On the last day of the school year, mild-mannered high school teacher Andy Campbell, played by Charlie Day, is trying his best to keep it together amidst senior pranks, the dysfunctional administration, and budget cuts – teachers getting fired left and right. All while his wife is expecting their second baby. But things go from bad to worse when Campbell crosses paths with the school’s most feared teacher, Ron Strickland, played by Ice Cube. In the middle of a prank gone wrong Strickland challenges him to a fist fight after school. News of the fight spreads, Campbell tries to avoid getting his ass kicked, but eventually ends up showing up and throws down. We caught up with the cast and director who told us all about the epic fight.
Kym Whitley, who plays the 911 operator was our press junket moderator.
Ice Cube: Kym, don’t get up here asking no bullshit Junket 101 questions. This ain’t no Junket 101.
Cube: Tracy makes everybody break.
Tracy Morgan: That’s my thing, when Richie says cut, that’s when I got uptight. When you say action I relax.
Richie Keen: We actually learned when I say cut and Tracy is on camera, don’t cut. There had to be a second cut because sometimes I’d say cut, the first time I said cut, Tracy said something funny and I was so mad at myself [and missed it] so I would start to yell cut so we’d get Tracy to go for it.
Morgan: Well there was a lot in me, sitting on the couch for a year after that Wal-Mart truck hit me. So I just let it all out, what you want me to do?
Morgan: Richie I love you, thank you for believing in me and all that.
Keen: Are you kidding me?I’m so lucky that i get to be a part of. When I wanted Tracy for the role he had not yet been on TV, he had not done SNL, he had not done the Emmys, he hadn’t been seen. And so there was a real concern, is he healthy? can he walk? does he have brain damage? I got on a Skype call with Tracy and within 30 seconds he was asking me ‘Who’s Captain Kirk’s best friend?’ laughs ‘Spock’ ‘ No, Spock calls him Captain, you don’t call your best friend Captain. Bones says damage him, Bones is his best friend.’ I’m like he’s fine he’s ready to go back to work. I honestly thought, if he’s got a limp, I didn’t know, he said he was fine, if we have to put him in a chair every once in a while for a scene. It was his first thing back, you know, I had a real special moment with Tracy, we were on a football field, an I was gonna say action for the first time, and I looked over and I can see Tracy just like, he had a look in his eyes, and it occurred to me that this is the first time someone is gonna say action since his accident. I mean this is the guy who didn’t know he was gonna get up again. Let alone be funny and get to act. So I walked over to him and I kinda put my hand on his shoulder, and I just said ‘this is very special for me, I can’t believe I get to be a part of this’ and he smiled, and he said ‘ I got you’ he’s above and beyond what i hoped for and i think Tracy is just a kind gentle thoughtful person and also crazy.
Morgan: I was so scared the first day, I wasn’t sure if I was gonna be funny or not. After what I just been through. And I had Cube around me, he’s like a brother so they encouraged me to relax and be me, I just had fun after that.
Morgan: I never left! I never left. What it’s like? I’m proud to be of service to you and I want to make you laugh so I just picked up where I left off at. Wal-Mart can’t stop me.
Keen: It hit me hard. That I got to be part of it.
Morgan: Broke down and let it out. Glad to be back. I didn’t know if I was going to be back. I didn’t know if I was ever gonna walk again. So to come in and do a film with Cube and Day, and Jillian [Bell] and all of us I love ya’ll and it feels good. Ya’ll better buckle up because we got a winner here.
Charlie Carver: Don’t call it a come back
Morgan: Don’t call it a come back, i’ve been here for years.
Jillian Bell: My TRL?
Keen: I told them I begged you, that I went to a meeting you had and I got down on my knees and…
Bell: It was the nicest thing and the most unnecessary thing anyone has done for me. I was like, I love this script, I love you, I love who’s in the movie, and I was so happy that he wanted me to be in it. and the knees! The getting on the knees was a big bonus! It’s never happened to me, probably will never happen again.
Cube: Talking to Richie and Charlie, it’s a movie about two teachers fighting, we wanted to make sure we had a cool underline message in that, because it’s so outrageous and so unusual for teachers to scrap in that kind of way, like students. We wanted to make sure we had an underline message talking about you know, the school system and how teachers deal with it. One teacher is ultra hard and one teacher is trying to appease and get along with the students. It is saying a lot about our school system and things we have to tackle. The problems that we face now a days. But we really wanted to make sure that was the underline message but the over line message is have fun, laugh, trip out these crazy characters in this crazy scenario. This is a popcorn movie, if you ask me, it’s really all about the fun. If you’re trying to find a real deep-rooted message in it.
Cube: Uh, I’m gonna have to work with you on that.
Charlie Day: I did have a week of training because they had to show me how to make a fist without breaking my thumb. I tried to make it look like I didn’t know what I was doing until the last two minutes. I trained with a guy named Yves Edwards who is a UFC guy. At one point we’re doing the moves and he’s like ‘now you duck’ and we’re going about 2 mph and he hits me on the side of my head and i’m almost completely knocked out. So I got a lot more respect for those UFC guys and how tough they are. I would never ever want to do it. I don’t recommend it.
Cube: Actually he picked up a few moves from me. Actually when we did that movie they kept telling me, UFC, UFC, and I’m like ‘alright, okay, that’s cool,’ but when you fight the first time I was scared of him. I was like ‘dude you straight out of Compton don’t get your ass knocked out right here in front of everybody.’ As far as the training, I’ve been doing fight scenes in movies, and if you can fight Tiny Lister in a movie you learn quickly to get out the way because he will hit your ass accidentally on purpose. He got me real close to the nose one time, so I just learned to learn the choreography, learn the choreography bro. It keeps you from [accidents] that black eye is not gonna look good on film. From doing the movie Friday I just learned to concentrate and get these moves right and have fun.
Cube: We were tired, it was eight days. Eight days, thank you Richie, eight days of… the fighting went on and on and on. We were so happy that it was over that we could start being funny because after eight days of fighting you wonder if you’re ever gonna get funny again. It was growling but you can’t have a movie be called Fist Fight and have a punk fight at the end right?
Keen: I knew we had to deliver on the promise of the title. I defy you to find the stunt double. These guys fought each other for eight days. I was blown away.
Day: I’m not gonna lie, it’s been over a year since we shot this, my leg still hurts. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
Christina Hendricks: I remember saying to Charlie when you wrote this you weren’t thinking that you actually had to do this.
Day: I didn’t write this but it’s true, sometimes you read something and you’re like ‘oh okay I’ll do that’ and you don’t actually think ‘I’m gonna get my ass kicked’ eight days. But if you’re thinking of Rocky, with the giant fight at the end, you’re in the best shape of your life. Training sequence, it’s all about your abs. And I’m like ‘okay don’t have too much coffee today before the fight, try not to eat a cheese burger
Day: There were a few take where my head would go hard into that school bus. I’d be like ‘okay we gotta take a break’ I was seeing four Richie’s
Keen: Charlie came to me at one point and just said ‘do we need to do the school bus again?’
Day: Did you get your shot?
Hendricks: Freakishly scary.
Hendricks: Thank you.
Hendricks: It was very fun to join this group. I’ve been a fan of everyone for so long. So I just got to come and do this bizarre twisted little role that was super fun for me. Flip a blade, [Keen] helped me with. I practiced over and over, I had bruised fingers. It was fun for me. come in and act bizarre, and learn from these guys.
Hendricks: Yes, I brought my own blade.
Cube: Any time you work with people this funny you have your moments when you break. Jillian, she come with a new line every time. She’s gonna hit you with something that you’re not ready for and I think that’s her comedic genius. And Charlie, is so perfect in his seamless acting. From comedy back to dramatic, he’s got this sensibility about him that is funny. And Tracy, he’s gonna say something inappropriate every time. Even with a R- rated movie Tracy is coming with it. You break every now and then. But I remember these kind of teachers in school, I wanted to play the guy that takes the air out the room.
Cube: I’m the coolest dude you’d want to meet. Let’s put it that way. And everybody agree right?!
Cube: My motivation was shaping these bad ass kids into shape. Sometimes we need bat.
Cube: It seems like with every movie I do, or every other movie I do, in some way it’s a reference to good day, or NWA, or something. I gotta really count how many times we reference my real career in movies. In a comedy what’s so cool about it is that you can break all the rules and break all the boundaries and you can do whatever is funny. I didn’t think about making music for this because I wanted you to see Mr. Strickland, I didn’t want you to think about Ice Cube, I wanted you to think about this character and he’s over the top and he’s a little too much for the school. Kids need discipline but nobody needs Mr. Strickland. It’s a fun character to play.
Morgan: This movie is a cross between Welcome Back Carter and Law and Order.
Cube: Nobody knows, nobody knows about Mr. Strickland, he could be a reporter, no one knows what he can do.
Cube: 10 Day Fight
Charlie Carver: It was fun to go back to high school, dare I say, it was fun to have a young cast. We (points to twin brother Max Carver) represent such small part of the kids in the film, and it was great because we were in Atlanta together, obviously working, but we all had a bond like we were in high school together again. And we would go out and get in to as much trouble as possible. Claremont Lounge, I shouldn’t have said that but (winks).
Cube & Keen: Tracy, Tracy!
Swishes: I actually blame you (points to Kym Whitley).
Whitley: Evey time.
Swishes: I think it’s my husbands, not Tracy’s, but…
Whitley: Every time we work together you get pregnant.
Swishes: I know, I’m gonna avoid you like the plague, I have a six month old and if I get knocked up again, I’m going dark guys.
Swishes: Which is ironic because I was completely inappropriate in my life, but come on it’s Charlie. I was so nervous when I came to meet Richie and Charlie, I had to pretend like I was giving birth in my audition and that was super embarrassing but you just go with it. They spoiled me rotten, Everyone did, to work with Tracy, the gratitude, the positivity that flowed out of him it’s just a wonderful experience. I’m gonna get on my knees like with Jillian. She’s so sweet and wildly intelligent and incredibly funny. So I just sat back and I got to wear these rubber boobs that I don’t have and belly, no honey they are not mine.
Morgan: I never had a big crowd like that, I had a couple of fights after school, but my crowds were never that big. That was huge!
Keen: It was really important to me that in the third act everything got big and that we
Morgan: These were two teachers fighting. The whole community was there.
Keen: But when you have a cast like this, I don’t wanna say it was easy, but these people would come out and everyone would applaud. All the background actors were so excited to watch this and watch these guys work. I thought we would lose half the background on the second day and it just kept getting bigger. You could tell people were telling their friends ‘come check out this shoot’
Bell: I’ll add to it by saying that Tracy would give legit motivational talks. And it was inspiring because you know a lot of the times you get on the set and you see the stars of the movie kind of keep to themselves and then the people in the background, who are usually younger, they kinda get ignored, so this was so inspiring.
Morgan: I lost my fight after school. I lost my fight to Murdis. It was Murdis, Murdis.
Morgan: Yes, it was a girl, I lost to her. Don’t judge. Listen. I liked her, but I didn’t know how to tell her, so I punched her. You know, as a kid you punch and she whooped my ass so bad. She had Sonny Liston hands (a boxer in the 60’s) how does this shit happen?
Hendricks: I was just gonna say that those kids, while they were fighting, and they (Cube and Day) were so amazing to watch. Like you said, they were 125% every moment [in the fight scene]. But we were in the crowd with all the background actors intermingled in those eight days watching them. Those kids were so professional and so cool.
Day: I do want to thank those kids. They were out there in the hot sun for eight days and they actually gave a really good performance.
Bell: And they were always like ‘oh the stapler fell on this part’ so actually re-setting the props and stuff, they were on it.
Hendricks: And they were taking care of us, holding umbrellas, it was great.
Morgan: It was hot!
Keen: It was important to me to make them feel like they were, which is true, they were part of the movie. I thanked them everyday when I got there. Before the cast came out. I would tell them they were all on camera. And whether or not they realized it we had four, sometimes five cameras going, and I would zoom in on people reacting. And I said ‘you don’t know when you’re gonna be on camera, but I promise you, you will all at some point be on camera and i’m so grateful for your performances’ and they were just great kids.
Day: There was a moment when I come into the crowd and the crowd parts and they start cheer, and I swear the timing of their cheers, and the go Mr. Campbell’s, that’s just all them kids acting. It felt very real to me.
Keen: New Line said to me I’m the first director in the history at their studio that got every first choice in their cast. Every single person in this cast, there was no second choice. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. It’s an amazing group of people.
Fist Fight is a New Line Cinema production and hits theaters February 17th.