NEW YORK -- When moviegoers walk out of theaters after watching "Fighting with My Family," the natural inclination might be to doubt the veracity of the story told on screen. From the battles in the ring in which the members of the Knight family batter each other from pillar to post, to the struggle to grind out an existence through wrestling in a traveling caravan around England, it would be natural to doubt certain elements.
Who would willingly sacrifice their bodies like that? And could the personalities really be some bombastic and, at times, so over the top?
Yes. The answer to those questions, across the board, is a resounding yes.
As Saraya, Paige and Zak -- the matriarch and two Knight children who are the focus of "Fighting with My Family" -- get settled into their chairs for the latest stop on a worldwide media tour for the film version of their lives, their banter instantly gives them away. Upon the suggestion that "Fighting with My Family" is a fictionalized version of their story, which was originally told in a 2012 documentary on Channel 4 in England, they bristle.
"Well, we'd say 95 percent of the movie is true to story -- it's just 5 percent is obviously dramatized for Hollywood," said Paige.
Though the story rotates its setting and central focus throughout the movie, Paige and Zak are ultimately the primary characters. Paige and her pursuit of WWE dreams become the central through-line of the film, and that's the story WWE fans will recognize. The audience for this film seems likely to extend far beyond the boundaries of wrestling, though, as the story of the Knight family, their struggles for fame and fortune and the ups-and-downs of life, seem universal.
The movie has received positive reviews thus far and even got a special screening at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The biggest critics of all could have been the people who actually experienced those moments of joy, heartbreak and pain, who could sit there nit-picking every little inconsistency, but instead the Knights were collectively blown away once they saw the end product.
"We have to say well done to [everyone]," said Zak. "Every person in that movie absolutely smashed the role. Jack [Lowden], Florence [Pugh], Lena [Headey], Nick [Frost], Vince Vaughn -- every single person done themselves justice. And I truly believe that it's getting as much exposure because of how well these guys [have] done.
"I think they got everything in," Zak offered. "I wouldn't say anything is even dramatized. They got everything in that we told them, but it's [just] not necessarily in the right order."
"It's weird seeing people play us, right? It is weird," said Saraya. "I remember this situation, I remember that situation and that's not me in it. It's like an out-of-body sort of thing. You're kind of on the outside looking in and it's really surreal. When you see Lena Headey and she's mimicking me, it is, it's just surreal isn't it really?"
The combination of cast and director was ultimately a perfect blend. Stephen Merchant didn't walk into this movie a big wrestling fan by any means, but his style of humor works perfectly in terms of delivering levity to balance out the moments when the movie shifts toward more serious topics.
"The funny thing is, Stephen [Merchant] always talks about, especially with mum and dad, how he said the script sort of just wrote itself," said Paige. "He's like, 'Pretty much I could just follow your family around and the stuff that would come out of their mouths...' I was just like, 'Mum's going to do this and it's fine, this is how she is.' So he would just write it down... he was like, 'I didn't need to add anything to the vocabulary -- they already added to mine many times [over].'"
"He came around and sat around the house and had Chinese food with us," Saraya said.
"We met up with Stephen three or four times," Zak added. "He'd come down to our training school facilities, he watched us train the guys, he'd come to our house, he had a good look around the house. He sat down and spoke to us individually and asked about our lives, and how we see how our lives are panned out.
"To be fair, Stephen Merchant is an absolute genius," Zak continued. "Everything that every single one of us told him, he's put into this movie. To watch it come alive, I keep saying this but, it hasn't sunk in! You're watching it and you're thinking "Wow, this is incredible! Wow, that's me!" He's done an amazing job."
With strong characters to build upon as a baseline, and an undeniable story to tell, it became a matter of picking and choosing small elements to shift around and a few little embellishments to sprinkle in. Wrestling fans might nitpick things like changing certain character names in NXT, or not adopting the exact right sets or scenery for the time that certain wrestling events happened, but everything from the drama to the actual in-ring performances was ultimately impressive.
One of the fictionalized moments in the movie is the interaction between Zak, Paige and The Rock before the two Knight kids tried out for WWE. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was one of the producers of the movie, and championed the project over the course of five years from concept to reality. Including more of him in the story gave fans a dose of something familiar, considering The Rock's history in the WWE, and the hook of that particular scene has been one of the key elements of the trailers that have been playing in the promotion of the film.
What moviegoers might not realize is that the second scene featuring The Rock, which happens at WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans in 2014, actually happened.
"Like in the movie, when Hutch takes me to the room, someone came and grabbed me and took me to the room. And Dwayne was in there," said Paige. "He was just like, 'Hey I couldn't sleep one night when we were filming 'Fast and Furious' in England, and I stumbled across your family's documentary. I've just got to say I think it's so wonderful, and I think your family's so relatable, and it just reminds me of my family and I just love the whole thing, I love the whole dynamic. I would love to make your life into a movie.'
"We were never expecting for Dwayne to be losing sleep one night [while] filming 'Fast and Furious' in England, and then stumble across this documentary," said Paige, "Watch it, fall in love with it, fall in love with the family and was just like, 'Alright, we're going to make a movie on it.' It blows our mind every day. It's such a wonderful feeling, though, and I'm really thankful for it and thankful that my family are now getting the recognition they've so long deserved."
One of the craziest parts to that story is that, just like in the movie, Paige gets the biggest news of her wrestling career straight from the mouth of The Rock -- only she can't tell anyone what he just told her.
"I was just like, 'What? What the hell?' And then two seconds later he was like, 'Oh by the way, you're going to debut on the main roster and win the Divas championship,'" Paige recalled. "I was like, 'What is going on?' I'm crying, blubbering, snot bubbles, eyelashes on my forehead. I was crying so much. And he was like, 'By the way, no one's supposed to know about this.'
"So I walk out of the office and I see people and they're like, 'Are you OK?' And I'm just like, 'I'm just a really big fan of Dwayne,'" said Paige. "I didn't know what to say, but then I told these guys [my family] and everyone was really excited."
The final blend of the movie delivers a satisfying journey of a family without trying to shove too sweet an ending down the viewer's throat. Paige gets to live her WWE dreams out, but Zak is forced to re-imagine his life and adjust to his own hopes of that type of life not being fulfilled.
While Paige's in-ring career with WWE was cut short by injury, Zak and the rest of the Knight clan continues to perform all over England to this day. Wrestling is in the family's blood -- like hepatitis, as is joked about in the movie -- and as every generation of the family remains involved in that world, Zak is confident that "Fighting with My Family" represents a level of recognition for everything each of them had to sacrifice along the way.
"Dad has done this [for 33 years]," said Zak. "He paved the way for us all and I felt like, if nothing else now, we've left a legacy in professional wrestling in general. We've worked very hard for next to no money, traveling around in cars that sometimes couldn't even get us to school and back. Wrestling, I think we've left our stamp."
Most importantly, it's a story about life more so than it's a story about wrestling. And if there remains any lingering doubt about just how hard this movie worked to deliver the authentic story, you'll want to sit all the way through the end credits.
"To be honest, I think the realism comes into the movie itself if you sit and watch the end credits," Saraya noted. "As soon as you see the end credits, and then you see situations that we are doing naturally, and you glance back into the movie and you know you've seen that previously, it kind of ties it up really well and it proves, really, that it is a very real family."