Movies

John Cena shows off emo side in Playing With Fire

From the ring to the big screen, John Cena has made the journey from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar to Hollywood star look easy, surprising perhaps even himself with his skill and charisma.

The last few years have seen the 42-year-old US actor branch out into various genres, to huge success.

He’ll be returning to his action roots in Fast And Furious 9 and The Suicide Squad, but before that there is family comedy Playing With Fire, which is currently showing here.

Cena plays the leader of a team of smokejumpers – incredibly dedicated and skilled firefighters who parachute from planes into remote locations to battle wildfires.

It’s one of the most dangerous jobs in the world and Cena relished the chance to show the bravery of these people, even in a film that is light-hearted.

“They are so elite in their skillset and really do cheat death every single time they board the plane – as do all first responders,” he said.

“But man, these guys jump out at questionable altitudes with whatever supplies they have, not knowing how long they will be there, to contain these raging wildfires, and then hop back in, ready to do it again if need be. They sleep in their gear, so if the bell rings they can get ready in 30 seconds if they need to. We all know we could never do this, but the idea was for us to create the most fearless heroes we can.”

Still, in Playing With Fire, the biggest challenge for Cena’s character is not the fire – but who he rescues from it: Three children.

The siblings (played by Brianna Hildebrand, Christian Convery and Finley Rose Slater) are a handful for a macho man used to fighting fires, not feelings.

In real life, Cena is very in touch with his emotions and avoiding negative stereotypes, which was part of the appeal of this role - which allowed Cena to poke gentle fun at himself, but not so much that it robbed the story of its crucial emotion.

“That’s a risk. Because if you’re too meta then nothing in the movie is serious,” he said. “So when the stoic character finally does become vulnerable, if you have winked at the camera too much, then it doesn’t mean anything.”

What about Playing With Fire resonated with you?

I remember being handed it as a family comedy and being asked, “What do you think?”. And I remember getting emotional at the right point, at the point I would be getting emotional in the movie. When I’m reading the words – and I don’t fancy myself as a particularly fast reader – and I’m that emotionally attached, I know there is something there. I know that not only can I do this and I can feel it, but that I want to put my efforts and energy into it. It sneaks up on you.

It feels like a lot of the dialogue in this film was improvised. Is that true?

Yeah, absolutely. Because you have these hugely gifted master craftsmen in (co-stars) Judy Greer, John Leguizamo and Keegan-Michael Key. Think of the 10,000 Hour Rule (that doing 10,000 hours of something makes you an expert) – they will surpass that. I had it easy and hard. I had it easy because I didn’t have to come up with any material – I just had to remain stoic. And it was hard because I couldn’t come up with any material and just had to be stoic! There were so many times that I just wanted to jump in on the act, but it ruins the joke. My whole role in the joke, throughout the whole movie, is being stoic - until I’m not!

There’s a great scene where you and Key are both dancing. Are you a natural dancer?

Not at all. That was another example of facing my fears. I just go for it on camera. (Director) Andy Fickman said, “Just dance like no one is watching”. We all have those moments of celebration. I saw a kid on the street the other day, he came out of a shop and just danced. I was with Keegan and I looked over and said, “I want to be able to do more of that, to dance like nobody is watching”. Because that is the scariest thing in the world. Because there is a certain standard of dance that we accept as passable and I do not meet that standard! Therefore, I am afraid to dance because I don’t meet the standard. But it is a funny expression of getting rid of some emotions. That is extremely important. I would love to be able to dance like nobody’s watching. I’m not yet brave enough, but saying that is the first step to facing the fear.

In the movie, your character never cries. In real life, when was the last time you cried?

This morning. I was reflecting on my past, and talking to someone who is close to me, who obviously gave me an open environment to be able to reflect on those things... And if I’m moved by the conversation, I’ll embrace it. That macho cliche is so bad (about men not crying) and this movie hits it in the face. My character is like, “I never cry!” And (the kids in the movie) are like, “And you’re proud of that? You are so archaic, bro! There’s so much in there!” And I love that (my character) Google searches, “Is it okay if I’ve never cried?” And then is vulnerable enough to break down at the end of the movie. I think it’s an important message. We have to stop putting people on this white horse. They have to stop trying to be stoic and perfect in times of crisis. You become strong by being vulnerable. And if you’re not spreading that as a solution, then you’re just fuelling the problem. I come from an industry which is fuelled by machismo. Even if you watch my character arc in WWE, I challenged myself to face losing, to face failure, to face embarrassment. Those were the things that later on in my career I was like, “Man, I gotta do this”. Because I don’t want that perception of never losing. That’s where (my slogan) Never Give Up comes from. It’s not because you always win. Never Give Up comes from the fact that I lose a lot but I’m never going to give up. And eventually I will make it. Just that concept alone, of facing failure and embarrassment. If not, that’s a bad message to send a gender. That’s not the right message. I’m glad that this movie makes fun of it.

Where do you see your career going now?

I don’t know and I think that’s great. I think having no expectations is a great way to stay thankful because everything that comes my way is something I shouldn’t have had in the first place. And that was the philosophy I had in WWE. I never expected anything except a chance. That’s it. If you’re the opening match, you’ve only got six minutes. But it’s still a chance. Whereas, if you’re the main event and you’ve got an hour and six minutes, what a chance that is! I’m just thankful for a chance. Right now, I’m thankful for this movie and hope everyone enjoys it. I don’t know where any of this is going to go, and in an industry that is so unpredictable, I would be naive to say, “This is my two-year plan, this is my five-year plan, and this is where I see myself 10 years from now”. I’m just going to be thankful I got the chance and do the best with every chance.

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