Bushfires forged my latest role: Rob Lowe

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Destroying around 1.3 million acres of land, the California wildfires of 2017, at the time, were considered to be some of the most destructive in the US state’s history.

Just one month after the intense blazes subsided, a series of mudflows struck, caused by heavy rain and exacerbated by the lack of living vegetation that would usually help stabilise the soil.

Actor Rob Lowe was one of those caught in the midst of both events.

“Twenty three people were killed in my little town here,” he said.

“The area I live in – in Montecito, southern California – suffered major wildfires and major flash flooding.

“All of the first responders [were] staged in my driveway, in my garage; I helped house them and I watched, first-hand, what they do, how they do it, in real time.”

Flames came within half a kilometre of Lowe’s home, with the actor and his family poised with hoses, having “made the call to not evacuate”.

The fires of 2017 were not the first Lowe and his family had seen.

“A few years before that, there was another wildfire about a mile away, and we had friends who were trapped in their house,” he said.

“We took our truck and knocked the gate down so they could get out. Embers were falling into our clothes as we did it.”

With the 2017 fires coinciding with preparation for Lowe’s on-screen role as New York firefighter Owen Strand in US procedural drama 9-1-1: Lone Star, research does not get much more immersive.

Centred around the fire, police and ambulance departments of fictional company 126, the series, which streams on Disney+, also stars model and Armageddon actress Liv Tyler as paramedic captain Michelle Blake.

Drawing from his own encounters with Californian fire services, it is a scenario Lowe felt well prepared for.

“I just saw what amazing heroes they are and how hard they work and what terrible conditions they deal with, day in and day out,” said Lowe, 57, who is best known for roles in Parks and Recreation, The West Wing and St Elmo’s Fire.

You could be forgiven for thinking that exposure to all manner of stress, elements and near-death disasters might have taken their toll over the years.

However, Lowe’s remarkably youthful appearance continues to intrigue many, drawing constant parallels with age-defying Hollywood elites such as fellow actor Paul Rudd.

“Since I was 15 years old, I’ve gone into hair and make-up every day of my life – almost,” says Lowe.

“People moisturise me and they put sunscreen on me, and they do all of those things that I would never have done for myself, and you start to see the difference year after year. That’s a big part of it.”

A youthful demeanour is something the star also attributes to the fact he no longer drinks or takes drugs.

“I did plenty of that in my 20s, so I didn’t miss out – it was fun while it lasted.” he said.

“But more than anything, youth is a function of our spirit.

“We’ve all met 30-year-olds who seem world-weary and seem like old men and women, and we’ve all met 80-year-olds who seem almost childlike.

“So, at the end of the day, it’s, ‘How young is your spirit?’ And mine is a teenager who is not giving up.”

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