Charlie Day talks getting physically destroyed for Fist Fight
In Charlie Day and Ice Cube’s new R-rated comedy Fist Fight, when intimidating history teacher Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) challenges mild-mannered English teacher Mr. Campbell (Day) to a fight, Day’s character insists, “Teachers don’t fight.” He proceeds to do all he can to get out of the after-school showdown that he’s sure will leave him seriously injured, or worse.
Spoiler alert — the fight is still on come time for the day’s final school bell. That lengthy and intense but plenty farcical showdown took eight days to film, and Day didn’t walk away unscathed. He told us what stunt gave him the biggest bruise, and he also responded to Ice Cube’s critique of his rap number, a scene in the movie when Day’s character busts some serious moves with his daughter to Big Sean’s “I Don’t F— With You” at a school talent show.
Day talked with CS about working with Fist Fight director Richie Keen, who has helmed a handful of episodes of Day’s FXX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Among the prep Day and Keen did together for Fist Fight was scouring the Internet for real-life gags that inspired the movie’s senior pranks, including one where Mr. Campbell erases a student’s drawing of a cat on his classroom’s white board only to unveil an explicit drawing in permanent ink.
And we made sure to get an update from the actor on the highly-anticipated sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
ComingSoon.net: I bet there’s a good chance some of your own high school teachers and Ice Cube’s will see the movie.
Charlie Day: Ah yeah, I hadn’t thought about that.
CS: Any warning you’d want to give them for what they’re about to see?
Day: For my teachers, I think it’s fairly tame. I play a very kind of straight-forward man who’s not as insane as the rest of the people in the school, who slowly unravels because he’s in a predicament. I’m more concerned about the two teachers that are my parents. They’re both teachers, retired now. I think it will be hard for them to watch me get punched that much.
CS: Ice Cube told me he thinks the young actress who plays your daughter did a better job taking on the rap number than you did.
Day: Oh yeah, I can’t rap. I don’t do any rapping, by the way, in that sequence. I just do the dancing beside her. But yeah, that scene would have been terrible if I had to rap. She was great at it. As they say, she can really spit.
CS: So the fight sequence took eight days to film. For how long were you shooting the talent show scene?
Day: The talent show I think we shot just over two days. Pretty quick. But yeah, the fight went on forever. And the whole shoot to me seemed like I was getting beat up, whether it was dragged by a horse or cramming myself into a locker or running down a hallway or whatever it was. It seemed endless, the physicality of it.
CS: Which stunt were you most apprehensive about doing?
Day: I mean, the fight sequence, probably the whole fight.
CS: Any particular part of the fight that stands out?
Day: I was more anxious about accidentally punching Ice Cube. You don’t want to accidentally break your co-star’s nose and then shut production down for a week or something. And I also was completely worried about getting punched myself. I was, “If we time this out wrong, one of us is gonna get really hurt.”
CS: Did you make it through with only makeup bruises and scars?
Day: Oh no, you should have seen the welts on my arm. I had a bruise from my wrist to my elbow. ’Cause every time I would have to do a punch, and he would do a block, he would do it with his elbow pointed at my wrist, and I just kept punching my wrist into his elbow, take after take. So that was black and blue. My leg still doesn’t totally work the way it used to. I got destroyed. I got physically destroyed.
CS: You really earned this movie.
Day: I put everything I had into this movie. Hopefully people go see this, otherwise — my poor leg. This all will have been for nothing.
CS: When you have a movie like this that takes place practically all in one day, does that change your approach to your performance, how you craft this character compared to a movie that takes place over several days or months or years?
Day: I feel like it’s a lot easier to track stuff when a movie’s all in one day. You don’t have to try to take into account any sort of massive emotional changes that might have happened. I think any one of us over the course of a day is operating on a pretty small spectrum of change.
CS: Though this is a big day in your character’s life.
Day: It is a big day, right. He goes through a lot.
CS: The pranks in this movie — did you get to contribute some ideas for all of those?
Day: Yeah, Richie [Keen] and I were on YouTube just Googling things that kids had done. The cat/penis one was one that he had found. When Richie first called me about wanting to do the movie, he cut together a trailer of what the movie would be. It was scenes of Cube and I from various movies or [It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia] or whatever it was mixed with other high school movies. And in the trailer that he cut was that cat/penis joke. So that one, for example, was like, “We gotta get that in the movie. It’s so great.” Another one was the principal’s car. That was something we’d seen funny versions of what kids had done.
CS: What from your working relationship with Richie Keen on “It’s Always Sunny” was most helpful to bring to this project?
Day: For me, what was great about that is that I know from working with Richie on “Sunny” is he’s just a really good collaborator. He can handle getting an idea [from someone else]. I got to make this movie more like I make a television series, where I can be very hands on with “alright, let’s try this, let’s try that.” Richie and I talked about everything from the casting to the changes we wanted in the script.
CS: I’m sure that comes with you being a producer on the film too.
Day: Yeah. So I was able to do it much more like the show. Richie was the perfect man for that juggling act of “okay, it’s not just my movie. I have to go with Ice Cube and some of the things he wants to try. I have New Line to balance and Shawn Levy.” I wanted a guy that I knew could kind of juggle all those personalities and all that input and not lose his cool. So he was Mr. Cool. And there are things that are in the movie that are more Cube than me and things in the movie that are probably more me than Cube and things that are just Richie. It made for a really good working chemistry.
CS: I gotta check in on Pacific Rim 2. Are you done shooting that?
Day: No, I was just in Australia. That’s why I’m drinking so much coffee – ’cause I don’t know what time it is. But I’m in the middle of shooting, and I can tell you that it’s a great cast, and everybody really likes Stephen DeKnight, the director. He has a bit of his own vision for the movie, which is great ’cause he can’t just repeat. He has to come up with his own thing. I can tell you Burn Gorman is back – I think I can.
CS: Oh, well, you just did.
Day: I just got sued. [Laughs] So Burn and I are back, which is fun for us. The cast is amazing.
CS: A while back there was talk that your character would become more of a villain in the sequel. Is that still happening?
Day: I’m not allowed to talk about any details of the script. I wish I could. I can say I have a job to do there, which is I have to come to set and commit 100 percent to what I’m doing. With “Fist Fight,” I’m very hands-on. With [“Pacific Rim: Uprising”], I’m only in control of myself. I, too, am a fan of the movie and hope that what we’re making services the first one well and stands on its own well too.
CS: Is there any stunts experience that you might get to bring from “Fist Fight” to “Pac Rim 2”?
Day: I got the experience of learning I’m now officially too old to do any kind of stunts. My leg will never forgive me.
CS: What happened? How bad is it?
Day: I couldn’t feel my foot. And my leg was just in a lot of pain. I got an X-ray, and they were saying, “There’s something wrong with your bone, so you should probably get surgery.” They gave me a cortisone shot, and I finished the fight, and now it just kind of nags me. Maybe I will get that surgery.
CS: What you do for your craft.
Day: I know! It was crazy. But you can’t not do the fight. It’s called “Fist Fight.”
Fist Fight, also starring Tracy Morgan, Christina Hendricks, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, and Kumail Nanjiani, opens in theaters this Friday, February 17.