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Bridges immerses himself in role of James Brady


LOS ANGELES -- About 15 years ago, Beau Bridges was in a coffee shop on Ventura Boulevard when a robber "put a gun between my eyes. I've never forgotten it. He went in the back, and I jumped up and sped out of the place and got the police."

Mr. Bridges was lucky that day, but on March 30, 1981, James Brady was not. His life was changed forever when he stepped into the path of a bullet intended for the president of the United States.

Mr. Bridges stars as Mr. Brady in "Without Warning: The James Brady Story," chronicling the true story of the former presidential press secretary, from his rise in politics to his critical injury to his triumphant recovery.

The HBO original film, which airs at 9 tonight, re-creates the assassination attempt at the Washington Hilton Hotel, when John Hinckley (Steven Flynn) fires a round of shots intended for President Ronald Reagan (Bryan Clark). One of the bullets lodges in the brain of Mr. Brady, ending his promising career just two months after he has begun his new job.

Although he still is considered the press secretary, Mr. Brady finally realizes he never will be able to fulfill the demands of his former job because the injury has left him paralyzed and has eliminated his short-term memory. Instead, he turns his attention to other battles, eventually joining his wife Sarah (Joan Allen) in the fight for gun control.

Today he and Sarah are lobbying on Capitol Hill for the Brady Bill, which would require a seven-day waiting period before the ,, purchase of a handgun. The measure passed the House of Representatives last month, despite heavy lobbying against it by the National Rifle Association, and awaits a vote in the Senate, where another tough battle is expected.

During a press conference in January, Mr. Brady explained how he fought the odds with a combination of will power and wit, eventually regaining his speech and some movement.

"When I speak to people who have had a traumatic brain injury, I tell them two things: Persevere and maintain your sense of humor. Don't get so stuffy that you can't every now and then have a little chuckle at yourself," said Mr. Brady, who is living proof of his own advice.

Mr. Bridges met Mr. Brady before he played him in the film. "There can only be one Jim Brady, but I immersed myself in him in any way I could. It's hard to find a bitter bone in him. He's got a positive outlook," said Mr. Bridges.

Ms. Allen said the film is "about strength of family in overcoming a tremendous challenge. The Bradys are symbolic of a lot of people who are victimized by handgun violence. More than being a cautionary tale about handguns, it's a family movie about what you do in a crisis, how you pull through it."

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