A '90s Movie Moment Had Kurt Russell Panicking And Unable To Breathe

02/07/2024

You know, in some film circles, Ron Howard gets a lot of guff for being a "boring" director. But I think that's unfair. Sure, Howard has some duds in his directorial career, but he also has some home runs. "Apollo 13" is an exciting "based on a true story" flick, "The Paper" is a nifty look at the world of newspaper journalism, the underrated "Cinderella Man" is a stellar boxing drama. And then there's "Backdraft," Howard's 1991 thriller about firefighters. To be fair, the "Backdraft" script is a bit weak, but the film itself is action-packed and boasts some incredible visual effects that use real fire. The film also has a killer cast, including Robert De Niro, the late, great Donald Sutherland, Jennifer Jason Leigh, J.T. Walsh, Scott Glenn, and, of course, Kurt Russell. 

Russell plays Lieutenant Stephen "Bull" McCaffrey, a really cool guy who is also a damn good firefighter. When Stephen's younger brother Brian (William Baldwin) decides to become a firefighter as well, the two brothers clash, because Stephen is both overprotective of his kid brother and because he thinks Brian can't cut it. Oh, also, there's a subplot about an arsonist killing people using backdrafts, which are bursts of fire that happen when oxygen is suddenly introduced to an oxygen-depleted environment. 

As previously mentioned, real fire was used to create scenes of burning buildings that the firefighter characters have to contend with, and while no one was injured, Kurt Russell found himself pretty overwhelmed while shooting one fiery scene

Kurt Russell faced real fire in Backdraft

While speaking with EW, Russell talked about an overwhelming experience involving a scene that featured "one of the most intense fires." According to Russell, it wasn't pretty. "Snot was running out of my nose, I could barely breathe, my eyes felt like they were going to burst," the actor recalled. "I felt a rising panic. I really wanted out of there bad. I turned around saying my line and the cameraman wasn't there, Billy (Baldwin) wasn't there, nobody was there! The room was completely black smoke. It was sort of a great moment. I said to myself, 'Nobody could ever accuse me of not being totally there.' It was like my fire. I had forgotten that we were making a movie."

Thankfully, Russell wasn't injured during the scene, and the results speak for themselves: whatever you think about "Backdraft" as a whole, you have to admit the fire sequences are stunning. "The fire was all in-camera," Ron Howard told THR when the 30th anniversary of the film rolled around. "We had gas burners and fire retardants and a team of 10 Chicago firefighters around us at all times with extinguishers at the ready, and they needed to move in at times. No matter how well planned, [we] just never knew when the fire was going to get away from us. And it did on occasion."

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