episode to air Oct. 4. He is looking to do a Western soon, too; he's a longtime fan of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

He also yearns to do a comedy because, at his core, he's a funny guy. This is a man who, after all, hit his boss in the head with a bedpan in his wrestling days.

"I don't really care what I do. As long as I'm happy doing it and I'm making good stuff people want to see, I'm cool."

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