Gill Pringle

Ice Cube is a scary looking individual, so there’s not much acting from you needed. “That’s true. Well I’m scared of a light breeze, so… not much acting required, but I’m a big fan of Ice Cube. I’ve gotten to work with Kevin Spacey and Christoph Waltz (the Horrible Bosses films) and that’s all fine and good, and it’s been great, but I am a fan of Ice Cube because of his music. I was probably one of the only white kids in Rhode Island, driving around listening to The Predator on a loop. So, I was very excited to get to work with him.”

Were you worried about what to call him? Like “Mr Cube”, or “Ice” or… “Ah, no. I just figured “Cube” would work, and that’s what I called him. I worked with P. Diddy once (on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and once I got through that awkwardness, it was like ‘Ok, I learned how to talk to someone with a made up name, I guess’.”

Do you ever want to play something totally different to the personas we know you from on screen? Yeah. I do. I do. Hopefully this one plays a little bit different. He’s a little straighter. I have this crazy guy who wants to fight me, I’m surrounded by these teachers like Tracy Morgan, and Jillian Bell, who are really hysterical, but heightened characters, and I’m the one person in the middle of this, who’s constantly saying ‘Has the world gone mad?’ So, in a subtle way, it’s different from the untethered maniac I am usually. Without having a limp and a British accent, it’s getting to play a different character. But still, this is probably the closest to who I am as a human being!”

Tell us about your relationship with the director of the film Richie Keen. “Richie had directed a lot of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and when I found the script, I was talking to New Line Cinema about doing it, and they were looking for a director. Richie called me up, and he said ‘I really think I could be right for this’ and I said ‘Oh yeah, I’d love to work with someone who I’ve worked with, so that I can have that communication and do it much more like I do the television show, versus say the Horrible Bosses movies, where I’m kind of answering to the director’s vision.’ Richie said ‘Let me prove it to you’, and he cut together a trailer, using clips of myself and Ice Cube from the internet, and high school kids, and movies like Three O’Clock High and High Noon, and he did such a fantastic job, that I called him back immediately, and said ‘I’m going to fight tooth and nail to get this job’, and he made that easy for me, because everyone that he talked to, he really impressed, and they knew he had a great vision for this movie. Richie and I worked heavily on the script, and did a lot of rewriting, to the point where I haven’t had to improvise too much. I feel very confident about where it is, and we’ve hired people like Jillian [Bell] and Kumail [Nanjiani] to come in and improvise, and do what they’re doing, and they’ve been great.”

How about your own directing aspirations Charlie? “I had one thing that I’d written, but half the movie’s in Spanish, and it’s going to be subtitled, and I wanted it to be black and white, so that’s the problem. It’s like…I don’t know that it would make anybody any money. But I do aspire to do it at some point, but I think Woody Allen or Wes Anderson, or something smaller is more my taste.”

Can you talk about the fight in the film? “The actual fight is fascinating, and massive, and we both have been pretty banged up, over the course of…maybe Cube doesn’t want to admit it, but I’ll admit it. We got pretty banged up over the course of shooting, and I said to Richie the other day, that I was just listing the things that have happened to me on this film, and I sprained a shoulder, and I pulled both groins, I got a Cortisone shot in my hip, I got bitten by a dog, and I had a tooth drilled the other day, so…[Laughs] it’s been a rough shoot! We wanted the fighting to look as real as possible, but I think Cube’s 45, and I’ll be 40 this year, so it’s just things aren’t moving the way they used to move…and in my mind, I’m 25, but my body says ‘No, you’re not!’ And there was one sequence where I kept getting thrown into a bus, over and over and over again, and that was less than fun.”

How did the dog come into it? “The dog was just Richie’s dog. I was just patting his dog, and it seemed happy, and then it decided to bite me!”

As a producer, Charlie, is it a whole bunch of new skillsets? “This is much more like the way I do It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where someone has written a script – that’s usually us, but in this case, it was somebody else [Van Robichaux, Evan Susser] – and then I get involved in the re-writes, and what we do with the camera, and who we cast. So, I guess…the plus side for me is…I have a lot more control over what I am doing, and so for me, that’s quality control, or taste control, and the downside is, if the movie is a disaster, you can absolutely blame me! [Laughs]”

Why do you think people should see this movie? “If we accomplish what I hope we accomplished, I think we can make a movie that’s first and foremost, hysterical, and who doesn’t want to go to the movies to laugh? And secondly, I think we can make a movie that just says ‘If only in a slight way, that we have to look at the condition of our school system, especially here in America, and just think about where it’s at, and what it does to the people who are at ground zero, the teachers and the students. And to see if there’s some way to affect change. One of the runners of this movie is that as a culture, we’ve become a little bit too soft with our students. You get a trophy just for participating, and there’s a line that we wrote for Strickland [Ice Cube], ‘We need to hold people accountable’. And so he’s holding me accountable in the story. I hope that there’s a little bit of a message to it, and we’re not shying away from that. I know that often times, especially with a comedy, people don’t like to have too much of a statement. But, I always think that if you’re not saying anything, then what’s the point of making the movie? So hopefully it’s shining a light on a system that we all know, which is broken. I don’t have the answers for fixing it, but you can both laugh and maybe… stop and reflect for a moment.”

Did you ever have a teacher that stood out in terms of inspiring you? “I had a theatre professor whose name was Robert Heinlein, same as the science fiction writer, and he took me under his wing when I was unsure whether or not I could make a living in this. He introduced me to films beyond typical studio fare, and opened my mind to art in film. Unfortunately, he passed away before he got to see me work, but I was at a small school, called Merrimack College [Massachusetts], and there was no theatre program, there was just one teacher, who taught two classes, and I nagged him for all 4 years I was there, and I’m probably the only student from that school who went on to become an actor. So, unfortunately, he didn’t get to see it happen, but he was a real mentor.”

Why did you want to become an actor? “It was one of the only things I could do! I was in love with baseball, and I thought I could be a baseball player, but I constantly had to prove to people, ‘Hey! Pay attention to me! Put me on the team! Put me in the game!’ Whereas, suddenly when I started doing plays, people said ‘Oh, this is something you seem to do well at, and excel at’, and I got more attention from girls, and I think that’s what makes the world turn.”

Did you have comedy heroes growing up? “I’ve grown up to love all things comedy, from Monty Python to Peter Sellers to every single film that Woody Allen ever made.”

Every single film? “All the good ones. Also, Chris Farley, Jim Carrey when he first came out. But acting wise, the movie that really shocked me into what acting could be was The Deer Hunter. Christopher Walken, De Niro, John Savage, and just how real their acting was, and how intense that movie was. And then suddenly, movies weren’t Die Hard to me anymore. There was something deeper. And then I went and saw movies like Dog Day Afternoon and Midnight Cowboy, that whole genre of film, and then I was hooked!”

Other comic actors like Steve Carell and Robin Williams got really successful in serious dramatic roles. Can you ever see yourself getting in that direction? “I would love to! In fact, when I got into the business I wanted to be Dustin Hoffman. I wanted to be Al Pacino. And then I made this comedy television show, and it was a big hit! And then it’s led to the opportunity to make comedy movies. So, like any sensible man, I’m going where the opportunities are. I mean I really enjoyed getting to make Pacific Rim, which was a little more of a straight character. I’m not a stand-up comedian, and I see myself as more of a regular person, I just look and sound funny!”

Fist Fight is in cinemas February 23, 2017.

Read our interview with Christina Hendricks.

Read our review. 

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