Wrestler turned actor John Cena on combining hard work with having fun on the set of new comedy Playing With Fire

In new film Playing with Fire, John Cena battles blazing infernos and plenty of chaos. The wrestler-turned-actor tells Georgia Humphreys what it was like making the fun family comedy

John Cena had fun with his latest role as Captain Jake Carson in the comedy Playing With Fire
John Cena had fun with his latest role as Captain Jake Carson in the comedy Playing With Fire

YOU might think of John Cena as a bit of a tough guy. After all, the Massachusetts-born professional wrestler – who made his WWE television debut in 2002 – has won 17 championships in total, including 10 world titles.

But, in recent years, the 42-year-old has become known for his film roles too – and his latest shows what a softy he really is. In Playing With Fire, he plays straight-laced fire superintendent Jake Carson who, after rescuing them from an encroaching wildfire, ends up babysitting three siblings.

And he really enjoyed making the gag-filled, but heartfelt, kids' film.

"I just think everyone involved, from Andy [Fickman] the director, to the studio, to everyone in the project, knew exactly what we were making, and it was a movie to have fun," the charming star says with a big grin.

Unable to locate the children's parents, Jake – and the rest of his elite team – have their lives, jobs and even their fire station turned upside down when they decide to let them move into the station.

They quickly learn that kids, much like fires, are wild and unpredictable, especially seeing as the three siblings are quite a handful.

There's 16-year-old Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), who has a smart mouth, a chip on her shoulder, and a secret she'd rather not share, plus 10-year-old Will (Christian Convery) and nearly four-year-old Zoey (Finley Rose Slater).

The well-known quote from WC Fields is "never work with children or animals", but Cena thinks it should be rearranged to say: "If you don't have patience, don't work with animals and kids."

"The performance we get out of Gnasher [the pet dog], and the kids are so brilliant," he elaborates.

"You just have to take a second, take a deep breath, put yourself in the shoes of a six-year-old, or a four-year-old.

"You can't expect them to have the same focus that you do, and if you give them enough time, and find the right environment, even with animals, they'll perform, they'll shine. You just have to have a bit of patience."

The star, who's also known for comedy Blockers, animation Ferdinand and Transformers spin-off Bumblebee, admits he spent long days on set for Playing With Fire.

"You clock in in the morning and you're putting 12 to 14 hours into the day. But when those 14 hours are laughing and smiling, it goes by like 'that'," he says, clicking his fingers for effect.

"Even the toughest moments were had with a smile."

But what about once filming is done; how does he find watching his work back?

"It took me a while to get used to that," he confides.

"But when they finally say cut, you've gotta move on to the next thing; I feel as though I couldn't have done anymore. You have to be okay with that."

With the character of Jake, we see someone who is work obsessed. He has followed the same career path as his late father, and is determined to become commander; something which, as the film starts, is truly tangible.

However, his ability to focus on the application becomes thwarted when the firefighters take the kids in – he soon realises it's pretty hard to keep them out of his way.

As the story progresses, though, Jake's carefully built facade begins to crack, thanks to the children, and also potential love interest, field biologist Dr Amy Hicks (Judy Greer).

Playing With Fire also stars Judy Greer (left) as Dr Amy Hicks
Playing With Fire also stars Judy Greer (left) as Dr Amy Hicks

"Jake learns a tremendous amount from Amy and the kids," notes Cena. "That it's OK to be human.

"I think a very important underlying message in the film is to embrace the uncomfortable. And Jake, being someone of routine and structure, enjoys the comfortable, which is odd, because he can jump into a five-alarm blaze."

Another theme of the film is learning the importance of a good work-life balance – something the actor notes everybody goes through.

"We all want to do well, we all have things we aspire to do, and a lot of times we get caught up in our own business so much we fail to realise there's caring people around, there's a whole wonderful world around us," he suggests.

"I think a lot of people will be able to resonate with that. The relationships and moments in this movie make it not only a good laugh, but make you think about a lot of stuff too."

Of his own career, he adds: "Everyone always says, 'How do you do all this stuff? You're so busy' – we're all busy. All of us.

"And what I like most about this movie is it takes a deep breath and stops to look around and, 'Yeah this is alright. Everything around here is alright, and I should enjoy it when I get the chance'."

Asked if he has a career checklist, Cena doesn't let on if there is a particular job or project he wants to tick off. But he does share some mantras he intends to keep living by.

"The career checklist is to understand every opportunity as it happens, give everything you've got and – it's so clichéd – but live every day at a time."

:: Playing With Fire is available to download now