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About The Casting

Casting Joaquin Phoenix as Jack Morrison Key to creating LADDER 49's intimate exploration of the inner lives and familial bonds of firemen was casting the right actor to play Jack Morrison, the still-young firefighter who looks back on a life that is now threatened by an out-of-control fire in which he is trapped. Rather than a typical "action hero,” the filmmakers decided to seek out an actor more known for his emotional versatility and intensity and give him a "trial by fire,” as it were, by training him to become an urban fireman.

For director Jay Russell, Academy Award® nominee Joaquin Phoenix — noted for his often unconventional and unpredictable performances — was a compelling choice. "I've always admired Joaquin,” says Russell, "especially the way he seems to be able to just disappear into a role. And I knew that's what he would do with Jack Morrison. He embodied this role from the inside out, capturing the soul of Jack first and then his physicality. He also commits like no one else I've ever met. He spent months and months training for this movie — not so that he could look like a firefighter, but so that he could essentially become a full-fledged firefighter. You really see the effect of everything he went through for this role in his face and his performance.”

In the beginning, Phoenix found himself drawn in by the themes of LADDER 49 and its unusual opportunity to explore the human capacity for bravery, nobility and sacrifice in the face of ordinary life and commitments. "We all have heard about the special bond between firefighters, but until I read this script, I didn't really think about how deeply those bonds extend beyond the job,” he notes. "I didn't know how their lives at work intertwine with their family lives. And that's what I loved about the script. To me, it's very much about family. It's about Jack finding his role in two different families that he is equally passionate about — the firefighting family and his real family at home — even though they are often in conflict.”

He continues: "I was impressed that the film was so much about family, because I think the families of firefighters are as much the heroes as the men and women in the field fighting fires. They experience virtually everything the firefighters do, both the glory and the tragedy. And I think what LADDER 49 shows is that it takes a lot of very special, very strong people to allow these guys to do what they do. The irony is that Jack Morrison needs his family to sustain his courage as a firefighter, but his life as firefighter in turn puts his family at risk of losing their father.”

Phoenix was riveted by the character's emotional dilemmas, but he quickly realized that to really, physically transform into a firefighter he would have to live the life 24-7 — so he dove into the role with typical intensity, joining the Baltimore Fire Academy as a student for six incredible weeks. "I wanted to personally experience as much as I could about what real firefighters go through,” he explains. "Not just fighting fires but also hitting the books and taking the tests and learning to deal with the public and all the little details that go into creating a firefighter. After that, I signed up with an actual Baltimore firehouse and spent a month with a truck company there, going out to real fires and rescues. All together, it was an amazing experience.”

Still, at the outset, it was not entirely clear that Phoenix had the right stuff. "Interestingly, when I first met Joaquin, he was so terrified of heights, we had to have a little stepladder that took him halfway up the fire pole,” recalls Casey Silver. "He was dripping in sweat. And yet a few months later he was fearlessly going over the side of a fifteen-story building, supported only by a single thin rope. He became so skill

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