Daria Berenato, better known as WWE superstar Sonya Deville, takes some time away from the ring and her Rainbow Love clothing line for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski.
(Edited for length and clarity)
Q: Where did the inspiration come from to start calling yourself Daddy Deville?
A: It came from a year ago when I was responding to a compliment that Becky Lynch gave me on “The Bump.” She said I was the next rising star. I felt like she was calling herself The Man, but I felt like I could be superior to her in a type of way. And what’s bigger than The Man is being The Man’s Daddy. I was just trying to level up at that time and it kind of just transpired into having a life of its own.
Q: What do you want that Daddy persona to mean to the audience?
A: I think in the day and age of the women’s evolution (in WWE) and redefining what being a female in sports entertainment means, I think it’s kind of cool to take gender roles out of it, showing people that Daddy can mean anything. It’s not attached to a certain gender, but it obviously comes with a dominant title because when we think of dad we think of this dominant, large-and-in-charge person in our lives, and I kind of feel like I’m that dominant large-and-in-charge person in the division now.
Q: The promo on “SmackDown” where you finally told Mandy Rose what you really felt just came across so genuine and passionate. Where did you dig to deliver that kind of emotion?
A: There’s obviously a lot of realness to it, a lot of facts in it. And I feel like with any great message if it comes from the heart and it comes from something that you truly believe in then it’s gonna be genuine. Obviously, who we are (in WWE) is part of who we actually are and I think that’s what makes Sonya relatable, too.
Q: Do you feel like that could be — or was — a career-changing moment for you?
A: Yeah, I think so. I’ve always known what I’m capable of. I just wanted the time to show the audience. I’ve been waiting for that time for the last five years since I signed with WWE and I think timing is everything. It happened to be the best possible time for me in a great scenario and I’m finally showing the WWE Universe what I always knew I was capable of.
Q: They say the best wrestling characters are the real person with the volume turned up. Does this feel like that for you?
A: It comes from a place of knowing what it feels like to be second best and not just to Mandy, but in general, being the underdog and being underestimated. I remember when I first started training MMA I was the only girl at the gym. It was like a joke, like ‘Oh yeah, this girl is gonna join our jiu-jitsu class or hang with us in Muay Thai sparing and stuff?’ I just always remember being the one to prove everybody wrong, being the underdog. That’s kind of where I excel.
Q: Mandy said she thought that promo actually was more effective without the crowd because it created this intimate setting. Do you agree?
A: I do feel like just the utter silence, you could hear a pin drop in the Performance Center when we were talking and I was kind of just able to kind of just hone in and look Mandy dead in the eye, no distractions, no boos, no yays, nothing to give the viewer at home any kind of bias opinion. It was just me and her and it’s left for you guys to decide at home what you thought about it. You could feel every single piece of our emotion through our voices.
Q: It’s one thing to be the first openly lesbian superstar in WWE, it’s another thing to take that to another level. How gratifying has your advocacy work been, putting yourself front and center?
A: It’s a very gratifying and fulfilling thing for me because I was on the other side of the coin five, six years ago looking up to people on television, feeling comfort in having allies that represented me on media and TV and film and entertainment in general. So to be that for the next generation and for the youth who might not be comfortable with who they are, it’s super relatable for me because I was that person not too long ago.
Q: How close do you think we are to seeing a sincere lesbian storyline in WWE?
A: I think anything’s possible. Especially this year, I don’t rule it out at all. Like I’ve said in the past, inclusion is important in every aspect of life, including sports entertainment, and I think that the company would agree on that. I think it’s definitely a possibility this year.
Q: The last season of “Total Divas” ended with you and the cast members taking part in a pride parade. What was it like to share that with them?
A: That was my second pride parade ever, so it was kind of new to me too and it was definitely my first pride parade where I was full-blown out and comfortable with myself. So, to share that with people who maybe haven’t experienced it before either is super cool because it was kind of introducing us all to this new world.
Q: What was the time like before “Tough Enough” having not come out yet?
A: It was always like a game, you know. It was always like … I had a girlfriend at the time, but I wasn’t out to my co-workers or casual people in my life really didn’t know unless they met my girlfriend somehow. We were both so young trying to figure it out, trying to be comfortable with ourselves She wasn’t out to her parents yet, to her family.
Q: So you were both going through it?
A: There was no Instagramming about it or tweeting about it because I didn’t want to out her to her family and I wasn’t still being fully comfortable with being out. Yeah, it was weird. It’s never a good feeling when you’re not living your full truth. It’s like you feel like you have these secrets that you’re hiding from the people you love and you care about, your family and your friends. It’s not a great feeling.
I can tell you when I came out on “Tough Enough” I was scared to death. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what it was gonna mean. I didn’t know what was going to transpire from coming out. And it ended up being nothing but positives.
Q: Your clothing line, Rainbow Love through Heavy Heart, is about having that courage. Why was that the best vehicle for you and what is the message you want to send with it?
A: I think one of my T-shirts speaks for itself; it says on the back ‘You are not alone’ and it had the suicide prevention hotline and it’s just so powerful. The whole thing with Rainbow Love is I want people to know it’s OK to be colorful, it’s OK to wear your pride literally on your shirt. It’s OK to have a heavy heart and be dark all at the same time. It’s kind of letting people know it’s OK to be whoever you are. It’s OK to feel however you feel and you’re not alone in that. The designs came from my mind and my heart.
Q: Cyberbullying and negativity on social media have been front and center in the wrestling world in the past few weeks with the death of Hana Kimura from Stardom and the comments made toward Alexa Bliss. What’s your experience been dealing with cyberbullying and how have you tried to handle it?
A: I’ve always been one in the past to ignore the hate because I don’t want to give them any more of a spotlight or any more power than they already think they have. Obviously we all get it. We all get it to different extents and about different things. It’s a part of social media and it’s a part of the world that we’re in, especially being on the public platform that we’re a part of.
I wanted to let people know and I like to check people sometimes and let people know this is not OK in any way shape or form and I’m not gonna tolerate it to that extent because journalism’s one thing, but bullying is a whole other thing. You can be critical and you can be particular and give feedback without bullying somebody. There’s a big difference there and I think that needs to be spoken about.
It’s so important that we have each other’s backs and we stand up for each other. Nobody’s gonna make a change by being silent. Nothing’s gonna change that we want to change without speaking up for what we believe in.
Q: What sports did you play at Seneca High School in New Jersey?
A: I played basketball, lacrosse and soccer in high school.
Q: What was your best sport?
A: I played soccer and basketball the longest. I was just fast as hell, aggressive as hell, similar to my style in the ring. I was always getting fouls and I was always getting yellow cards in soccer. So, I loved playing sports, though, it kind of shaped my childhood.
Q You quit all of your high school sports as a sophomore. What made you decide to do that?
A: I had always played sports since I was 7, 8 years old I think. I had always been apart of a team sport or a school sport and I kind of just wanted to feel free, to do my own things and branch out. Loved acting at that point, I wanted to get into acting classes and I kind of had to figure to delegate my time so that I could do everything that I wanted to do.
I wanted to act. So I started getting into acting and I started watching women’s MMA. I would watch Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg back when Elite FC was around. I just fell in love with MMA. So my junior year, I started training mixed martial arts. I just absolutely fell in love with it
Q: Was it tough to tell your friends, “Listen, I’m quitting everything. I’m not going to be on your team anymore?”
A: It was weird. It actually changed, you know, my friends, because obviously all the girls that play sports hang out with each other. I kind of took myself out of that group. I had a couple friends, but I didn’t have a huge group of friends and it was probably partially because of that. I just remember, just being done with it, just being done with the school sports thing. I was kind of a little bit of an outcast. I kind of wanted to do my own thing.
I wasn’t a school person. I didn’t like going to school. I look back now and I’m like, “Oh my God.” Some people when they are older, they’re like, “Oh the good old days. I’d go back to high school any day.” I don’t feel that way. I definitely prefer adulthood.
Q: You’ve thrown your hat in the ring to be the next “Batwoman.” If you did get the role, how would you want to see it evolve?
A: It’s like a dream role. First of all, it’s so cool what the CW did in having Ruby Rose as Batwoman being an LGBTQ member obviously. I think it’s so cool that they want to keep it (the role) in that family. It’s revolutionary in its own way and I think it’s so awesome and I’d love to continue that strong and inspiring message.
Q: With the pandemic, you can’t go visit donut shops as often for Damandyz Donuts. Have you missed doing those YouTube videos?
A: Actually I think I’m gonna go to go to a local donut shop that’s opened back up in Tampa this week for this week’s episode. So we are getting back into the swing of things a little bit.