Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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LA Daily News: Spywitness

By Sharon Knolle

Thursday, September 23, 2004 -- "LADDER" TO THE STARS

Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin gave John Travolta, the star of "Ladder 49," a great big hug at the film's Hollywood premiere Monday.

The affectionate expression was a symbolic testimony to heroic firefighters all over the U.S. So were the red gowns worn by Travolta's wife Kelly Preston and actress Jacinda Barrett.

"The film is definitely a tribute to the heroes of 9-11 and firefighters everywhere," said "X-Files" alum Robert Patrick. "The best way to pay tribute is to show what the firefighter does on a daily basis."

The actors, including Joaquin Phoenix, didn't just pretend to be firemen. They went through a rigorous four-week training course with the Baltimore City Fire Department.

And those amazing fire sequences in the film? All too real. "Every scene with flame involved is honest and technically correct," added Patrick.

He posed with real-life L.A. firemen at the after-party at L.A.'s historic Station 27, now the Los Angeles Fire Department Museum. "I now not only understand a fireman's job better but also realize how willing they are to put their lives on the line and sacrifice themselves. And they'll do it for total strangers."

Barrett, who plays Phoenix's wife, had a definite role model for her part. "My dad was a firefighter in Australia for 33 years," said Barrett. "I got to know more about firefighting and my parents by researching for the film."

What did the real L.A. firefighters at the party think of "Ladder"? "We didn't see it!" one said as he left early without a second glance at Natalie Cole, Jon Voight, Anne Archer, Traci Bingham, Diana Ross and that opinionated ex-supermodel Janice Dickinson, who has perfected the art of posing with her mouth open for every photo. "We were working." Nuff said.