Fighting the odds
ONLY THE BRAVE STARS JEFF BRIDGES AND JOSH BROLIN PAY HOMAGE TO FIRE-FIGHTERS THROUGH THEIR MOVIE
As wildfires devastate parts of California and the West, Only the Brave serves as a timely reminder of the courage of those who protect others and of the sacrifices their own families make.
The movie that released yesterday stars Josh Brolin and
Jeff Bridges. The two, who previously worked together on Joel and Ethan Coen’s remake of True Grit, have a familiar ease with each other as they discuss the new film.
Only the Brave tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of fire-fighters specially trained in wildfire suppression tactics.
During the Yarnell
Fire in 2013, the Prescott, Arizona-based Granite Mountain crew lost
19 of its 20 members — including Chris Mackenzie and Billy Warneke of Hemet — when winds suddenly whipped up and changed direction. Only the Brave does not simply recount the tragedy; it paints a picture of the lives of the men who are willing to face such dangers.
“For these guys, it’s a different mentality. They are walking toward the fire while the rest of us run away from it,” says Brolin, who plays Eric Marsh, known as “Supe” (as in superintendent), the outfit’s boss.
Bridges plays Prescott Wildland Fire Chief Duane Steinbrink, who oversaw Marsh and his crew.
“These guys are so phenomenally brave,” observes the Oscarwinning actor, “but if you strip them down they aren’t supermen. Some of them started as (screwups) but are into selfimproving. They have imperfections like the rest of us and personal stories.”
Steinbrink was not part of the team fighting the Yarnell Fire, and Brolin and Bridges say that the chief was wary at first that a movie was being made about the tragedy.
“I knew it was a sensitive subject, because we’d have to deal with the family and friends of those who died,” says Brolin. “Particularly
when it was first proposed. It was only the three-year anniversary when we were shooting it.”
Both Bridges and Brolin have played real-life people before and know as an actor you can’t completely transform into the person you’re playing.
“When I met Eric’s parents, the first thing his mother said to me was, ‘Eric was a lot taller than you.’ So it’s tough,” says Brolin.
The actor says he told Marsh’s parents that “No matter what I do it will never be right, but I will represent him in the best way I can. I won’t be lazy about this. I’ll give it 110 per cent and I hope at the end of the day you feel that I’ve represented your son well.”
Eventually, Steinbrink came around to support the film.
Bridges and Steinbrink connected over music.
“With Jeff, it’s always about music,” Brolin says with a laugh.
Steinbrink has a cowboy band called The Rusty Pistols. Bridges has been a long-time musician and songwriter, even winning his Oscar in Crazy Heart playing a country singer. The actor performs a song as Steinbrink in the film.
As is customary in action films like this,
Only the Brave had a two-week boot camp — this one in the mountains outside Santa Fe, New Mexico — so the actors could train for their roles.
“It made us actors step forward to get it right,” Brolin says.
The actor already had some experience with fire-fighting. Nearly 30 years ago when he was shooting the Western series The Young Riders in Arizona, he struck up a friendship with Danny Martin, a wildland firefighter, and he started hanging out with him as a volunteer fireman.
“I liked the community. It wasn’t necessarily the firefighting or that I wanted to be in a really dangerous place,” says Brolin. “I came from a surf community that was very tight, and when I didn’t have that anymore I missed it.”
Martin has remained a friend, and knew Marsh, attending his funeral.
“So this movie is maybe my most personal,” says Brolin.
Only the Brave also stars Miles Teller, James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch as members of the Granite Mountain crew. Oscar-winner Jennifer Connelly plays Marsh’s wife, Amanda, while Andie Macdowell portrays Steinbrink’s wife, Marvel.
One thing Jeff and
Josh have in common is that their fathers were Hollywood stars — James Brolin and Lloyd Bridges — and their careers have also been marked by their collaborations with the Coen brothers.
Despite seven Oscar nominations, Bridges, 67, will forever be known as the laidback “Dude” in 1998’s The Big Lebowski. After some two decades in the business, Brolin’s role in the 2007 Oscarwinning No Country for Old Men proved a boost for his career.
When asked about the Coens, both actors light up.
“They are the masters,” says Bridges
“It’s so unpretentious working with them,” adds Brolin, who was in last year’s Hail, Caesar!
The pair then launch into a discussion about the kinds of directors they like, a topic, considering how many films they both have been in, about which they have plenty to say.
Bridges has had three films released in as many months — The Only Living Boy in New York City, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle and now Brave.
Brolin has four more already in the can after Brave — the indie The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Soldado, the sequel to Sicario.
“I don’t normally walk around looking like this,” says the T-shirt-wearing Brolin, indicating his bulked-up physique.
He’s hoping to film a TV series he’s created early next year.
Like all Californians, the actors have had to worry about wildfires. Bridges says his wife had to evacuate their Santa Barbara ranch by herself three times because of blazes when he was off making movies and also lost a Malibu house to fire.
“We just lost 400 acres on our Montana ranch to fires,” he says. “I was just up there giving my daughter away at her wedding, and there was smoke in the air. You know the world is getting crispier and crisper. Thank God, we have guys like the hotshots”
“We’re going to need more of these people,” adds Brolin.
“Hopefully, the movie can be inspirational to everybody to engage the problem rather than throwing up their hands,” says Bridges.
Josh Brolin (left) and Jeff Bridges in the movie.
The movie also stars Miles Teller (left).