From Labyrinth to Requiem for A Dream (and dozens projects in between), Jennifer Connelly has filled roles big and small and found a way to make an impression with each of them. But for all of experience and regard in the industry, she’s still excited to be doing what she does.
When asked if she had one scene in her new film Only the Brave that stood out as the scene she wanted to nail, she noted that she approaches every scene as if it’s the pivotal moment of a piece.
“Tell you the truth, in all the years that I’ve been making movies … every part, every scene, every moment, is such an opportunity. And I feel so grateful to do what I do, and to have the privilege of doing what I do, that I kind of approach most scenes with the same kind of [anticipation]….I mean, unless it’s really, like, well you’re way in the background, we’re seeing you through the window of a scene, you know what I mean?” she said. “I get very invested in what I do, I just love it so much.”
This time, her task was to bring a real woman, who plays a part in an incredible (and harrowing) story, to the screen. For Connelly, that journey began with meeting Amanda Marsh.
“She is so great. She’s so open and honest, and forthright. And, she spent time with me, answered all my questions that I had. She shared her memories with me, and her stories. She’s really frank, and that was so helpful to me. She came riding with me,” Connelly remembered. “Her honesty was really invaluable for me.”
Amanda wasn’t on the scene with the Granite Mountain Hotshots when a fire took an unexpected turn and claimed all but one of their lives, but despite circumstance keeping her at a distance, she was intimately involved. The wife of the department’s leader, Eric Marsh, she faced the risks and sacrifices in her own way. And Only the Brave takes great pains to acknowledge the reality for the families of these heroes.
As a result, much of the emotional heft of the picture lands squarely on Connelly’s shoulders.
“Certainly, there are plenty of movies where yeah, the guys are the protagonists and the women are kind of just back-up. I like that about this. You know, Amanda is not that woman. And it was really important, I think, she was going to be reflected in this movie that we were trying to reflect her the way she really is,” Connelly said. “As a really formidable person, and strong woman.”
Finding the right tone for Amanda, and her relationships in the film, was a process that continued throughout rehearsals and shooting. But for Connelly the goal wasn’t perfection, it was dynamism.
“I was happy that everyone was on board with it being messy, you know? Like, with the performances being a little messy, and the emotions being a little bit messy,” she explained. “I’m glad we were able to let them be in conflict in scenes in the film, because I think that was part of what they went through, and I’m sure part of what families of first responders everywhere would go through.”
And indeed, that unique circumstance was central to Connelly’s arc in the film.
“I guess the part of the story I was telling was like, okay, what happens when you love someone, and to love them you have to support them in doing what they want to do, what their calling is. Which is, you know… that’s the right thing to do, to support your partner in their pursuits. And especially in this circumstance, it’s something so selfless, that’s of service to communities,” Connelly said of finding the truth in the challenges of Amanda’s situation — watching her husband run into danger to save others, and never being able to know if he would return home safely.
“But at the same time, she takes that on knowing that that means he’ll be spending more and more time away in increasingly dangerous situations. So I think that demands a lot of fortitude to be able to do that and to actually be that loving. And to keep your heart open, you know? How do you stay vulnerable and engaged in the relationship and really actively loving, when you expose yourself to that kind of potential for loss? I think that people experience that in all marriages, if on a less extraordinary or extreme scale, that feels familiar.”
Her partner in bringing this couple to life was Josh Brolin, a legend himself, and the pair make a formidable leading duo for the film.
“We kind of looked for specific things. And choices to make together. But then, I think at the end of the day, he’s just really good,” she said. “He’s also really available as an actor. There are really good actors who work really differently. His way of working I think is, he’s really connected in a scene. So I feel like, you know, every take will be kind of different. But it always felt like we were in the scene, we were in that same take together, you know? Because we were listening to each other and involved with one another.”
That give and take not only made the work a joy for Connelly, it brought real depth to the film’s central relationship.
“And you know, there are wonderful actors who it’s just not like that. You know, it’s more they know what they’re gonna do, and no matter what you do, it’s exactly the same. And Josh isn’t like that, the way he works is, it’s really responsive. We both like to work that way, so maybe that together in this circumstance helps to create that kind of dynamic.”
Only the Brave is now playing in theaters everywhere.