Becoming a firefighter
I have blogged a few times about the film “Fighting the Fire” that I have been involved with. Shooting of the film wrapped just a little over a week ago and if you have not read the previous blogs, now is the time to do so before you continue here.
The lead actor in the film, James Dickey, struck me as the typical “Hallmark lead” when we first met. Rugged yet somehow softer good looks, hair in place, well-built and friendly. I had no real expectations when we first met and as soon as he arrived, the chaos of the set prevented me from really meeting him so my first impressions came from his acting as Brian Cook, firefighter, father, husband and friend.
As filming continued I realized that James Dickey had become Brian Cook. Before my very eyes I watched James become not only a firefighter but a firefighter struggling in his mind for his very life. The entire experience was emotionally draining, moving and life-changing.
I finally had a chance to get James to ask some questions about the film and wanted to share them with you all.
When you first heard about the role of Brian Cook, what was your first reaction?
I was excited to work with Little Chicago Pictures again. They always put together an all-star production squad and every film has been a substantial step up from the last. Bobby Lacer (the film’s Director) first came to me about this role in early 2022 and then we discussed it in more detail later in the year. I knew this was a passion project that he had been planning for several years and that he would go above and beyond to make it a success.
Have you played a firefighter before?
This was my first role as a firefighter, but I felt confident from the beginning that I could bring the character to life and add the layers that were essential to help make this story what we all envisioned. My ex-girlfriend of several years is a firefighter/paramedic and I spent some time around the firehouse with her and the company from time to time. I actually also (at-one-time) applied, took the tests, and interviewed for a fire academy in Ohio. It was an interest of mine at the time, but as I have gotten older, I realize being a rookie firefighter is a young man's game.
When you read the script, on a scale of 1-10, how did you view the challenge of being this character?
The Writer/ Director Bobby Lacer included me early on in the writing process and we had a great collaboration on different scenes, approaches, conflicts, etc... We were able to blend many real-life stories from first responders in the field, as well as many of his and my own personal experiences to help reach an amazing story to share with the world. I may be a little biased, of course, but I feel we hit a solid 8+ on this creation. I never give anything a 10, that would mean there is/was no opportunity for improvement on our craft and there is always room to grow.
What did you do to prepare for this role?
I reached out to a few friends I know in the fire service and collected some personal stories from them to help me connect on a more personal level to help bring Brian Cook to life as a character. I also worked one-on-one with a private acting coach over several sessions to make sure that I was able to put myself in the shoes of Brian and truly encompass the heart and depth that was needed for this role.
As you started to film, share how you felt as Brian Cook.
I felt extremely heavy emotions on both ends of the spectrum and pretty much maintained that mindset the entire two weeks of filming. There were definitely some dark scenes that really took a lot out of me, but we also made sure to share love and happiness throughout the film and more importantly the cast and crew during production.
Challenges? Struggles? Victories?
There were many challenges, struggles, and victories on set everyday and damn near every scene to be honest. Sometimes they would be in the form of the acting and others were just technical issues, but no matter what we faced throughout the journey of making this film I know for a 100% fact that I would not have been able to give what I did and we would not have been able to get through it without every single person that was a part of this production
What were some of the best parts of this role?
Honestly the best part about the entire film was the team that was a part of bringing it to life. Every single person had a special essential part to play and just like in the fire service, everyone has everyone's back and is vital to the team's success.
Is there one particular scene you were particular proud of? Is there one scene that moved you personally?
There are several scenes that will be amazing for many different reasons and that is a good thing because that will give everyone something they can likely relate to which will keep the audience engaged. However, personally the solo night "kitchen" scene for me might be my favorite, even though I have to admit it was very difficult for me to even watch the play back the next day. I truly believe I left everything I prepped for this film on the floor in the moment and viewers will just have to wait and see what I mean.
What have you learned about responder critical stress and PTSD since starting this journey?
Though no emergency runs are ever the same, they all get bottled up and suppressed in the same deep dark places of ourselves that are so hard to share and be vulnerable about with others. We look at first responders as the strongest among us in so many ways, but I want to help break the stigma of "it's just a part of the job", so I cannot stress to everyone the importance of "Check On Your Strong Friends!" Those that always seem to have everything together or are always the shoulder we lean on are often the ones who also need a shoulder as well.
How was it working with Angela?
This was my first time working with, or even meeting, Angela, who played my wife. She is a phenomenal talent and was there for me every step of the way from rehearsals to shoot days. Her and I bounced ideas back and forth so well that I think viewers will be rooting for the couple they see on screen.
Talk about that scene with Brayden Lacer when you are fighting about going into the army?
That was actually a fun scene for me. I have known Brayden for several years, worked with him before, and watched him grow as an actor. I could tell this was a tough scene, fighting with his “movie dad" for him to perform in front of his real dad, the director. He is an absolute professional and it was a pleasure to help him reach a new point in his emotional acting journey. I think I might have put real fear in his eyes once or twice, oops! Sorry Brayden, but all in good art.
You pulled a lot of emotion out of your hat while playing the role. How do you do that?
Some of the emotions I was able to portray came from just practicing and rehearsing scenes which I let the substance kind of build organically through repetition and through what the other actors brought to the scenes we shared. However, many of the darker, solo, broken-down scenes I feel that it was a mixture of reliving people’s stories that were shared during my research for this role and some of my own personal emotional triggers and recalls from my own life.
Lastly, if this film were to show in every fire house in the country and you were given 2 minutes of screen time during the credits to speak to America’s firefighters, what would you say?
A simple thank you goes a long way in my mind, but also letting them know that it is okay to reach out and share both your High and Low feelings that are created from the things you experience in this line of work.