On a sunny Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, fans and moviegoers alike began to surround the Lincoln Square AMC Theater eager for the arrival of the cast of Playing With Fire – perhaps they were waiting on them to bring the heat.
Moments before the cast and crew of this fall’s fiery film were set to walk the carpet, a blaring alarm sounded off from the corner of West 68th street; within seconds two firetrucks toting John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, Dennis Haysbert, Tyler Mane arrived on the scene in the most epic fashion.
“I want to make that [kind of] entrance for the rest of my life!”, director Andy Fickman joked. While having the cast arrive on a certified smokejumper firetruck may have come as a surprise, it played into the above and beyond approach that Fickman took while shooting “Playing With Fire“ to add to the film’s authenticity.
“Having the access that the real smokejumpers gave us was spectaular…the challenge was [to] make sure that if we re-create it we re-create it right; so down from the outfits that [the cast] was wearing to everything else it was really important to just to get it right.”
Only trying to portray a first-responder whose job duties include parachuting from a plane through the sky into a blazing fire is no small feat; this was not lost on Keegan-Michael Key who played the role of smokejumper teammate, Mark Rogers. “If we had trained for two years, it wouldn’t have made a difference, we wouldn’t have been able to do what these guys did”, Key stated before continuing, “we certainly wouldn’t want to put stuntmen more in harm’s way than we needed to so it was mostly doing whatever we need to do to establish what the work is and then get into the story – It’s very dangerous!”
Taylor Mane who plays the role of Axe, a tool his character wields throughout the film, shared similar sentiments when it came to playing the role of a smokejumper. “Smokejumpers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, I mean I don’t know who would jump out of a perfectly good airplane into a fire,” Mane started before continuing on to say, “we were doing some helicopter scenes and I’m like, why would I wanna leave this? It’s an amazing job.”
Thankfully for John Cena who plays the role of Jake Carson, leader of the smokejumpers, his experience in the WWE provided him some comfort when shooting some of the stunt scenes. “Normally when we do deft-defying stuff I’m the first person to say bring in a stunt double, but this was like tripping over a firehose getting thrown over a chair – this is stuff we would do in the WWE, so it was literally like another day at home!” Cena said with a smile.
The feeling of home itself is a central point throughout the film, especially when it comes to the characters Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), Will (Christian Convery), and Zoey (Finley Rose Slater) – three rambunctious siblings who find themselves left in the care of Cena and his crew of smokejumpers after being rescued from a house fire.
“It’s a little tense at the beginning,” Hildebrand explained before continuing, “I know the smokejumpers really care about Brynn and Byrnn really cares about them but they’re not seeing eye to eye. I don’t think Brynn is really ready to let go of being the leader of her pack, but it’s all really loving and it ends up okay!”
Apart from the children’s roaming and curiosity, that lands the crew in a garage full of sudsy bubbles or completely covered in foam from a fire extinguisher, the film evokes the common theme of fun, family, and friendship.
“We really want people to enjoy it, laugh, [and] have a good time but understand how serious these forest and brush fire can be,” says Dennis Haysbert who plays the role of Commander Richards.
In addition to being aware of how impactful fires can be in “Playing With Fire,” the power of family and togetherness can be just as lasting.
“We just want families to have fun,” Key says with a smile before continuing, “a night out for the entire family; there are inspiring messages in the story and I think that’s something a 3-year-old or a 93-year-old can appreciate.”