‘We took our truck and knocked the gate down so friends could get out’ - Rob Lowe

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

Undated Handout Photo from 9-1-1 Lone Star. Pictured: Rob Lowe as Owen Strand. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Lowe. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Disney+. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Lowe.
Undated Handout Photo from 9-1-1 Lone Star. Pictured: Rob Lowe as Owen Strand. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Lowe. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Disney+. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Lowe.

Tearing through vast expanses of wooded hillside, shrubland and residential streets, the sense of impending danger in some ways brought local communities closer together despite, on a physical level, ripping many of them apart.

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 who found himself caught in the midst of both events.

“Twenty three people were killed in my little town here, four years ago,” he recalls solemnly.

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

A harrowing experience that saw flames come within a quarter of a mile of Lowe’s home, the actor and his family found themselves poised with hoses, having “made the call to not evacuate”.

However, the fires of 2017 were not the first Lowe and his family had seen. He notes the surrounding areas have been increasingly affected by natural disasters.

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

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

“That’s the thing about living in California; you’re going to have a front-row seat for stuff like that.”

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 also stars model and Armageddon actress Liv Tyler – daughter of musician Steven Tyler, as paramedic captain Michelle Blake.

Following a move from Manhattan, New York, to Austin, Texas, Lowe’s character faces a plethora of life-threatening situations as he attempts to rebuild the fire department following the loss of many of its crew.

Drawing from his own encounters with Californian fire services, it’s a scenario the actor 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,” says Lowe, 57.

“And that was the basis for the reality of playing this character, for me.”

Best known for his roles in Parks and Recreation, The West Wing and St Elmo’s Fire, the Emmy-nominated actor’s credits list also notably features 2015 release The Grinder – a show in which he played television lawyer Dean Sanderson who believes his telly stint qualifies him to run his families’ law firm.

The Grinder, says Lowe with a smile, “is one of my favourite things I have ever done. Anyone out there reading this: I would try to find it.”

Lowe says the transition from a show that spoofs and satirises network television, to actively being in a network television drama “wasn’t an adjustment”.

“I had to sort of dampen down my instincts to ad-lib and be funny and remind myself that this is a different world I was in, but I always like being able to do both,” he says.

“Too much comedy ends up being too fun and I feel like I’m not working hard enough, and then too much drama ends up being too intense, and I feel like I need a break from working,” he adds with a laugh.

“So I need to do both.”

You’d be forgiven for thinking that exposure to all manner of stress, elements and near-death disasters – both on and off-screen – 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 with a smirk.

“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.”

It’s something the star also attributes to the fact he no longer drinks or takes drugs, declaring: “I did plenty of that in my 20s, so I didn’t miss out – it was fun while it lasted.

“But more than anything, I think youth is a function of our spirit, because 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, I think it’s, ‘How young is your spirit?’ And I think mine is a teenager who is not giving up.”

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