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Flight – Denzel Washington interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

DENZEL Washington talks about playing an alcoholic pilot in Flight and why he doesn’t necessarily have to ‘get’ or sympathise with his characters in order to play them.

He also talks about the honour of being recognised with an Oscar nomination, how he deals with celebrity and whether or not the events of Flight have affected his attitude towards flying.

Q. When you read script was there a moment when it grabbed you, you thought I know who this guy is?
Denzel Washington: I didn’t necessarily say ‘I know who he is’, fortunately. [Laughs] But yeah, it was such a good script, it was such an easy read, a page turner and there was no question about it… when I finished the last page I said ‘I’m doing this’. I called my agent right away to say ‘I’m in’.

Q. But when did you know who Whip was?
Denzel Washington: I still don’t.

Q. Is there ever a moment when you do know who a character is?
Denzel Washington: I don’t know that you need to know who he is. It’s all on the page in this case. It says who he is and what he does and doesn’t do.

Q. How did you fare in the rotisserie device?
Denzel Washington: I remember the first time they started turning it over. I started leaning against the window and I said: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, turn back!” You had to figure out how to brace yourself. I started sliding. I thought I was going to fall out [laughs]. I wanted them to stop.

Q. But you were strapped in?
Denzel Washington: Yeah, but it didn’t feel like it was enough [laughs]!

Q. Did your research make you a better or worse flier?
Denzel Washington: I think I’m the same as a flier. I’m no more or less afraid. We were allowed by Delta Airlines to use their flight simulators, which was great. I wish I could take one of those home! We actually got in the same devices that the pilots practice on, so that was great. It gave me a sense of knowing what I was doing. Even though I may not have been pushing the right button, I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Q. But was your first flight after finishing film a little stressful?
Denzel Washington: No. I was flying during the film. It didn’t bother me at all.

Q. Have you ever had any hairy moments during flying when you uttered a prayer to get you through? And will you go through a special process to prepare for Oscars?
Denzel Washington: There’s no process with that with the Oscars. And I’ve been on planes that have been struck by lightning and hit some pretty rough air. The time to worry about flying is when you’re on the ground. There’s no point in worrying about it when you are in the air. It’s too late and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. In fact, one flight that I was on which was particularly rough, it was a private plane, and the flight attendant… I had to calm her down. I was like ‘wow, you’re not supposed to be… you are supposed to be helping me!’ She got a little upset [laughs].


Q. When you play such morally ambiguous characters how do you pitch them to retain audience sympathy?
Denzel Washington: I don’t worry about that, I just play the part. I’m not thinking: “Oh, I’ve got to make sure that they love me.” You just interpret the role because ultimately, you don’t know what the director is going to use anyway [laughs]. It might be this great scene and he’s pushing in on a bottle of water or something.

Q. Did you have sympathy for the character and his addictive personality?
Denzel Washington: It’s sad but I can’t worry about that, I’ve got to go for it. If I’m a fall down drunk that’s what I am, I’m not going to … but yeah, for anyone that has those kinds of issues it’s a sad thing and you hope the person gets help.

Q. Is there a secret to looking good in a uniform?
Denzel Washington: [Laughs] Yes, holding your breath when you walk.

Q. What’s it like to have such a lengthy rehearsal before starting to film Flight?
Denzel Washington: It was great that we had the writer there the entire time, from rehearsal right through to the end. As we were working things out, we could get answers and exchange ideas.

Q. You’ve played so many characters with so many different occupations. Have you ever wondered what you might have done had you not become an actor? Is it true that you considered following in your father’s footsteps into the church?
Denzel Washington: That’s not true, actually. I never considered being a preacher. It was suggested to me to be one but that wasn’t a plan of mine. But that’s a part of the fun of it… I’ve driven trains, I’ve ‘flown’ planes, so that’s part of the fun of our job.

Q. How do you go about handling your celebrity?
Denzel Washington: What do celebrities do anyway, what is a celebrity? You know, when you pray for rain you’ve got to deal with the mud too. An old West Indian woman told me that. Everything is a trade off.

Q. When you researched into addiction what surprised you about it that you wanted to get into the film?
Denzel Washington: I didn’t do anything because he didn’t think he had a problem. He was just a guy who has an occasional drink – every night [laughs].


Q. What does the Oscar nomination and awards in general mean to you?
Denzel Washington: Well, it’s nice because it means people appreciate what you do. I’ve been down this road before so I don’t get too high and I don’t get too low.

Q. Will you be taking your daughter to this one?
Denzel Washington: [Smiles] No, she’ll be in school. She better be in school!

Q. You nail your character in this film but have you ever felt you’ve been in a film where you’d winged it and didn’t really get a character?
Denzel Washington: Flight! You never get it. First of all, I’m not watching myself while I’m working. I’m just doing the work. I don’t know what ‘getting it’ is, actually. You trust the pilot, the director, and you do the work… It’s a process. It’s not like: “Oh yeah, I nailed that!” And if you feel too good about a scene then you haven’t done anything because you were too busy watching yourself.

Q. Can you watch yourself?
Denzel Washington: When I started directing and I knew I had to be in the picture I just had to watch myself so I could get used to it. I have no problem.

Q. Have you received any feedback or reaction from real-life flight crews about elements of Flight or your character in general?
Denzel Washington: I’ve gotten some odd looks from pilots now! I haven’t got too many compliments [laughs]!

Read our interview with Robert Zemeckis