No WWE star has ever been nominated for an Emmy Award for their work within the company, but Paul Heyman wants to change that with Roman Reigns.

Heyman has been working with Reigns as his “special counsel” (and now “wise man”) since Reigns debuted his Tribal Chief persona back in 2020. As Heyman sees it, Reigns’ work since then puts him in the same league as actors like Bryan Cranston or James Gandolfini in that he has crafted a “layered, nuanced persona.”

“I will honestly state that I’ll put Roman Reigns and his portrayal of the Tribal Chief up against anybody right now in how he has approached a reality-based character of the top star of the industry,” Heyman tells Variety. “And the fact that he’s not recognized by the people that are there to reward such performances with an award, to me, is disconcerting.”

If the phrase “the gift of gab” could take human form, it would be Heyman. Over the course of two hours in a private dining room at an opulent Manhattan steakhouse, Heyman waxes poetic about how he and Reigns have been meticulously crafting the story of the Tribal Chief for the past two and a half years. Among the influences for the character, Heyman cites James Cagney’s Rocky Sullivan in the film “Angels With Dirty Faces” as well as Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Col. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now.”

As Heyman sees it, Reigns ruling over the “Island of Relevancy” as the Tribal Chief is the same as Kurtz ruling over the tribe he commands in the seminal Vietnam War film. “These people that worshipped him that he ruled over, that gave him anything and everything, that wanted to sacrifice for him, put such a pressure and burden — and that’s the word that we always use for the Tribal Chief is the burden — the burden of the responsibility, the burden of the obligation to fulfill the the destiny and the vision for and the obligation and the responsibilities and the accountabilities of the Tribal Chief,” he says. “He resented them so much for placing that burden on him.”

“[Roman’s] character is based on the concept of being relevant,” he continues. “That relevancy in and of itself is the opioid that he’s addicted to. That being one of many would be would be the same as being assassinated.”

While Vince McMahon is no longer in charge of creative at WWE, he was when Heyman and Reigns began working together. And while McMahon is notorious for micromanaging creative decisions, Heyman says McMahon gave himself and Reigns tremendous leeway in how they presented the Tribal Chief.

“There’s an understanding with very few select people that have earned his trust over the years,” Heyman says. “It’s the risk you’re taking with your career. Because if you go out there and you don’t score bigger, brighter, better, harder, more spectacularly than anybody else in that position would be able to do, you will not get another chance to do it. And if you have 99 wins with that freedom, that first loss is going to cost you for a long time. Because his expectations for you are lofty.” Heyman goes on to say that working with Paul “Triple H” Levesque has been a “seamless transition” since he took over creative following McMahon’s retirement in July 2022.

Heyman then points to the early Tribal Chief storyline that saw Reigns feuding with his own cousin, Jey Uso, as an example of how they incrementally built the Tribal Chief. In a match at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view in October 2020, Jey’s brother Jimmy came to the ring and begged Reigns to end the attacks on Jey. Reigns broke down in tears before pulling Jimmy in and attacking him as well.

“All of a sudden you realize this isn’t cold blooded. This isn’t cold hearted. That’s just the veneer that he is presenting,” Heyman says. “Underneath, this is a deeply emotional man that’s going through his own torment with the pressures and, again using that word, burden of being the head of the table.”

Reigns, Heyman, and the Usos would then go on to create the faction The Bloodline, which has been at the top of the WWE ever since. Most recently, the faction has drawn significant praise with the integration of Sami Zayn into the group beginning in early 2022.

Heyman says Zayn was pitching him and Reigns on doing some kind of segment together for a long time, but none of them expected it to last as long as it has. Heyman calls Zayn “the catalyst” that has allowed the Bloodline to develop even more.

“As soon as we had felt that everyone had gotten almost almost comfortable with all of our characters, we threw in this crazy out of left field, dynamic catalyst that no one saw coming, that would change the perception of the group and the interpersonal dealings amongst us all,” he says.

But the friendly relationship between Zayn and Reigns came to an end at the Royal Rumble when Zayn chose his old friend Kevin Owens over Reigns, laying Reigns out with a chair rather than attack Owens.

“Look at what we did without a microphone in our hands with Sami Zayn at the end of the Royal Rumble,” Heyman says. “We did a 15-minute storyline that called back to everything we’ve done for the past year with Sami, and everything we did was basically a Shakespearean pantomime.

Reigns is now slated to face Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania 39. Both men come from wrestling families — Regins’ father is Sika Anoa’i while Rhodes’ father Dusty Rhodes, both of whom are WWE Hall of Famers.

“There’s more in common with these two characters than there is distinct,” Heyman says. “In that sense, they’re trying to become the most famous member of their family. And that’s a big, big task to accomplish. They’re both trying to define their own legacies through the main event of WrestleMania.”

Heyman concludes by saying that both he and Reigns are determined to do things in professional wrestling that have never been done before.

“We’re trying to present a body of work that exceeds all boundaries and limitations that have been imposed upon this industry, either self-imposed or imposed by the predetermined notion of what this business is by the outside world, as evidenced by the fact that we’re sitting here today talking about the unfathomable concept of the Emmy Awards, because a year ago we would have been laughed out of the conversation,” he says. “But this is what we strive for.”