There is a grim irony in the timing of Jeff Bridges’ latest movie, the story of a firefighting crew that perished in one of the deadliest wildfires in US history.
When the veteran actor sat down with AFP in Beverly Hills to discuss “Only the Brave,” he could not have known California was about to suffer its own worst week for blazes, leaving at least 42 dead.
But it is a hazard never far from his mind, the 67-year-old Oscar-winner revealed, as he has been losing property to destructive infernos since the early 1990s.
“I lost my house to a fire in Malibu, it burned down. I was doing a movie called ‘Blown Away’ and heard the news… and, sure enough, it got my house,” he told AFP.
“And then my wife, Sue, has evacuated our house in Santa Barbara three times while I’ve been out making movies, all by herself. That’s a huge thing, taking everything out. We lived right up next to all this brush and everything’s very crisp now.”
Bridges also lost 400 acres (160 hectares) of his ranch in Montana to a fire around five years ago, and even found himself fighting to save a friend’s property, armed with a shovel, in another fire a decade or so earlier.
“With this climate change, things are getting crispier and crispier. We’re going to be seeing more fires, I think, and thank God we’ve got these guys whose job and passion is to fight them,” he said.
“Only the Brave,” which hits US theaters on Friday, tells the real-life story of a group of such men, sent out on a blistering June morning in Arizona in 2013 to battle a ferocious blaze threatening the town of Yarnell.
By the end of the day, all but one of the 20-man Granite Mountain Hotshots elite firefighting squad were dead.
It was the largest loss of life among American firefighters since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 and the deadliest US wildfire in more than 20 years.
Bridges stars alongside Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly and Miles Teller as Prescott Wildland Fire Chief Duane Steinbrink, a cowboy whose unpolished dignity and battle-hardened wisdom make him a mentor for the firefighters.
“In this case there’s a certain tragic aspect to our story but the movie doesn’t center on that,” he said.
“It’s really, who are these guys who risk their lives like this, and what makes those guys?”
Bridges is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and consistently bankable stars — part of an acting dynasty that includes his parents Dorothy and Lloyd as well as brother Beau.
He has earned a total of seven Oscar nominations since his first role as “infant at train station” in John Cromwell’s 1951 drama “The Company She Keeps.”
He won best actor for “Crazy Heart” (2009), demonstrating his skill as a musician to play the alcoholic Bad Blake, a man struggling with demons as he battles to recapture his glory days.
Born on December 4, 1949, Bridges’s career took off with his performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s masterful 1971 film, “The Last Picture Show,” which earned his first Oscar nod.
Reprising The Dude
Since then, he has played everything from a plane crash survivor in “Fearless” to iconic aging slacker The Dude in Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult comedy “The Big Lebowski” (1998).
Bridges has been asked in countless interviews since “Lebowski” if he would be interested in doing a sequel, usually prompting an indulgent grin and an enthusastic nod.
The Coens have always said they would never make a follow-up but it was announced in August that they had given their blessing to “Going Places,” a crime caper based on 1974 French comedy Les Valseuses.
The movie doubles up as a “Lebowski” spin-off as it centers on John Turturro reprising his turn as menacing bowler Jesus Quintana, but the Coens are not involved and neither is Bridges.
“If the brothers invite me, I’m there,” he says of the possibility of an actual sequel.
“I am so proud of that movie and proud to have been a part of it… These guys, the Coen brothers, are masters. They make it look easy.”
The Dude played a large part in Bridges’ mellow, easygoing public image, although the actor himself credits his late father, with whom he starred in “Tucker” (1988) and “Blown Away” (1994).
Bridges says he was struck by the “joy” Lloyd Bridges always brought on set, which he describes as “contagious.”
“That joy brings relaxation, confidence,” he tells AFP.
“And that makes it easier for you to do your job, to make the part flow through you better, I think you do your best work when you are relaxed.”