Entertainment

Interview: 'The Call' star David Otunga finds himself in the center of the ring

David Otunga had little time to order food Friday during lunchtime at Howells & Hood in the Tribune Tower — not with his hectic press tour running late and a live TV appearance up next — so the Elgin native and WWE Superstar settled for just a drink.

"I'll have a Diet Coke," Otunga told the waiter.

The 32-year-old Otunga, whose muscular frame makes it look like he's flexing at all times, spent the morning making the media rounds to promote his role as a police officer in the film "The Call." The thriller arrived in theaters that same day and stars Halle Berry as a 911 operator who assists a kidnapping victim (it reportedly made a better-than-expected $17 million in its first weekend at the box office). And, unlike the majority of Otunga's past experiences with the media — promoting the personality-rich WWE or walking the red carpet with his A-List fiancee, Jennifer Hudson — these interviews were in his home state and were mostly about him.

"People want to know more about me," said Otunga. "They want to know who I am. It's cool to finally have that attention. … That's something I tried to do from the beginning — to be my own person. I wanted to do different things and try to establish myself. It's great to get recognized for that."

Otunga gained recognition as a finalist on Season 2 of VH1's "I Love New York" before he met Hudson and then proposed to the Oscar-winner in 2008, but that seemingly matters little to WWE's mostly male fans. To them Otunga is simply the guy you boo, because his bow-tie-wearing character is a smug know-it-all who carries around a coffee cup and brags about the Harvard Law Degree he earned in real life (class of 2006).

Prior to that, however, WWE's creative team had different plans for his character, wanting to play up the fact he had a famous fiancee and nicknaming him "The A-List."

"It's one of those things they kept bringing up no matter how many times I said, 'Please don't mention (Hudson),'" Otunga said. "They kept doing it and it irritated me to the point that I changed my character. That's why I started a new character with a bow tie and coffee mug. I want to stand alone. I'm pretty successful in my own right. (Hudson) still comes up, but what can I do?"

Otunga took time off from WWE to film "The Call" for a little more than two months in Los Angeles (WWE Studios is behind the film). He said he shadowed officers when they were on duty and saw a bloody crime scene and a stabbing victim who he isn't sure is still alive.

And then there was that one call about an attempted stabbing: "We walk up to this house and this guy is pacing in the yard … He talks to (the officer) but is staring at me," said Otunga, imitating the man's intense stare. "He said 'I got to ask you this question: You David Otunga?' I'm like 'Yeah.' (He said) 'I knew it. I love you. I watch you every Monday night.' He hands the phone to the cop to take a picture with me. Once I found out he was a fan, I figured he wouldn't stab me."

Otunga admits acting has always been his dream. In fact, he said the hardest part about shooting "The Call" was when it ended. (Besides not having to travel multiple times a week like he does with WWE, Otunga was able to recover from nagging ring injuries.) But Otunga said he was happy to return to WWE and the home he shares with Hudson and their 3-year-old son, David Jr., in the Chicago suburbs.

"We used to live over here on Michigan Avenue," said Otunga, gesturing toward the restaurant's south windows. "But we wanted our son to have a yard where he could run around and play. Honestly, I love having that space. And wrestling is so hectic and we're always in big cities (so) it's nice to be able to go to the suburbs and tuck away at home."

And how are Otunga and Hudson treated in their suburb?

"At first it was like 'Oh my God,'" Otunga said. "People would go crazy and take pictures. But then it's like, you see me every week, multiple times a week. Everyone is so friendly and gets to know you on a personal basis. We'll go somewhere (to eat) and they'll give us our favorite table. It's nice."

Heads up: "Hey There Delilah" band Plain White T's will release their EP, "Should've Gone To Bed" April 23. The Chicago-area band will also make an appearance on the Bill and Giuliana Rancic-hosted reality show "Ready For Love," which premieres April 9 after "The Voice" on NBC, to support their guitarist and occasional singer Tim Lopez, who is one of the show's three bachelors.

Casting news: The latest addition to the Chicago-based sci-fi film "Divergent" is actor Theo James (CBS's "Golden Boy"). James will play Tobias "Four" Eaton, the love interest of heroine Beatrice "Tris" Prior, played by Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants"). Also part of the movie, which will begin filming in Chicago this spring, are Zoe Kravitz ("X-Men: First Class") Maggie Q (The CW's "Nikita") and Jai Courtney ("A Good Day to Die Hard").

About this week: Harrison Ford ("Cowboys & Aliens") will celebrate his Michigan Avenue magazine cover Monday during a private party at Chicago Cut Steakhouse. … Rapper Fabolous will perform Thursday at V Live. … Singer Deborah Cox, who is starring in the production of "Jekyll & Hyde" currently playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, will perform Friday at Roscoe's in Boystown.

Sightings: The Miami Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dined Thursday at Tavern on Rush before facing the Milwaukee Bucks Friday in Milwaukee. … Singer-turned-TNA wrestling personality Brooke Hogan attended Wednesday's grand opening of The Squared Circle in Lincoln Park, co-owned by TNA wrestler Tara (real name: Lisa Marie Varon). … "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer dined at RPM Italian March 9 with actors Jake Abel and Max Irons, who star in the upcoming film adaptation of her book "The Host." … Henry Thomas, who is filming the ABC pilot "Betrayal" in Chicago and is best known for his role as Elliott in 1982's "E.T.," dined at Jake Melnick's Corner Tap and hung out at the Hangge Uppe Thursday, returning to the latter bar the next night. … The New England Patriots' Aaron Hernandez hung out Friday at Hub 51's lower-level club, Sub 51. … CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz dined Saturday at Joe's Stone Crab. … The New Orleans Saints' Pierre Thomas was spotted Wednesday at a private party at Homestead, located above Roots Handmade Pizza.

lgomez@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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