Natalie Eva Marie (née Nelson) just wanted to play soccer. She never envisioned her life as WWE personality-turned-silver-screen star or having the opportunity to be mentored by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Yet, she’s here.
Marie’s plans started to shift in 2002, her senior year of high school, when she suffered an ankle injury, which threatened to derail her soccer career. She was determined to prove everyone wrong who told her she wouldn’t play again.
And she took to the field.
However, after a successful two-year stint at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Valley, California, where she earned Junior College All-American honors as a striker, she gave in to her own self-doubt. After graduation, the Concord, California native transferred to Arizona State, and despite a lingering desire to walk on to the team there, she just didn’t think she was good enough.
The itch to return to the sport didn’t go away, so she transferred to California State University, Fullerton, in hopes of walking on to their program. After meeting with the coach and convincing him to give her a shot, she went to meet with various advisers to start the process.
But, it wasn’t meant to be. Her NCAA eligibility had expired due to the “five-year clock” rule, in which Division I athletes have five calendar years to play, starting at the time of their enrollment at any college.
“I wouldn’t have run into that problem if I just believed in myself from the start,” Marie said. “Now that I’m older, I know it’s so much better to have tried and maybe you fail, then to have never tried at all.”
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These days you probably know the 33-year-old as a former WWE Superstar (known in the ring as “Eva Marie”), reality-show veteran, fashion-line founder and up-and-coming movie actress. And she attributes her upward shift in life to never turning down an opportunity, no matter what the nagging voice in the back of her head is saying, and it’s a significant part of the reason she’s achieved such success.
After graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a business degree, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and modeling opportunities. Just by chance, she came across a casting call for WWE in 2013. After impressing the company’s talent scouts, she earned a four-week tryout and then a developmental contract to WWE’s training center in Orlando. And what felt like before the ink could dry, she was offered an interview for another television show within the wrestling entertainment company. She wasn’t even clear on the possible gig but agreed.
Less than 48 hours later, she was told she had been cast on “Total Divas,” a new reality show about women in the WWE and subsequently was moved to the main roster, despite having just two weeks of formal training. It was a whirlwind experience, which she says, “changed my life immediately.”
“I’m a perfectionist, so I would have liked to have trained more first. However, I truly think opportunities come up once in a lifetime and if you don’t take it, you’re going to miss out.”
After dyeing her naturally brown hair into a fiery red, inspired by Rihanna’s tresses during the 2010 “Loud” album era, she adopted the wrestling persona of Eva Marie (her middle name) and her “All Red Everything” trademark. She was thrust into the spotlight as she took the ring and had everything documented for “Total Divas.”
On her very first televised WWE appearance, she slapped legend Jerry Lawler across the face in hopes of “making a name for herself” — and it worked. She immediately became a polarizing figure among wrestling fans, as she was popular and highly recognizable, but her skills were often criticized.
She was moved to NXT, the WWE’s developmental brand, in 2015 to hone her skills. Working with former tag-team champion Brian Kendrick, she noticeably improved and even fought for the brand’s women’s championship title. Expectations were high for her return to the main roster in 2016. However, having signed with the same agency and management as Johnson, and with newfound dreams that extended beyond the WWE universe, her team was eager to help her take the next step — outside of the ring.
She booked her first movie, “Inconceivable,” opposite Nicolas Cage and Faye Dunaway, and needed time away from wrestling in the fall of 2016 to shoot. She then was cast in “Action #1,” a movie about Cage (she jokingly insists she’s not obsessed with the actor) and needed more time away from the ring.
While she has made occasional appearances on SmackDown and had been slated to appear on SummerSlam in between film projects, she was suspended for a wellness violation after testing positive for Adderall in August of 2016. She told TMZ at the time that she has a valid prescription for the drug, but had not submitted the proper paperwork to WWE’s medical staff by a deadline.
Ultimately, after months of speculation, Marie and the WWE opted to formally part ways. She thinks of it more as a break and insists the two parties remain on good terms. She hopes to make appearances at major events in the future, much like Johnson, and continue to have a working relationship with the company without the structure of a formal contract.
And if she needs any advice about her acting career or forthcoming wrestling appearances, she can always ask Johnson himself.
“I love talking to The Rock,” she said. “He’s done the transition from WWE to the mainstream so well. He always tells me to stay my lane, not to compare myself to other people and just do the work.
“He’s been fantastic and I’m really fortunate to have that relationship with him… It would be great to emulate his career, but we’ll see what happens.”
While she is no longer on “Total Divas,” after appearing in the first six seasons, she credits the show for helping her be comfortable in front of a camera and for expanding her fan base. Her parents, who were frequently seen on the show, even get recognized as a result. “My dad will call me up and go, ‘Guess who got asked to take a photo today?'”
However, she realizes that she has room to grow, and Marie has been working with an acting coach and soaking up advice from her famed co-stars. She is actively trying to avoid being typecast by taking on as many different roles as possible.
Having started her own clothing and accessory line, NEM Fashion, and working on an upcoming film project in January, Marie is busier than ever. And her dream gets bigger with each opportunity.
“I want it all. I really want to expand with movies and I would love to land on a TV show, like a Netflix original series, that would be fantastic. I want to do a lot of charity work — I’m a person that’s in recovery [from an alcohol addiction] so I really want to put out that message as well.
“There’s a lot that I want to do, the sky is the limit. I want to dabble in everything. I wish I did have time to relax, but I’m a Virgo and it’s just not in me. I think the hustle is just in my blood — always hungry, never satisfied.”