“Dads in distress” never rang more true in a thriller like On Fire. Wondering where the title came from? It’s become quite clear, especially in recent years, that wildfires are unfortunately showing no signs of letting up, as Earth’s climate continues reacting to its citizens. It’s no wonder, then, that acclaimed films about said natural disaster continue to hit the masses. Most recently, Peter Facinelli — that recognizable face from the Twilight film series and a little known ’90s gem called Can’t Hardly Wait — stars in and co-directed the new disaster movie about a man trying to save his family members as the immediacy of a forest fire’s threat becomes ever more apparent in their otherwise sleepy town.
We recently caught up with Facinelli about his latest project, which is clearly inspired by true events. He opened up about his own personal experiences that have been engulfed in flames and what it was like having a veteran like Lance Henriksen playing his dad.
Playing a Dad ‘Sitting on a Mountain of Problems’
Facinelli recounted a personal experience of his that certainly impacted on end result of On Fire. It’s a story he’s passionate about, especially after going on a family vacation to Oregon and then Hawaii, both of which were hit with devastating wildfires shortly after they had left each state.
“It feels like it’s so close everywhere. You just read it in the news where more and more places are getting hit by fires. And it’s not just California anymore, it’s everywhere. So when we set out to make this film, it was in the news, and we knew it was in the news. And we thought, ‘OK, let’s make a film about this family that goes on this journey, in hopes that we can have a fun, suspenseful ride, but also have a lot of takeaways from it.”
Facinelli continued to explain just how personal this story is to his heart. “I do have firefighters in my family, cousins that are firefighters. I grew up in New York, and I saw the devastation of 9/11. And I knew people who lost their dads. And to me, firemen are universal heroes. 911 operators don’t really get credit as much as, like, policemen and firemen. It’s a tough job, and we wanted to explore that. And when I got the script, I thought, ‘This is really interesting, because it tells that side of something that you don’t really get to see.'”
Besides Facinelli, another standout performance is by Ashlei Foushee, who plays a 911 call operator named Kayla. Without giving too much away, Kayla is instrumental in helping Dave (Facinelli) and his family as they evade deadly flames throughout an increasingly charred forest. “This is a girl who was a couple of weeks into the job in a sleepy town, where the biggest thing that happens is they get a 911 operator call for a cat in a tree,” said Facinelli in describing Kayla.
“And then suddenly, they’re on ground zero, and they’re manning the station, and call after call after call, and they don’t know what to do,” continued Facinelli. “And there’s a moment where their supervisor, because she’s so frustrated, says to her, ‘We can’t help everybody. All you can do is the best you can. Try to help one at a time.'”
And so even her journey in this film of helping this family is, at the end of the day when she gets them through it, there’s a moment of feeling good, and how can you feel good when you’ve lost all the other people? But it’s like, it’s all she could do, is to wake up the next day and have to move on to do her job.
The family that Facinelli leads in the film is one that is relatable in the most unfortunate of ways. “They’re paycheck to paycheck, they have a business that might not make it, their dad’s sick, they have a baby on the way,” said the actor. “The dad is sitting on a mountain of problems and stress. And then, when his life is put on the line, his family’s life is put on the line, all of a sudden, all of those problems become anthills compared to surviving the night. And so the perspective just shifts for him.”
Lance Henriksen and the Timeless Can’t Hardly Wait
Speaking of the “mountain of problems” Dave faces in On Fire — let’s not forget that Dave’s wife, Sarah (played to perfection by Fiona Dourif), is expecting, and far along in the process. “Imagine you and your eight-month-pregnant wife having to run through the woods […] experiencing this horrible night,” said Facinelli. “I had so much credit for Fiona’s character because it was tough on my character’s son, who was like an 18- or 19-year-old kid, but a person who’s carrying around another 30 pounds and another life inside of them, that’s heroic.”
The list of troubles goes on. Dave has his own father to take care of in On Fire, in addition to his pregnant wife and teenage son. Film buffs and fans of The Terminator, Aliens, and even Scream 3 will instantly recognize the man playing Dave’s father: the acclaimed character actor Lance Henriksen. Facinelli described the joys of working with a veteran like him.
“He’s such a talented actor. His character is kind of, not senile but he kind of goes off on tangents. So he’ll talk about this and start talking about that. When I met Lance, he kind of was doing that,” said Facinelli. “And then I met him after the movie, and he’s sharp as a tack. And I was like, ‘Oh, man, he’s just kind of in-character.'” He continued:
“It was a real treat to work with him. He’s such a pro. And he brought some humor to the film in moments, and also was symbolic to a lot of the stuff he was talking about. There’s a moment in the car where he’s fighting with his grandson, and his grandson’s talking about global warming. And he’s like, ‘There’s no such thing as global warming.’ It’s like an old regime versus the new regime-kind of theories, and then all of a sudden, the old regime dies out.”
Going back to Facinelli, and looking back on his own successful Hollywood career, one can’t help but think “Mike Dexter” when seeing his face on the big screen. His conflicted jock character from Can’t Hardly Wait is hilarious, and the hit film benefits from repeat viewings thanks to its endlessly quotable lines. It’s nice to hear that Facinelli stays in touch with his co-stars. “I just saw Ethan Embry not too long ago, and Brecklin Meyer and I play racquetball together,” he told us. “It’s a film that is still very relevant to me because I’ll go out on the streets, and people throw quotes out […] That it stands the test of time, as long as that one did, makes me proud.”
From Cineverse, On Fire opens only in theaters Friday.
SAG-AFTRA has approved an interim agreement for On Fire since the film is being released by Cineverse, an independent, non-AMPTP affiliated distributor. Under the terms, members “may work on these productions without being in violation of the strike order,” per the guild. The entire team of On Fire expresses their gratitude to SAG-AFTRA for allowing the cast to promote On Fire during this challenging time for the industry.