‘Only the Brave’ Interview Series Part 3: Jennifer Connelly

As a part of the experience of previewing Only the Brave, arts editors Austin and Stephanie also had the chance to sit down with several of the actors in the movie to ask them about their experiences and takeaways. The duo participated in roundtable interviews with other publications with Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly and James Badge Dale. In the third part of the series, the duo talks to Jennifer Connelly. 

Jennifer Connelly is known for her roles as Marion Silver in Requiem for a Dream, Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind and Sarah in Labyrinth with David Bowie. In Only the Brave, Connelly plays Amanda Marsh, wife of Granite Mountain Division super, Eric Marsh.

Jennifer: I loved working on [Only the Brave]. It was a really great project to work on. It was an incredible cast, and it was a privilege to work with actors like that.

Interviewer: To start the questions off, sometimes Hollywood productions of tragedies like this can dramatize things and get away from the reality of what happened. This movie didn’t do that — it felt very grounded and real. What is something that you did to keep it grounded? Did you meet up with the real-life Amanda and did you draw inspiration from her?

Jennifer: I did meet with Amanda. I spoke to her a few times on the phone before I got out to Santa Fe, where we were shooting, and then I spent time with her in Santa Fe during production while she was there. She came over the house where I was staying. She was very forthcoming and honest with me. She was very brave; she shared stories with me about her history, about her childhood, about how she met Eric and about her sobriety.  She shared photographs and brought her cowboy boots, which I wore in the movie. We went riding together, and she let me use her tools that she uses for trimming horses’ hooves.

She was so generous on every level. That was really important to me because that’s what it’s about — we wanted to honor the people whose story this is and reflect what they wanted to be reflected. It was important to me that I was able to ask her what she thought was important we conveyed about her story. I would bring things that she brought up and things I saw on her to rehearsals where I would have conversations with Josh, Joe and Eric, the writer, about dynamics that needed to be highlighted and how the script could change. We did work with having the film have integrity and reflect the dynamic they were really going through.

It was great that they let it be, that Joe and Amanda and Eric and Josh, let it be messy when it came to Amanda and Eric’s relationship. It’s a really challenging thing to contend with, I think, in a marriage. From what Amanda said, they fought in real life and they fought in the movie. I think it actually brings into relief how much they loved each other and sort of the honesty of that love. Eric’s job certainly created conflict in their relationship because her loving him in a truthful and honest way meant she was losing something, she had to give something up to give him what he wanted, and that’s difficult to be brave enough and selfless enough to do that — and loving enough to do that.

Interviewer: What was your primary takeaway from this entire experience? And what do you hope will be the takeaway for those who see the movie?

Jennifer: I think people see different things in each experience and that’s what makes us who we are and what makes us human beings. We all see things differently, so I never like to say what I thought — I’d rather let people have their own personal experience.

One thing that struck me is that it’s not just — of course, it does recount a tragic event, but it’s more than that. It shows me what [the Granite Mountain Division] loved about what they did and what they got out of it and why they did it. That brotherhood that they had shaped them and changed them and helped them feel fulfilled in life and the joy that they had in each other’s company. Parts of the movie are very funny — they’re wonderful together! So having a glimpse of what that life might be like and learning about something I didn’t know about was something I appreciated and enjoyed it as a tribute to first responders everywhere, thinking about what they do and what they sacrifice for all of us and with their families do and sacrifice for all of us.

Interviewer: How did being the only major female impact the way you played the character, if at all? And how did it change the experience of being in this film?

Jennifer: It’s funny. I didn’t actually see any of that stuff the guys did. I wasn’t in any of those scenes and I wasn’t in any of those locations when they shot that stuff, so for me it was kind of fun because I’m able to go and see the movie as an audience member for that whole part.

It was fun. Josh created a nice atmosphere and he helped foster a sense of community by hosting gatherings at the house where he was staying with Catherine. They would throw horseshoes and we would watch events on TV together. Everyone was kind of hanging out. Everyone’s families were there.

It was a really nice atmosphere that carried over to the set. I’ve never been on a set quite like that before. Jeff plays music and Josh plays music and they’d have their guitars on set. My kids were there, and my sons play guitar. They’d all sit around in the dirt in folding chairs in the back of the parking lot, playing guitar and singing. It was great.

I was kind of a part of it. I felt a part of the community, which was a great group of people, but my part was kind of separate because my time was spent more on one-on-ones with Josh or Jeff.

Interviewer: Do you think that might have mirrored how Amanda experienced this?

Jennifer: I would think so. I know she had relationships with them, but Eric had a separate family.

Interviewer: The guys did a lot of training for being hotshots in the film. Did you do any training with horses?

Jennifer: I did! I have very little experience riding horses. I worked on it for a while at home before I got out to Santa Fe. I worked trying to get the horse to lie down and getting the horse to walk around me and trimming the hooves. But I put a lot of time into the riding.

Interviewer: What was that like for you?

Jennifer: I enjoyed a lot of it. I had some amazing experiences. I worked with one person who had me on her horse bareback with my eyes closed and she encouraged me to lie down on the horse to connect with it. I also had some amazing experiences riding out on the trail and running the horses in the ring.

I did have a mishap with the horse right before we filmed where we were out on a trail and the horse bolted. I couldn’t get it to stop, so I [had to] emergency dismount from the horse at full racing speed. The trainer said real riders have to be thrown off at least fifteen times, and I was like, I don’t think I’ll be a real rider! But I got back on and we shot the riding scenes after that. It let me get over the fear that I had.

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