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Interview: Denzel Washington of 'Flight'

'I just want to see "Flight" with an audience ... and see how they react.'

By James Rocchi Nov 3, 2012 11:20AM

Combining both an immediate appearance of reliable authority -- and a sense that the appearance is just that -- Whip Whittaker, as played by Denzel Washington in "Flight," is one of the year's most challenging roles for one of our greatest actors. We spoke with Washington in Los Angeles about pilot culture, the flexibility of fiction and the audience's surprising willingness to get on board with Whip Whittaker's rough road towards redemption.


MSN Movies: I'm curious because there are two things pilots must do. They fly, and the mechanics and science of that, and there's also pilot culture, that whole right stuff, super cool, 'I'm the captain' thing. Which of those is more interesting to learn about and try to embody for this film?


Denzel Washington: Well, you know, pilots come from a lot of different places, a lot are from the military. I believe (Whip) was a guy had a military background. Some of the people from that background -- I don't want to indict all military pilots -- there is a drinking culture that can be brought to commercial flying.


But even military pilots, it's not even a drinking culture. Just that kind of culture, that esprit de corps it takes to get the plane in the air ...


Yeah, yeah. There's no question about it.


Yeah. Is it one of those jobs you have to have a little, a lot of spine to get up in the morning and do in the first place? Can you see how that would lead to a certain amount of swagger among pilots?


BING: Denzel Washington l 'Flight' 

You know, I've met all kinds of pilots. Most -- thank God -- are very efficient. You know, kind of by the book, straight ahead. I mean it's serious business. You're putting people's lives in your hands. And I asked a couple of pilot's union people about this potential problem and they said, "We usually ... you could spot it coming," and they’ll confront a person, and they'll embrace the person so that there's not a fear. I don't think this situation could actually happen (at) an airline because they'd see it coming, and you know if you've got a bit of a problem or one of your co-pilots or someone says you have a problem, then they'll embrace you and say, "Hey, stick with us, we're going to put you through rehab. We're going to get you back on your feet because we want to get you back out there."


It was easy to think that in this film, obviously, a lot of real world safeguards and long term warning systems were ignored for the reasons of drama. It's a dramatic film but it's also weirdly funny in a lot of spots, you and Mr. Goodman and what have you. Are you surprised by that? By how much audiences seem to be on Whip's side, even when he's not necessarily acting in the best fashion?


I haven’t seen it with an audience, but I've been hearing about it and I have to see it. I mean I don’t know if it's what we had in mind, but I mean he's toasted. He's high out of his mind. People find that funny, you know. I don’t know what that says ... I just have to see it with an audience and see how they react.


In your career: Spies, lawyers, airline pilots, what cool jobs are left?


(Laughs) An interviewer.


That's ... no.


No? I did that, I did that. In "The Pelican Brief." A journalist, I should say.


We'll find something else.


We'll find something.


For more on "Flight," read MSN Film Critic Glenn Kenny's review here; watch our video interview with the cast below:


("Flight" is in theaters; for more on movies, check the MSN Movies Facebook page and the MSN Movies Twitter feed.) 


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