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By Mike Johnson on 2020-06-03 11:06:00

In recent weeks, WWE NXT viewers have seen a new side of Candice LeRae and her husband Johnny Gargano.  As all roads lead to Takeover: In Your House this weekend, LeRae takes to the ring tonight against Mia Yim.   The following interview was recorded on Tuesday June 2nd. 

Mike Johnson: This Wednesday night on WWE NXT, it will not only be the go home show for this weekend's NXT TakeOver In Your House, which makes me feel like Todd Pettengill's lurking around somewhere, but we will see our guest at this time, Candice LeRae, enter the ring against Mia Yim. We have seen quite a volley of words and verbal jousting between the two sides of the Gargano's and Mia Yim and Keith Lee in recent weeks. We've also seen a much different take and a much different dimension of Candice LeRae since the final beat. And we're going to talk about all of that and more. So, first of all, Candice, how are you doing as we head into this weekend and this week's match with Mia? 

Candice LeRae: Yes, I'm doing well. And I'm always ready. I mean, I wasn't going to wait. I insisted that it happen tomorrow, so yeah, I'm very ready.

Mike Johnson: So last time we spoke, we were at the WWE Performance Center. It was October of last year, and you talked about how there was a match with Io Shara where you felt you finally burst out and everyone got to see the Candice LeRae that people had seen previous to your NXT run. Since the Final Beat on, we've seen a much different version of Candice. How much of that is just the evolution, and you talked about how you felt like you kind of found your comfortable place in that match against Io Shirai, what place are we in now in terms of comfort? Because obviously we're seeing a lot more character-driven material with you and Johnny than we had seen with you previously. So what's it like finding that balance between the Candice that everybody knows and this new dimension?

Candice LeRae: I love it. I feel like there's not an issue with the balance because this is really just another side of me. It's there. It's always kind of been there, but now it's just out for everybody to see. So it's actually very easy, and I love it. I love it so much.

Mike Johnson: In recent weeks, WWE NXT has regularly featured the Gargano family dinner segment.  What were the inspiration for those?  I watched them, and I don't know that this is like a perfect fit, but I almost feel like I'm watching Mickey and Mallory a little bit from the old Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers, where they have this skewed view of the world. What was it like putting those together and what has been the inspiration for them?

Candice LeRae: I love doing them. I love doing anything that's just kind of out of the box and a little different and so does Johnny, and the fact that we get to do these kinds of things together is even a million times better. I think we just kind of wanted to give people something that, if you were watching, but you're on your phone, let's say, there's that moment where there's a change and there's a shift in our personality and there's a shift in... Like, you're almost kind of uncomfortable watching it. Even if you're on your phone and you're not paying attention, when that shift happens, you're going to pay attention. And we wanted people to pay attention and hear our message. So those moments were like the important moments for us, like get off your phone, look at what's happening, and then go about your day. And it's been great to do that kind of stuff with my husband.

Mike Johnson: Working with Johnny obviously is something, you've been connected to him since you've each come to NXT in some way. What are the ups and downs of working with him and being married to him on camera as well as obviouslY, behind the scenes? 

Candice LeRae: We've always been very open about our relationship from when we first started dating through the entire relationship. And we've always let the fans in to see what kind of goes on in our relationship and in our lives. And we actually genuinely like each other, and I love getting to work with him. I mean, he's such a talented person and I admire him. I've always admired him and his work since before we were even together.  There was awhile when I first joined NXT where I just wanted to do things on my own because I'm a very stubborn person. I want to earn everything. I'm going to do this on my own, and for a while I did. But now I think we're just both getting to this breaking point where we're like, we need to change. We need to do something. And ironically that change was that we're just together more now. And I don't know, it's been great for, I hope both of us. I know I can speak for myself. It's been great for me, but I'm hoping, as his wife, I can speak on his behalf and say that I think he's really, really enjoyed doing that with me too.

Mike Johnson: On Wednesday's NXT, you're going to be facing the Mia Yim. Last week we got to see Mia Yim and Keith Lee take on their version of the Gargano dinner. What was your thoughts on that segment and your thoughts on getting in the ring with Mia, because I feel like the rivalry with yourself and Mia... We talked about a new dimension for you. I feel like it's brought the best out in her in terms of her ability to speak and brought some more character out of her, where before everybody knew she was a great wrestler and it was an interesting backstory there, but I feel like there's some passion that's been pulled out of her thanks to this rivalry. So if you don't mind, talk a little bit about that and your thoughts on that segment?

Candice LeRae: Are you saying that at my husband's expense that the best came out of her? Is that what you're saying? Because I feel like that's what he just said. They made fun of us and that made her better. That's what's crazy to me. Johnny and I, we didn't make fun of that. We were pretty... I mean, we were just stating facts, and then they got a little petty and a little out of nowhere and they got a little immature, a little immature, the way that they handled it.  Nevertheless, if it brings out the best in Mia and Mia wants to keep earning opportunities and she wants to... If it's going to make her better and not focus on the fans, then that's great. But something tells me that's not the case because that dinner scene, it was for the fans. It looks silly. It looks so silly. If it fuels her and I'm getting the best version of Mia, then that's great. Give me the best version of Mia. Let's do it.  Well, hopefully [fans get] the best from her, but that doesn't mean that's going to be difficult for me, right?

Mike Johnson:  This whole trajectory for you started at the final beat. Obviously in the current rendition of WWE where there's a lot of empty arena matches, a lot of cinematic style production, what were your thoughts on the final beat when it was being produced? And what was your thoughts upon seeing the final product and seeing how well that final battle between Johnny and Tommaso Ciampa was received and you being a big part of that storyline?

Candice LeRae: Everybody that was there that day worked so hard. I can't even begin to tell you. Every day that we're around the production here in WWE, I get such a newfound appreciation for just different people and different jobs. I mean, when Johnny and I got to go to Connecticut and meet all the people there and see all the different jobs people have there and how hard they all work, I don't know, it speaks volumes about how passionate the crew, that you don't get to see on camera, really truly is for the WWE brand. It's amazing.  They just want the product to be so good. They just want people to... it's all about smiles on faces, right? That's the thing. And that matters so much to the crew here and it's too bad we can't just like list every single one of those people. They're amazing. If nothing else, I hope somebody in the crew hears this. I think all of you, you guys work so hard, and I just felt so lucky to be a part of that, the whole thing. It was amazing.

Mike Johnson: So when we spoke last time in October, one of the stories that you told was you were just at the breaking point where you're like, "Eh, maybe it's time to move on from this," when you got your official contract offer. You've been with the company for a while. Obviously you've gone through the Performance Center, you've become a cornerstone of NXT. What do you think has been the major learning moments or the major moments of evolution for you as a performer since going into the WWE system and since being a part of NXT?

Candice LeRae: I think it's just being here. You're getting so much experience in so many different... There's things that I've learned here that you can't learn on the independents. And just, like I said before with the crew and who's editing the show and who's seeing camera views and our camera men and what they are seeing, and there's just so many different little things that make this big picture, just little tiny pieces, like a giant puzzle, and you can't have these little pieces of the puzzle missing. And having this new perception of what wrestling is and understanding all that goes into people being able to see this at home, especially now during these times. We can't all be in the arenas. And so the fact that this can go to millions of people's homes and they can see it, it's been such an eyeopening experience.   You kind of take these things for granted when you're a kid or you're a teenager and you're watching it on TV. But then it helps me to learn how all these things work and to understand and pick people's brains and ask them questions. Asking questions is such an important thing, and just listening to people. It's really opened my eyes and it helps me give the people at home more of myself.

Mike Johnson:  We've seen a change in WWE television in recent weeks with NXT trainees and performers in the crowd to bring out that ambient noise that is far more familiar for the audience watching. I would assume there was an audience there when the match took place with Mia. How does that change how you've approached performing and getting into the ring? Did it make it easier? Because one of the constant narratives has been how much harder and what it's been like to kind of transition for so many talents, going into an empty Performance Center, performing for the cameras, as opposed to an audience there. With the NXT talents there, how has that changed the entering aspect of competing for you?

Candice LeRae: I am always trying to be aware of the fact that there are people watching at home. So once I'm in a match and I'm physically in that moment, they don't have to physically be there for me personally. I thought it was going to be really, really difficult. I mean, especially since we had a ladder match and there was nobody in the crowd, but I still felt like I was fighting for something. And because I felt like I was fighting for something, it made the actual physicality of the match still, as though there were tons of people there. It didn't change that for me.  For me personally, and I can only speak on behalf of myself, for me, having the fans there makes my entrance less awkward. That's the most uncomfortable thing for me. I'm a little bit of a socially awkward person, so having to do an entrance and nobody's there is very uncomfortable for me. It's uncomfortable for me a little bit, I'll admit, when there are fans there. So having the NXT talent all be there and being rowdy or responding how they respond, is just, it helps my entrance. Nothing else. I appreciate that. I feel less awkward.

Mike Johnson: On Sunday night, Johnny is going to be facing Keith Lee. I would assume you're going to be involved there in some fashion and we'll be seeing you on the show.   What can fans expect from NXT TakeOver?

Candice LeRae: I'm really excited for this TakeOver. I don't know about anybody else, but I have so many memories of watching In Your House when I was little with my brothers. And so when they announced that this was going to be In Your House, it was really exciting for me. I was like a giddy little girl. And then to see the In Your House TakeOver logo at the venue was even better. We just have one more thing that if we get that one more thing, one or two more things, and In Your House is like, I guess if they don't build a house that I'm going to bring a little house, and then I'll just have my own. That's all we need at this point.

Mike Johnson: You would think they've got the old set somewhere in Stamford in a warehouse, right? So it wouldn't be that hard to get it to Orlando.

Candice LeRae: I wonder if they do because Johnny and I... Well, but you know, things are... we don't know. Who knows? I didn't see a house. I will say that much. That's what I will say. I did not see a house, and Johnny and I went through the warehouse because we did get the opportunity to do that, but I didn't see a house. So who knows. It may be in there in a corner somewhere. I would assume they've kept it because they're great at keeping everything, like archive of the company. But if not, I'll bring a doll house. I'll bring a dollhouse. We'll have the dollhouse.

Mike Johnson: Maybe you could book Jeff Jarrett to perform as well. We'll bring that in Todd Pettengill, we'll bring back all the In Your House callbacks.

Candice LeRae: Let's get Doc Hendrix!

Mike Johnson: There you go. Whatever happened to that guy?

Candice LeRae: Now we're just dreambooking. That's what we're doing.

Mike Johnson: Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that. Every booking starts with a dream.

Candice LeRae: And then Johnny can swing off of the house.

Mike Johnson: There you go.

Mike Johnson: I know you've got to get going. Thank you so much for sitting down and talking to us. Before you go...... what's your message to everybody who, in this crazy time in recent months and weeks, is just looking for something to just entertain them and take their minds off the chaos and the concern, why should they tune into NXT this Wednesday?

Candice LeRae: NXT and wrestling is the Disneyland of... Actually NXT specifically. NXT specifically is the Disneyland of wrestling. And I personally like to go to Disneyland and escape from my everyday worry. And I promise anybody that watches the NXT on Wednesdays and In Your House TakeOver is going to feel like they're at Disneyland, and every worry in the world, you can escape from it all for just a little bit, just a little bit. I promise. Pinky promise.

Mike Johnson: All right, we've got a pinky promise from Candice LeRae, and I guess that's better than a dinner invitation with the Garganos. I thank you so much for sitting down, talking to us-

Candice LeRae: Only a little!

Mike Johnson: Just a little!

Candice LeRae: Thank you.

Mike Johnson: Of course you can follow Candice, all the adventures of Candice and Johnny Gargano when NXT returns this Wednesday, 8:00 PM in the USA Network....and of course this Sunday night NXT In Your House, the latest TakeOver special on the WWE Network.  So Candice, I thank you so much for sitting down with us, and I thank everybody for listening, and until next time I'm Mike Johnson.

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