The Ladder 49 script was originally set in New York, written prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Russell agreed to direct it on the condition that the setting would be changed. "I'd lived in New York for 11 years and would love to shoot a movie in New York, but this wasn't going to be the one," Russell explains. "If the movie takes place in New York it becomes about that one day ... The whole point of the movie is that while it's absolutely a tribute to the firefighters on 9/11, it's also a tribute to the firefighters on 9/10, 9/12 and 9/13."
But the director concedes that 9-11 may have been a factor in the production getting a green light from Touchstone. "Was it sped up because of 9/11? Probably. But that has nothing to do with any of us who actually made it."
Russell says that the script underwent other changes during production, "based on direct experiences and stories... It was a constant process of exploration. Things changed as we went, as we learned from the firefighters."
For Phoenix, it was not only a learning process, it was a profound personal experience. He explains: "It's cool to be a part of a film that actually means something to so many people. I've never been thanked for making a movie in my entire life, and that really means a lot."
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