Charlie Day likes playing smart, though he doesn’t do it often. Since 2005 he’s filed over 100 episodes as Charlie, the dim-wittiest (and sweetest) of the four monsters on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” But in “Fist Fight,” the actor and writer gets to play a teacher. He’s no inspirational educator, like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” or Robert Donat in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” His school has long been plagued by crippling cut-backs, the kids are all rambunctious, and — worst of all — he pissed off a colleague (Ice Cube), who’s challenged him to an after-school fight.
Day, 41, talks to us about getting accidentally punched by a rap god, the kids these days and playing an even smarter guy in “Pacific Rim.”
So, what’s it like being punched by Ice Cube, or at least fake-movie-punched?
It’s surreal! I’m a huge fan of Ice Cube, from when he was in NWA and his solo stuff. I love the album “The Predator.” I know every song on that. So it was surreal. And when you get a punch wrong, when it accidentally hits your forearm or something instead of missing you, it really hurts. He’s a big guy; he can throw a real punch.
So Ice Cube accidentally punched you in the arm?
Yeah, there were plenty of times that happened. There were times when our forearms clashed, our knees banged together. Thank god no one got one on the nose by accident. But there are times when you move the wrong way and you get a little punch here, a little scrape there. We were both a little black-and-blue in some spots. We shot this over a year ago, and to be honest my legs still hurt.
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You’ve done stunts before, but this is next-level.
It was the most physically demanding and exhausting thing I’ve ever done. My wife was saying you’re not allowed to ever do any stunts again. I said, “I don’t want to.” And we shot it consecutively. We wound up shooting the entire fight in a row because they were worried that the outdoor trees were going to lose all their leaves. If we put it off the fight wouldn’t match. So it was all day every day, 12- to 14-hour days of fighting, eight days in a row.
That sounds horrible.
Yeah, it was a really bad idea.
I’ve talked to Cube before and — this shouldn’t be shocking but it kind of is — he’s really nice.
[Laughs] He’s a nice guy, and I’m sure if you piss him off he really isn’t.
I’m old enough that I find myself saying phrases like “the kids these days.” So since you’re playing a teacher, what was your impression of the kids these days?
They’re living a different life than we lived, because everyone’s constantly in contact with one another, over their phones and social media, Snapchatting, Instagramming. I finally got on one of those things, because I’d been rebelling against it. I’d do it for a month and say, “OK, that’s enough.” The saddest thing is dating. It used to be real work to find someone who would date you, then you’d have to invest a little time to get to know somebody. Now you’re thinking, "I’ll swipe and see who’s next."
In my day, I was the only kid in school who had a computer at home. I didn’t use it to connect with people because the Internet was not a thing yet. I just wrote stories on it.
I didn’t own my own computer 'til Season 2 of “Always Sunny.” I was like, "Alright, I need to be writing scripts on a computer and not on yellow legal pad anymore." [Laughs]
I talked to someone who had worked with kids once, and he said that all their social media and gadgets actually made them smarter. He was shocked.
I don’t remember how smart I was as a young person. [Laughs] But I don’t buy that they’re smarter. The world doesn’t seem like a place right now where people are getting smarter, now does it?
Tell me about playing a teacher and having to say inspirational things to rooms of kids.
It was fun for me. I’m the son of two teachers. I always enjoy when I get to play a character who’s … smart. [Laughs]
You should play more smart characters. You got to play on in “Pacific Rim”: an excitable scientist who babbles gobbledygook.
The problem with playing a scientist in a movie where giant monsters are coming out of the sea is learning all that mumbo-jumbo. You have to learn some BS science and know what it means.
So you wouldn’t just memorize the words and not know what it means?
No, no. I have to give myself a meaning in my head for what each term meant. I had to believe I understood the science behind it. If it’s just words, I won’t remember them.
I’m also old enough to remember “Three O’Clock High,” the 1987 comedy of which this is sort of a remake, only it’s the teachers who are prepping for an after-school fight. The joke is that adults are as infantile as the kids.
It’s true. But this is also a very pro-teacher movie in a sense. You feel bad for these teachers, because they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Usually they’re not victims the way they are in this movie. Usually they’re the bad guys. Here the students are quite oppressive toward the teachers.
Well, we all feel bad for teachers right now.
Right. [Laughs] That is in the news a lot these days.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge