Playing with Fire stars John Cena as the no-nonsense leader of a team of smokejumpers, California rescue workers who fight fires and save lives. His career-oriented ambitions are turned upside down when he and his team end up having to take care of three mysterious children after rescuing them from a fire. Family-friendly kinetic comedy and heartwarming bonding ensues.
Directed by Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2), Playing with Fire's precocious humor is bolstered by standout performances from John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, and Judy Greer. However, the true heart and soul of the film can be seen with Brianna Hildebrand, a teenager who finds herself an unprepared matriarch who is nonetheless determined to keep her family together at all costs. It's a strong performance from the Deadpool actor, and helps to elevate Playing with Fire above other "kids movies" of its ilk.
At a New York City press day for Playing with Fire, Screen Rant sat down with Fickman and Hildebrand, who discussed working on the film, including Hildebrand's status as an on-set "big sister" to her younger co-stars, as well as getting to work with with John Cena; despite his intimidating physical stature, he was a "happy puppy" who got along with everybody on set.
This movie is, like, the most adorable thing I've seen this year.
Andy Fickman: Aww, thank you!
It's just non-stop, so much fun, and John Cena being so jolly, and you (to Brianna) being so heartwarming. You're a big sister to these little kids. Did you get any on-set, having to be the big sister, or was it like, in between takes they went to their parents?
Brianna Hildebrand: Oh yeah, we all hung out in the same area between scenes. We really got to know each other well. (Laughs) We did a lot of arts and crafts together, yeah!
Andy Fickman: She was great with those kids, on camera and off camera. Every time you'd look over in between scenes, you'd see her playing with them and having a great time. They were lucky to have her.
Is that super helpful as a director? I mean, there's the Jackie Gleason line, of "I'll never work with kids or animals!" Does having someone there to be the big sister, a "kid wrangler," does that help?
Andy Fickman: Oh, sure! Because we also added fire to that, element of things not to work with! For adults, it's work, and you want to have fun while you're at work. But for kids, they're still kids. You don't want it to feel, to them, like they're in "work work" mode. Having Brianna there was somebody who was a big sister. For a director, having that opportunity on set to see, you could tell how quickly that was going to pay off in the movie. And you're also trying to form a bond. You don't get to shoot a film in order. Seldom does that ever happen. So you're taking three people who don't know each other and trying to form a bond as a family. And that role that Brianna plays on screen is a role she was able to play in real life. So the off camera stuff really helps build the trust. There's moments in the movie where Finley just reaches up and grabs Brianna's hand, and it's just an instinctual thing. And I loved all that in editorial, because I realized it wasn't necessarily a direction from me as much as it was a bond that the three of them had.
So, the big star in this movie, John Cena, the closest that mankind has made to, like, a human tank. Is there an intimidation factor when you're working with him? How does he break the ice? Is he like, "I am gigantic, but also friendly!"
Andy Fickman: He literally breaks the ice with his forehead. Once you see that happen, you're like, I get it! You're tough! You're John Cena! (Laughs) Well, I obviously share a similar workout regime, so that was something that I think we bonded over... He's a big teddy bear on set with everybody.
Brianna Hildebrand: He's such a sweetheart. I think I was anticipating him to be a little more stone-faced. But meeting him, he was just like, "Hi, I'm John!" And it was just like, "Oh... What's up?"
Andy Fickman: Like a happy puppy.
Brianna Hildebrand: Yeah.
Andy Fickman: After a while, we were like, "We get it, John. Just back off, okay? We'll call you when we need you."
So when he introduced himself, you were like, "Okay, the doors are open, now I can prank this guy."
Brianna Hildebrand: Yeah, I guess, essentially! I never pranked him, which I'm realizing now was a missed opportunity. (To Andy) Did you prank him?
Andy Fickman: Uh, I mean, we would have fun every day on set. He's an easy one that you could make fun of. He would, sort of, quickly go with that.
- Playing With Fire (2019) release date: Nov 08, 2019