Dalton Castle, fresh from getting his blood work done, crows into the phone with his distinctive bravado that he’s making sure that he’s “healthy and ready to fight in New Orleans.” The Ring of Honor World Champion is talking about Supercard of Honor XII, which will be happening at the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans during WrestleMania weekend. It’s a month away and has already sold more tickets than any other show in ROH’s 16 year history, another exclamation point on what has been the promotion’s longest period of sustained success. And as the champion, Dalton Castle is a pivotal part of the card and ROH’s popularity.
He can’t look too far into the future, though. There’s another major Ring of Honor show this weekend, the 16th Anniversary Show in Las Vegas, happening live on Pay-Per-View tomorrow night, Friday, March 9. Castle will face off in one of his biggest matches yet as champion, squaring up with Jay Lethal, who held the title for over a year throughout 2015 and 2016. It’s a clash of two of Ring of Honor’s biggest stars and best acts, both of whom are world-class professional wrestlers.
When you read about Dalton Castle, or hear a description of his character, you might be surprised to learn that he’s one of the most popular wrestlers in Ring of Honor today. The self-proclaimed Party Peacock is heavily influenced by ‘70s glam rock, which challenged traditional gender roles and how we expect men to dress and act. Castle comes to the ring wearing a silver jumpsuit, accompanied by two scantily clad men that Castle calls his “Boys,” who fan him during his walk to the ring with oversized peacock feathers. After Castle unveils his outfit’s large butterfly cape in the ring, the Boys strip his jumpsuit off of him, and form a human throne for Castle to lounge on. It sounds like an act that would follow in the long tradition of wrestling’s flamboyant, homoerotic heels, men like Gorgeous George and Adrian Adonis and early Goldust, who counted on society’s traditional homophobia to bring them easy heat as wrestling villains. When you see the entrance in person, though, and experience Castle’s overwhelming personal charisma, you’ll understand why Castle and the Boys have been beloved by Ring of Honor fans since becoming regulars for the promotion in 2015. He’s simply one of the most entertaining men in wrestling today, both in and out of the ring.
Castle will bring all of that charisma and all of his sizable wrestling skill to the 16th Anniversary Show tomorrow night. During our call we talked about that show, the role politics play in wrestling, and the boundary-pushing nature of his act. Castle’s answers are as entertaining as his character.
Paste: So the big show this weekend, the anniversary show. You’re the world champ…
Dalton Castle: Well thank you for noticing!
Paste: Well, you wear it well! It’s hard not to notice. What does being the world champion in Ring of Honor mean to you?
Castle: To me it means that I am objectively, right now, the greatest wrestler in the world. I’ve contested the people who’ve stood on top and right now I am the one who has proven to be the best. With that comes to me a lot of responsibility. I look at Ring of Honor with a lot of respect. It’s a place I wanted to be a part of for a long time and I worked hard to get here, and I worked ever harder to get to this point in my career. It means a lot.
Paste: You’re taking on Jay Lethal, a former champion who held the title for over a year. What are your thoughts on Jay as a wrestler, as an opponent, and, heck—maybe as a friend?
Castle: This is a big match for me. For a lot of reasons. Jay is somebody I’ve always looked up to, and I do see him as one of the best wrestlers in the world. It’s also one of the biggest tests for me. To show that I’m as good a world champion as I claim to be, I’ve got to be in the ring with opponents that prove that. And Jay Lethal is the perfect person to do that. On a different level, it’s kind of like a full circle for me in my Ring of Honor career, as my second match on ROH TV was against Jay Lethal for his television title. And here we are, three years later, and he’s now the one challenging me for my world title.
Paste: Speaking of the title, fans had been wanting you to win that big belt for well over a year, at least, before you finally won it. Did you ever worry that you wouldn’t get a run with the championship?
Castle: It never really concerned me. I never had a fear that the trigger wasn’t getting pulled on me, because I never felt like I was gonna stop working hard. I knew as long as I kept pushing and kept getting better, it was going to be undeniable, and inevitably it was going to be an opportunity for me to prove that I’m as trustworthy and ready to be a champion as ever. If the time didn’t come, I was just going to work harder and then it would come eventually.
Paste: You did lots of press before you were the champion. I guess you do lots more now that you have the belt.
Castle: I think I take a little bit more time and consideration in every move I make. I understand that I am now representing an entire company, so if I’m going to put out a tweet, or say something in a public forum, I’m a little more cautious with the words I pick or the image I’m putting off because I know it’s my responsibility to show Ring of Honor in the best light.
Paste: I know it’s not always smart for people in the public sphere to talk about politics too much, but with ROH being owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, I bet you feel extra pressure to not talk about politics.
Castle: Even that aside, it’s never really been my part. I don’t speak up on most things. It doesn’t matter. You would not believe how little politics have to do with the job I play in Ring of Honor. It doesn’t affect us in any way at all. It’s not like that’s being discussed. What we’re worried about is the performance and the show we’re putting on for the fans, and that’s really all it comes down to. It doesn’t matter where our checks are coming from, we’re not worried about if we’re going to make the wrong political move. Everybody’s still their own person.
Paste: You’ve talked to Paste before, and probably every other outlet that’s ever interviewed you, about how there’s a long history of wrestling gimmicks like the one that you do, and how most of them have always been heels, and how you’re bucking the trend by being such a big fan favorite. So let’s talk about expectations, instead. When you first developed this character did you expect it to become so popular, or did you expect to be booed?
Castle: I didn’t know. I didn’t set any expectations. A lot of people [in the wrestling business], when I presented it to them, thought it was a heel character, but the second it was presented to the masses, to the fans, they said different. I really didn’t set expectations heavy one way or the other, but I’m happy the way they’ve turned out.
Paste: Did you ever have any pushback from promoters before ROH about aspects of the character?
Castle: No. A lot of people I’ve worked for have been really supportive and helpful. The only pushback I’ve ever had was one guy who’s actually helped me a lot, it was the first place I did this character. He wanted to play the music that I used to comeout to, because he likes that song better, and I argued and argued to get it changed to the one I come out to now, because I just feel like, if you change one piece of the puzzle, it all falls apart.
Paste: You’re clearly playing with sexuality and masculinity here, in a way similar to how Freddie Mercury, David Bowie and other glam rockers did back in the ‘70s; why was it important for you do that? Or was it just a way to get over?
Castle: I don’t know if it’s important. I like it. I’m comfortable with it. I’m not trying to create any hidden message or rub people the wrong way, other than all that I want people to do is respect and love people for who they are, and not for who you think they are.
Paste: It’s great for wrestling to have the fans so into a character like this one. As a longtime wrestling fan, there’s kind of a stereotype about us, and I think this shows that we’re maybe more open-minded than people think.
Castle: Yeah, I agree. It’s definitely—it was warming and very promising the second I startedin Ring of Honor to get the reception that I get, and kind of shows that the times are changing. They’re not the way they should be just yet, but at least we’re making steps in the right direction.
Paste: Yeah. I know you’ve mentioned before, again, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, glam rock as influences. I was reading the interview we did with you last year, and in that interview you mentioned ‘70s science fiction as an influence. But you didn’t go into any specifics. What’s some of the ‘70s sci-fi that you’re into that inspired this character?
Castle: I don’t have any specific titles I can give you but like the costumes in science fiction movies and TV shows from them, I just find so inspiring. Everybody in outer space in the ‘70s, for some reason, wore metallic jumpsuits, or had high collars. Jet skis that fly in the air, like in Flash Gordon, or something like that. That kind of stuff. When I look at costume designs, I start researching stuff like that. It’s not easy to Google, when you’ve got something in your head that you saw once on TV late at night and you have no idea what film you’re watching, but you start going down a wormhole of really fantastic stuff.
Paste: Have you seen that movie The Apple, from the late ‘70s?
Castle: I’ve only seen the extended trailer of it. I listen to a podcast called How Did This Get Made, and they did an episode on it. I probably should’ve bought it, huh?
Paste: It looks like something Dalton Castle would be in.
Castle: If you’re casting a remake of it I’m in.
Paste: Did you design your jumpsuit, is that a Dalton Castle original?
Castle: The initial one was just something I bought at a Halloween shop. It didn’t have the lasting power. I didn’t know how to put this look together, and I wasn’t ready to invest hundreds of dollars on something I didn’t think was going to stick. The first one was a costume, and everything after that was designed by me. But not made by me. I’ve got wonderful people helping me out.
Paste: Does ROH have staff seamstresses or do you guys outsource it?
Castle: That’s a very funny joke. We’re still on our own for all that stuff.
Paste: You mentioned Supercard of Honor coming up in a few weeks. It hasn’t been announced yet, but do you know who you’re going to be wrestling there?
Castle: Supercard of Honor? It hasn’t been announced. I can’t confirm anything. I would hope I’m wrestling everybody? I want to take them all on. Maybe we’ll do an open challenge where we just let every audience member get in and I’ll just suplex them one by one. Or maybe I’ll just invite all the stars from New Japan in there. Just toss them into the crowd like they’re free T-shirts.
Paste: Like a T-shirt gun but with pro wrestlers.
Castle: “You get a wrestler! And you get a wrestler!”
Paste: Speaking of New Japan, you’ve worked over there a few times, and with some of their top stars, there and here. How different is that from wrestling American opponents?
Castle: I’ve only been there three times. And each experience—here’s how it differs. The wrestling is the same, because wrestling to me is universal. We all speak the same language in the ring. The fans are a little quieter, I think perhaps because there’s a language barrier. But when we’re there, especially with Ring of Honor, it’s almost like the fans try their hardest to be like the American Ring of Honor crowd. They’re louder than usual, they do the English chants, which is always shocking and very flattering. But where it really differs is, when I get off the bus to the hotel, there are fans just waiting in the lobby for us, begging for autographs. I’ve never felt more like a star than when I’m in Japan. It’s insane how excited they get when we come over. It’s very great, a humbling experience that I can’t describe. It’s really amazing.
Not to say American fans aren’t great, too. They really are. But ther, I think it’s just because it’s my once a year trip, but it’s overwhelming and shocking. I’m on the other side of the planet, I didn’t expect this many people to know who I am.
Paste: Do you get to take any personal time and do any tourism while you’re there, or is it all just work?
Castle: I’ve always tried to squeeze in a few hours before the show. I’ve donea little sight-seeing. I usually hit up a cat café where I go in and play with some cats. I’ve held hedgehogs and pet owls. And I make sure I always drink Zima, because they don’t sell that in the US anymore. Unless they do. I don’t know.
Paste: So the first time I saw you, it was actually promos by a different character, “Smooth Sailin’” Ashley Remington. As a performer, how necessary is it to reinvent yourself like that? That’s such a different character from Dalton Castle. Do you need to keep growing and changing to stay happy, personally? Should a wrestler just stick with what they know works for as long as it keeps working?
Castle: I was doing Dalton Castle before I was doing Ashley. I was already Dalton Castle. The idea of Ashley was presented to me, and without hesitation I said sure, yeah, I’ll take that project. It was fun to develop a new character, while also having my other one on the side. I was really getting a chance to play my cards different than I have, and it made me really test my abilities. I’d find myself getting comfortable working as the Peacock at a Ring of Honor show, and then the next night driving to Chikara and having to change it up and be Ashley, which in my opinion were very different characters. But in the long run, Ashley was still Dalton Castle, just putting on a façade, which is a behind the scenes deep storyline. It was fun. I love acting. This is why I’m in wrestling. I was a theater student in college, I have a degree in theater, I was a college NCAA wrestler, and professional wrestling is the two worlds that I love most molded into one. To be able to do two different acts at once was great.
Paste: If you had opportunities in the future that were more lucrative than what you’re doing now in wrestling, but they involved not playing the same character, or not having the same creative freedom that you have now, would you be interested? Or is it important for you to have that creative outlet, that freedom to do what you enjoy doing?
Castle: You can’t answer hypotheticals like that until you’re actually presented with an actual offer. I don’t really understand the question. Right now I’m real happy with the situation I’ve got, I like it, but I don’t think that far ahead.
Paste: Okay, I’ll get specific: if WWE came to you and said, hey, we’d love to work with you, but you wouldn’t have any control over your character or what you said or how you acted, any of that stuff, would you be interested or would you hate losing that artistic freedom that you have?
Castle: I don’t know!
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.