The Acadian Giant
by Andrew Nickerson
Photograph: Denis Duquette
Andrew Nickerson meets New Brunswick's Hollywood Star, Robert Maillet
Robert Maillet grew up in the small community of Sainte-Marie-de-Kent. The size of his hometown is the only thing small about him. Whether it be his seven-foot frame and imposing physical stature or the large entertainment platforms he has been a part of for almost 25 years, he certainly does not fit the profile of the small-town Maritimes most of us think of. I was glad to have the opportunity to talk to him about having success in both professional wrestling and the acting career that followed.
Born in Georgetown, Ontario, Maillet moved to Sainte-Marie-de-Kent less than a year later. He began training and performing on wrestling cards in the Maritimes in 1990. After wrestling in the Maritimes and for short stints in Japan, Maillet was contacted by Leo Burke, a long-time wrestler in the Maritimes who was scouting for Canadian wrestling legend Bret “The Hitman” Hart. It was 1996, and Maillet was invited to try out for the World Wrestling Federation. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and excitement was mixed with nervousness. “I felt overwhelmed at first: it was stressful to be away from family.” When he arrived in Calgary for training, he was given two pieces of advice: “To tan and save my money.” He trained for four months before moving to Memphis, Tennessee, to complete his training. While there he met Vince McMahon, the owner and CEO of the WWF. “He told me he liked my face,” jokes Maillet. He made his debut in February of 1997. After this match he signed a contract with the WWF and began working on television. During this time, he was able to perform for the biggest wrestling company in the world during arguably its most popular era. Once his time in the WWF was completed in the summer of 1999, he continued wrestling in smaller venues, but he had a new and unexpected career in his future: Hollywood.
Finishing up his time in the WWF was bittersweet. He had lost his dream job but, while continuing to perform in smaller wrestling venues, he was introduced to the idea of acting. After a recommendation from a friend of his in-laws, Maillet began to explore that world. Although he had never thought of acting before, it was an easy transition: “I felt very comfortable.” In much the same way that he had started small and worked his way up in wrestling, Maillet started acting locally before branching out to bigger projects.
The first big break in his acting career came in 2006. A stunt man in Montreal gave him a recommendation, and Maillet was cast in the role of the Uber Immortal in the epic action-period film 300 opposite Gerard Butler. The film was a commercial success and even garnered the MTV Movie Award for Best Fight in 2007. Maillet looks back fondly on the experience: “It was very physically demanding. I had to learn to sword fight and sit through four to five hours of makeup each day, but I am very proud, and it was a very cool experience.” Maillet has gone on to appear in many big-name films over the last 14 years, including Sherlock Holmes, Pacific Rim, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and Deadpool 2. Maillet says he has enjoyed all of his roles as they were all unique, but his favourite may be his most recent: Becky is a 2020 action thriller starring Kevin James as a neo-Nazi leader who terrorizes a family at their summer home while in search of a key. Maillet plays Apex. Despite being a follower of a neo -Nazi and having committed horrible crimes in the past, Apex has a remorseful side that comes through on multiple occasions during the film. The complexity is what Maillet enjoyed most about the role: “Very complex character. Greatest experience as an actor.” The movie was set to debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in April but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was later released in select drive-in theatres and on video-on-demand services.
Currently, most production in Hollywood is on hold due to the ongoing pandemic, but when things resume there will be many new appearances by Maillet for fans to look forward to. He can be seen on Netflix in The Umbrella Academy as well as in the series Jupiter’s Legacy. He also appears in the upcoming independent film, Vicious Fun, where he plays a serial killer who attends self-help meetings with other serial killers that, according to Maillet, resemble AA meetings.
When asked what advice he would give to anybody looking to break into professional wrestling or acting, he says the same for both: “Stick with it — it is not easy. It can be hard to find proper training, but stay determined and stay motivated. Always have your ears open, and learn.”
The past 24 years have seen Maillet go from smalltown arenas in the Maritimes to the biggest wrestling stages and to Hollywood. But despite the success he has always maintained his home in Sainte-Marie-de- Kent. “I grew up here. This is home. It is comfortable and friendly. People treat you well. I feel relaxed and safe.” When asked if this made it harder to get roles in Hollywood, he says it is not much of an issue: “I can film all of my auditions at home.” For most of his adult life Robert Maillet has been entertaining fans around the world in many ways. But he is still a proud Maritimer who enjoys living a quiet life with his wife, Laura, two stepdaughters and the daughter whom he and his wife adopted from Ethiopia. No matter what Hollywood has to offer, it is safe to say we will always have the Acadian Giant here in the Maritimes.
Robert Maillet appears in the second series of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy as well as in Jupiter’s Legacy and the independent horror film Vicious Fun.