Denzel Washington has a weird, recurring dream about flying, but it has nothing to do with piloting an airplane like he does in his new film, "Flight."
"I've had it for most of my life," Washington said during a recent press conference at Montage in Beverly Hills. "I somehow always end up near the city and I go underneath bridges and I'd stay under them. The other part of the dream is I just take off forever. I don't know what it means!"
When you're a two-time Oscar winner who is whipping up buzz for playing a commercial airline pilot with addiction issues, you're allowed to let your subconscious soar a bit.
In "Flight," opening Friday, we're introduced to Washington's character, Whip Whitaker, during the night when his sleeping aids were a flight attendant, drugs and Jack Daniels. In the morning, he snorts a little cocaine and steps into the cockpit. The ensuing incident in the midst of a storm is due to his malfunctioning aircraft, but Whip manages to land the plane in an open field. Only six of the 106 passengers and crew members onboard die.
His actions make Whip equal parts hero and scumbag, or in the word of the actor who played him--;complex.
"This was an adventure," Washington said. "Starting with the screenplay and the collaboration with the filmmaker, getting a chance to fly around in flight simulators, hanging upside down in a plane and playing a drunk..."
Washington adds, however, that inebriated pilots like Whip are not the norm. "It's not so much about flying as it is addiction--at least as it relates to my character. He could work in a post office, but flying a plane is the most heightened dramatic situation."
One of the cool things about "Flight," which was directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Nadine Velazquez and Kelly Reilly, is the conflicting verdicts about Whip, Washington said. Yes, he saved lives, but he was high while piloting the plane. Cheadle, who plays Whip's attorney in the film, thinks that Washington was relentless in exploring the darker side of his character.
"I think when you cast somebody like Denzel in a part like this you can expect to see a real willingness on his part to go to some pretty uncomfortable places," he said. "Everyone wants to be thought of as the good guy. But Whip's got to unleash some demons to let this happen and in the process let the audience see the darker side."
Darkness seems to agree with Washington. Private Trip, his Oscar-winning role in "Glory," had his issues. As did Det. Alonzo Harris, the "Training Day" character for which he won his second Oscar. Whip is another one of those guys Washington said he had to play.
"It's very rare--and I read a lot of scripts. But this one, I felt like I read it in 14 minutes because I was turning the pages so fast. You can't wait to see what's going to happen," he said. "This was one of those scripts. I had to be a part of it. It was on the page--the guts, the pain, the tears."
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