When the Yarnell Hill Fire resulted in the deaths of 19 of the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots in 2013, millions across the country were stunned. The tragedy was the greatest loss of firefighters’ lives in the United States since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Now four years later, the story of the brave men who made up the special skills team that tackled the massive wildfire is being told in one of the most immortalizing ways possible – film.
“Only the Brave,” which will be distributed by Columbia Pictures on Oct. 20, aims to honor the firefighters and the sacrifices they made for their families and community.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski and supported by an A-list cast, the film stars Josh Brolin as Eric Marsh, Miles Teller as Brendan McDonough, Jeff Bridges as Duane Steinbrink and James Badge Dale as Jesse Steed, with Taylor Kitsch as Chris MacKenzie and Jennifer Connelly as Amanda Marsh. And with such a large cast, each actor was affected by the story in a different way.
“I live in New York City. I couldn’t be further from here,” said Dale, who, along with several other cast members, was in town for a red-carpet premiere at Tempe Marketplace. “The week of the Yarnell Hill Fire, I was riding the 6 Train downtown. So, I’m in the subway and the New York Times had a two-page article on these guys. I couldn’t get it out of my head.”
Dale read about Marsh, Steed and MacKenzie and how hard they worked to become a tier 1 firefighting crew.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but that moment meant something to me,” he said.
When Dale received the call offering him a role three years later, the answer was an obvious choice.
“It all came flooding back and I just said yes,” Dale explains. “We’re storytellers and I think I have something to give to the story.”
Teller, on the other hand, wasn’t familiar with the 2013 tragedy. He plays Brendan “Donut” McDonough, who is the lone survivor of the 20-man hotshot crew. McDonough served as the group’s lookout during the fatal fire.
“I was excited that they were making a film about this,” Teller said. “These are our countrymen. These are our first responders. These are the people who – when we have a crisis in our country – are going out there to save lives. I just think they’re the best types of individuals that we have.”
The subject matter and character arc spoke to Teller, he said.
“The sacrifices these guys make, the type of character that they had, the amount of integrity and pride they take in their job,” Teller said. “For me, personally, just playing Brendan, I felt like Brendan had a really unique arc that I hadn’t necessarily seen before. I wanted to lend myself to that.”
For the actors, meeting other first responders and their families was important for the preparation process. Prior to filming, Teller flew to Prescott to meet McDonough, who he describes as an “open book” and a “subject matter expert.”
“We had a lot of guys come into boot camp who knew these guys on a very personal level and professionally, and so we got a good taste of it,” Teller said.
Now after months of intense preparation and filming for the emotionally demanding roles that comprise the true story of “Only the Brave,” the complete work hits its stars hard.
“It was emotional because, for the actors, when we watch it, we got to live through it,” Teller said.
“This experience has been very humbling for me and all I can say is that I hope we’ve told the story with honor and respect, that Jesse Steed’s family looks at the film and are able to say to the kids, ‘that’s your father,’” Dale said. “I hope that all the family members are proud of their boys and how much they gave.”