Don't call him a firefighter; in Playing with Fire, John Cena plays a smokejumper, which is totally different and – according to the character in the film – way cooler. While some of his fans would prefer Cena star in more testosterone-fueled fare (we're still holding out hope for his take on Duke Nukem!), it's hard to argue with the final result; Playing with Fire is a jolly exercise in family entertainment and adorably silly humor, anchored by an all-star cast that includes Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Judy Greer, and Brianna Hildebrand.
In Playing with Fire, Cena plays Jake Carson, a smokejumper captain with a ragtag team of underappreciated heroes who are forced to babysit a trio of children for the weekend after rescuing them from a fire. Inevitably, hilarious hijinks and familial bonding ensue as the kid-friendly comedy progresses. Meanwhile, Keegan-Michael Key plays Carson's most trusted lieutenant, who is always quick with a one-liner and wants nothing more than for his boss and hero to find happiness and love.
At a New York City press day for Playing with Fire, Screen Rant sat down with John Cena and Keegan-Michael Key to discuss their role in the hilarious family comedy. In addition to some joking about Cena and Key's battle for alpha male dominance (they called it a draw), Cena discusses how he is often judged for his appearance, which doesn't necessarily reflect the entirety of his being. It actually reflects the themes of one of his films, the 2017 animated masterpiece, Ferdinand, about a large and imposing bull who doesn't want to participate in the family business of bullfights. Though he only lent his voice to that project, Ferdinand nonetheless stands as one of Cena's greatest films, though we have a strong feeling the best is yet to come when it comes to John Cena's increasingly-prolific Hollywood career.
I talked to the director about this, you are the closest we've come to creating a human tank.
John Cena: (Laughs)
So there must be this factor of, like, when people see you, you have to find some way to break the ice, to be like, "Hey, just because I am gigantic, doesn't mean we have to fight."
John Cena: Yeah, but I think that's... Man, conversation helps out a bunch. I think, when anyone even strikes up small talk with me, they'll understand that I'm not out to prove myself or test my mettle in any sort of capacity. I am, in some capacity, what they may have seen on Monday Night Raw, but that, in its entirety, does not define who I am.
So, Keegan, when you met John, did you try to fight him?
Keegan-Michael Key: Yeah. It was a futile attempt. It's good that I'm walking again. (Laughs) I had admired John from afar, because I had some insight, or some sense of what it takes and what it entails to do what he did at WWE. It's one thing to become a professional wrestler or be in sports entertainment. That, I understand. But to go to the top of the game was another thing altogether. The other thing was, I was so touched and inspired by his work in Trainwreck. I was starting to move into another part of my career. I was already thinking, "What am I going to do after Key & Peele?" and then I see this guy, who I knew as only one thing, moving into this space so whole-heartedly, and so earnestly. Clearly, it's been a love affair since day one.
John Cena: And I admire Keegan's professionalism. Because the day we did fight, he slapped me with a white glove and challenged me to a duel. We took ten paces, squared, and fired upon each other with old ball-loaded match pistols, which we both missed.
Keegan-Michael Key: Well, we were in the dense wooded areas of Vancouver, and it's really tough. You're just bound to hit a tree before you get anywhere near... And those things were notoriously inaccurate.
John Cena: So, collectively, we settled on a draw.
Great! That is the most honorable way. Nobody gets hurt. So, when you're preparing for this movie, and you're preparing for all this... Not firefighter, but smoke jumper action, does any kind of competitiveness arise? Or do you look at John Cena and go, "Ah, I see, we're gonna be fighting for second."
John Cena: It is not like that! If anything, I'm eagerly anticipating and watching John Leguizamo and Keegan do what they do best, going, "Man, with another 30 years of practice, I may be able to be in that conversation." You're painting a picture based on physical perception alone; that's not what this movie is about. This movie is about getting people to smile, getting people to laugh. Keegan, John, Judy, everyone... Andy, everyone is so gifted at that, because that's what they've invested their life in. I was on the outskirts, watching, going, "Man, I know I'm the new kid in school, but it's so cool to be the new kid and surrounded by all these master class men, and I learned so much, and it was the exact reverse of what you just explained. (Laughs) Me wanting to be with them and realizing, "Okay, this one, I'm just gonna stand at attention and watch the chaos." It was not in any way, shape, or form, like that.
- Playing With Fire (2019) release date: Nov 08, 2019