Josh Brolin has been in Hollywood for more than three decades, and he’s been involved with the firefighting community, on some level, for nearly as long. In Only the Brave, he stars as Eric Marsh, the “Supe” of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Although Brolin has been a volunteer firefighter, he says that fact doesn’t make him a firefighter.
For Brolin, this role was a chance to explore a world that’s held his fascination all these years.
“There’s a purity about it, there’s a mystic nature about it and investment in the work that I love. They’re as real as they get. They’re as ready as they get. It’s a very tough community to get in, but when you get in, there’s no loyalty like the firefighter’s community.”
And that expression of the nature of a firefighter comes through in Brolin’s portrayal of Marsh, who shares a particular connection to the flames he fights. He seems to recognize them as one would a respected old enemy.
“These guys befriend fire. I mean, they’re around fire so they have that natural relationship with fire,” he said. “But especially wildfires are so unpredictable, they’re so massive. They cover such a great area, that, to be up there without water, you have helicopter drops and all of that, but basically you have one shovel and a few guys that are creating lines and using the techniques they’ve learned in order to protect their communities. It’s amazing.”
That action is on display in Only the Brave, but it’s the time we spend in the day-to-day lives of this crew that makes the rest of the action so taut and suspenseful.
“And what I love about this movie is that it goes back to dealing with their everyday lives,” Brolin said. “On a much lesser level, it’s kind of like actors who are leaving their homes and then they come back to their families and the wife and the children expect them to be a certain way, thoroughly domesticated and yet, they’ve been living this heightened experience for so long, it’s impossible.”
For firefighters and their families, of course, the separation and sacrifice is much more palpable and much less predictable.
“There’s sacrifice, there’s all this stuff involved and it’s always going to be some kind of tension. Then you reintroduce yourselves and you’re able to find some kind of semblance of domestication and then, boom, they’re gone again'” Brolin said. “But without them, the whole world would be ash. You know what I mean? So, it’s absolutely 100% necessary.”
Though Brolin follows the firefighting world closely, he said that his knowledge of this story was more deterrent than motivator.
“So, yeah, I was very aware of it. So, when it came to it, it didn’t want to make me do it more, it made me more skeptical,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that Joe [Kosinski, who directed Only the Brave] was in the right place. I was in a bad mood when I met him, so I think that I was very challenging, to say the least. And I loved how straightforward he was,” he said.
There was a point at which Brolin wanted to leave the project — “because I’m a human being and I was emotionally affected by it,” he said — but his decision to stay, in part, came from a sense that he could actually convey the spirit of these men. And that, perhaps, may have been down to the relationship he developed with Eric Marsh’s mother, and wife, Amanda, who was played by Jennifer Connelly in the film.
Brolin called his decision to make the film a selfish one. And indeed he says, that his own interests are what motivates all of this choices at this stage.
“It’s selfish. It is. It’s purely selfish,” he said. And that gives him freedom.
“I have nothing at stake. I never really had anything at stake. … I’m very lucky to have worked in this industry for 33 years. So, if it ended tomorrow, like halfway through my career, if I quit and became a landscaper, I can do anything. I know how to make money. I’ll be fine.”
And with that reassuring confidence, Brolin can focus on and support projects he believes in. Like this one.
“As somebody who will momentarily be a spokesperson, at least for this movie, I have confidence in myself that I’m honest. I don’t have to lie about this movie. I believe in this movie. I think it’s very honest. I think it’s heart’s in right place”
Only the Brave is now playing in theaters everywhere.