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October 27, 2012
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SJP


Denzel at the controls in 'Flight'
By Jim Slotek, QMI Agency


Denzel Washington in "Flight."

LOS ANGELES -- Denzel Washington has a recurring dream about flying.

"I've had it for most of my life," he told a press conference for his new film Flight, in theatres Friday. "I always somehow end up in a city and I go underneath bridges, like there's these low bridges, either over a train or small bodies of water.

"And the other part of the dream would be like this takeoff (would last) forever. And I would be like, 'Stay below the street wire.' And I'd start to go back up and I'd come down again.

"And I don't know what it means," he adds, heading off any thoughts of amateur psychology.

Nonetheless, it's a pretty good springboard anecdote for Flight, a movie that is sure to enter the annals of films you don't want to see if you have a fear of flying (see sidebar), but is also about other issues as diverse as spirituality, fate and hero worship.

In Flight, Washington plays Capt. "Whip" Whitaker, a commercial airline pilot whose plane malfunctions catastrophically, and who performs an apparently technically possible (but highly unlikely) manoeuvre to bring it down for a survivable crash landing. Perhaps you've seen the trailers with the plane flying upside down.

Hero time (interestingly enough, the script was first written in 1999, years before Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger's miracle landing on the Hudson).

Except that Whip has a secret -- a longtime addiction to alcohol and cocaine. In fact, as the movie shows in the opening scenes, he's high as the sky when he undertakes his bold, life-saving turn.

So the hero-machine goes into face-saving mode, with a whip-smart lawyer (Don Cheadle), pilot union president (Bruce Greenwood) and aviation officials suppressing toxicology reports and otherwise hiding Whitaker's Jekyll and Hyde act from the public.

A perennial Hollywood star -- he's actually taken aback with surprise when it's pointed out that it's been 20 years since he earned his third Oscar nomination for playing Malcolm X -- Washington has clearly seen damage control close up over the years.

Is the need for heroes so strong that people will look the other way?

Washington says it's not so much about the public, as about the people who are invested in the lives of people like, say, Lance Armstrong.

"I think everybody (in the movie) was covering their own behinds, is what it was. The pilots, the airlines. So I don't know if it was that he (Whip) was such a great hero, or that they needed him to be one to fulfil their agenda."

As for the parallel with Armstrong, Washington said, "they wanted him to be their hero. And how long did that go on? Ten years?"

He will say that he had no sympathy for his character in terms of the punishment he deserved.

Playing such a damaged "hero," invites a lot of questions about "method," and where the two-time Oscar winner found the emotional well for his drunken lead character.

These are exactly the kind of questions Washington hates.

"I don't analyze what I'm doing," he says. "I'm not sitting outside myself watching myself."

Loath as he is to talk about either his acting or his personal life, Washington does admit Flight was partly an obligation happily fulfilled to a departed friend.

"My agent, the late Ed Limato, the last two scripts he gave me were Safe House and Flight. That was part of it, just a promise I made to him. And when I read the material, I just said, 'Wow, this is good.' "

It's the kind of role that is often classified as "challenging." Again, Washington's dictionary differs.

"Y'know, tough spots for me are pictures I don't want to be in. People say, If you're on a movie and you say, 'How many days we been shooting?' And they go, 'Three.' And you say, 'How many more we got to go?' -- '117.' That's a tough movie for me.

"This was an adventure "¦ getting a chance to fly around in flight simulators, flying upside down, playing a drunk. I won't say it was easy."

Though he jokes that "I was 12" when he made Malcolm X, Washington's Oscar history goes even further back, to 1986's Cry Freedom (in which he played slain South African apartheid fighter Steve Biko).

The first thing he remembers is that two of those first three Oscar-nominated films took him to Africa (he won a supporting actor award for the 1989 Civil War film Glory).

"My first time ever landing in Africa was in 1986 when I was doing Cry Freedom. And the first time in Egypt was when I was doing Malcolm X in '91.

"It was just a powerful feeling being able to move around with the people and never feeling threatened."

His process of choosing material, he says, hasn't changed.

"If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage.

"I read a lot of scripts, and you read one like this you feel like you read it in 14 minutes. You keep turning the pages so fast because you can't wait to see what's going to happen."

AVOID THESE BEFORE FLYING:

FEARLESS - Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez play two of the few survivors of a horrendous plane crash, and share a spiritual experience. There are easier ways to share one.

UNITED 93 - Actually, any movie set on board one of the 9/11 planes would be deeply unsettling.

DIE HARD 2: Die Harder - Despite Bruce Willis frantically waving flaming rags on the runway, the terrorists lured that British Airways jet to destruction. All that was left was a little girl's doll.

FINAL DESTINATION - In these cheating-Death movies, somebody always dreams the disaster first, so we get to see it regardless. That horrible fireball in the sky? Just Devon Sawa dreaming. Whew! Looked real to us.

FIGHT CLUB - Another plane crash that was just a dream/fantasy (by Ed Norton's character), but a spectacular flaming one.

CAST AWAY - Okay, it was a Fed-Ex jet and not a passenger one. Frightening crash in any case. Happily, Wilson survived.

CON AIR -- The plane of convicts crash-lands on the Las Vegas Strip. 'Nuff said.

ALIVE -- We tend to only remember the eating-your-seatmate part, and forget that the plane basically careered, wingless, down the Andes like a toboggan, dumping passengers as it went.

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