Here’s something you may not expect to hear from “Flight” co-star Nadine Velazquez, who’s often included on lists with “hottest” or “sexiest” in the title.
“I just didn’t want to be a face that you see and make fun of,” says Velazquez of her hesitation toward breaking into film. “People like to get critical and they say, ‘Oh, she’s not pretty enough to be in film.’ ‘She shouldn’t be in film.’ ‘She can’t act.’ I didn’t want all those things to be said about me with my experiences in film, so for a long time I wouldn’t go out for it if I didn’t feel like I couldn’t handle it.”
Clearly the 33-year-old actress, who grew up just outside Oak Park and also appears on FX’s comedy “The League,” has gotten over that. In “Flight,” opening Friday, Velazquez plays Katerina, a flight attendant who provides an emotional anchor for heroic, alcoholic pilot Whip (Denzel Washington)—and opens the film fully naked in a hotel room with her colleague, post-knocking boots.
From her home in L.A., Velazquez talked about telling her parents about the nude scene, wanting to be seen as more than a pretty face and why people shouldn’t take issue with Sofia’s fondness for Ruxin on “The League.”
What’s the most memorable reaction you got from family or friends when you told them the first thing they’ll see in “Flight” is you and Denzel Washington sans clothing?
I just told my mom. [Laughs.] I told my parents about a month ago.
What did they say?
My mom was horrified for about five seconds. [Laughs.] And my dad in the background was like, “No, you didn’t. No, you didn’t.” I said, “Yes, I did.” And then I said, “Just be late. Just be late for the movie.”
Why did you wait so long to tell them?
Because I knew they wouldn’t have understood. I would have felt guilty doing it had I [told them] when I got the offer. So I just waited until it was done. And I actually went to ADR to see what the movie was like, to see what the feel of it was. When I did that I just knew it was going to be a phenomenal movie. And after I watched it I called them and told them it was an amazing, epic movie and they should not be worried. This is not a salacious scene. There’s nothing bad about the scene other than I’m nude. It’s a beautiful scene, actually, I think.
What do you mean you would have felt guilty? If you told them in advance and they disapproved?
Yeah, without me really knowing how that scene would have played out. I needed to see it first to have the confidence to tell them. And I think that had I told them beforehand I would have been questioning it myself [and been] maybe too uncomfortable to do a nude scene.
What tips, if any, did Denzel Washington give you?
He was really helpful. He doesn’t rehearse so one of the things he said to me was, “Don’t rehearse. Life isn’t about being rehearsed. It’s about the moment. You can plan a scene, but you don’t know what’s going to happen even in the scene. You don’t know if something’s going to fall off the dresser that you’ll have to react to. ’Cause you have to react to everything. You never know what’s going to happen in the moment because you just never know what the next moment is.” He does not believe in rehearsing.
What do you think of that?
I love it! I think that it’s a place where I would love to get to. I don’t know what he does in his private time; I’m sure he goes over it. But I’m sure when he gets to the set, I think he probably learned it to the extent that he needs to know his character and know what he’s doing. Every time was completely different. Every moment I felt like he was living. And for me just recently I usually study with a coach, and I have two amazing coaches that I love, but I had two appointments and one of them [was] yesterday with a director and I just decided, “You know what? I’ve been doing this for a long time. Sometimes the best stuff happens when you’re not planning on it, when you’re just inspired in the moment.” When you’re rehearsing you get really inspired in the beginning, but then it becomes repetitious and you lose the magic. How do you get the magic again? The magic happens when you’re not pushing it. So I think that this is going to be a new way of me discovering more about who I am as an artist is to have more trust in that moment and to stop worrying about the results.
You took some flight-attendant courses. What challenged you about that or what did you find interesting about that job?
That’s a good question. I learned how to serve coffee. I learned how to put the coffee pot back into the machine properly. [Laughs.] I learned how to strap myself in the jumper seat. At the training facility they have part of an airplane with just a front to the middle half of the airplane in this huge room that was like two floors high and they had a long slide. That was the most fun part. Throwing yourself down the slide—in case of an emergency.
If you were thousands of feet in the air on a plane that’s tilting side to side, would you be able to pour coffee without spilling?
I’d probably spill on a few people. [Laughs.]
Everyone has professions or people in uniform that they’ve found attractive. Are you someone who’s always had a little bit of a crush on pilots?
No! God no. [Laughs.] Never. Never ever. I like men in suits. Men in suits I think are so sexy. But I love men in suits who own their own businesses. That’s even sexier. … I just love a guy who has his own thing going on and believes in it.
So a fireman wouldn’t be a big deal, but if he owned the fire station that would be better.
Eh, it depends. We gotta factor in other things. What kind of quality of guy he is. It’s not just limited to a guy who owns his own thing. I’m attracted to men who just love what they do, have confidence in what they do and have potential to be on their own if they need to be.
You said many people think you’re from the East Coast. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know why. I think I have a very East Coast vibe about me. I’m very forward. [Laughs.] I have a really strong personality and ... I’ve just realized that. [Laughs.] I didn’t know that for a while. I knew that I had a personality and it was an opinionated personality but I didn’t realize how strong it was until recently.
What made you finally realize that?
Reviewing all of my work. I’ve been putting together my website, and I’ve had to collect a lot of footage on my work. I don’t always watch what I do; at least for “My Name Is Earl” I haven’t even seen all the episodes that I’ve done. So when I’m working on something that’s long term I just go to work and I won’t necessarily look at it later. But I was having a look at things and I saw this pattern and I’m just a strong personality. And then I had to sit in the editing room for this last movie that I did [“Aztec Warrior”] … I’m like, “Man, I’m really tough!” [Laughs.] I need to shape that up a little bit because I’m actually a really sweet person as well, but I guess I get excited about things and I don’t hide it and sometimes it comes off as overpowering maybe.
I read that you started thinking about acting when watching “Punky Brewster” as a kid. Is that true? At the time, what were your acting goals?
When I was a kid it was “Punky Brewster.” I would watch the TV show, and I felt like I should be wearing mismatched socks and gym shoes and a ponytail. I liked the idea of me in that costume, and I really wanted her position and I wanted her fired. As I got older when I was in college I started watching “Charmed” and it was Alyssa Milano that did it for me and I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a job that I’d love to have.” I always wanted to be an actress but I didn’t know that I wanted to be an actress. I didn’t have the master plan on how to get there.
Did you actually dress as Punky Brewster or just liked her style?
No, I did, when I was a kid at home. You went to school dressed as Punky. You would wear those socks. Yeah, for sure. For sure.
Have you dressed up as her again as an adult? For Halloween maybe?
That’s such a cool idea! No, I’ve never done it. Maybe next year.
Well, we’re just in time for Halloween this year.
There’s no more time for Halloween this year. I’m borrowing a costume.
You already have one?
I’m using my friend’s costume. I’m not huge on Halloween, but this year I decided to embrace it a bit and so I helped my friend build her robot costume, which was really fun. And then we’re going to go trick-or-treating Wednesday night with my friend’s daughter, and so I’m going to use my friend’s “Eyes Wide Shut” costume, and that’s enough for me.
You’ve talked about the challenge of picking roles and being proud of the way you look but wanting to emphasize talent over looks. How are you feeling about that now? Your character in “Flight” is a beautiful woman but is also an emotional anchor for the story. Was that an important aspect in taking on the role, that it wasn’t just about the physical side?
I think that is correct. It’s a very great part for me as an introduction to film. I think you only get a couple of shots with film. And I have been very resistant to breaking into film because I haven’t felt ready in my career to have that. I just didn’t want to be a face that you see and make fun of. And of course people like to get critical and they say, “Oh, she’s not pretty enough to be in film.” “She shouldn’t be in film.” “She can’t act.” I didn’t want all those things to be said about me with my experiences in film, so for a long time I wouldn’t go out for it if I didn’t feel like I couldn’t handle it.
Why did you think people would say those negative things about you?
Because it is said. Because it’s the reality. I think with film you only get a couple of shots. It cannot be about your looks. And it cannot be about anything other than what that character is calling for. And there has to be a respect for that character and every moment has to be true and alive because you are in a screen that is larger than life and you have to hold people’s attention for a long time. And I feel like in this movie I get to do that with the part that I have. I don’t think there is anything in that part that says I’m not in character. I think I’m completely in character. And I want all my experiences in film to be that way. And that takes time. That takes a seasoned actor, that takes confidence to be able to do that because I want to have a film career. And I want to entertain people and I want people to go see films and not say, “Oh, she’s just a pretty face.” I want them to say, “I like this person and I like the role that she portrays and I believe her.” That’s important to me. And I’ve been very judicious about that. Because for many years I haven’t felt ready for it.
Why did you feel ready for this? What made you feel this was something you wanted to do at this time?
I’m just an intuitive actress. It was just time. I said it last summer to my agent. I said, “I’m ready to go out for films.” I wasn’t going out at all. They’re like, “OK, great.” And I got three films shortly after … I can testify to my own internal radar to know when is the right time for me to do something or when I shouldn’t do something.
Have people said you weren’t pretty enough for movies? A lot of people would find that surprising.
No, no one’s actually said those words. These are conversations in my own head. But I’ve had people be critical of me on “My Name Is Earl” [because] of the way that I look. Which is fine. But I’m human and you’ve gotta get to a place where you really are comfortable with yourself if you’re going to portray somebody, which has taken time for me. Because I didn’t understand why I would be an actress. Although I loved it I wasn’t pursuing as a profession until life brought me to Los Angeles and that was the only thing that was going on. I got an agent and a manager right away, but I didn’t have the confidence in myself right away to do this. And I struggled a lot with that. I’ve never been driven to just be a celebrity or just get me on TV. Never ever. What’s always driven me is being successful and being good at what I do. So if I didn’t feel good at what I was doing I didn’t want to do it until I had the confidence to do that.
I’m a big fan of “The League.” You’ve said you can relate to Sofia’s materialistic side. Why do you feel that way?
Because I can relate to all my sides, and being materialistic is a side of a female. I’ve certainly gone through my phases where I thought being materialistic was fulfilling, and sometimes it’s still there. But I’m too awake now to know what’s fulfilling and what’s not fulfilling. And being materialistic is totally, completely unfulfilling! But it’s fun to play.
So you think that’s a side that exists in all women?
Not all women. Of course there are women who are not that way. But I think the kind of woman that I portray, an attractive woman who is married to a successful guy, I think that combination has that in it.
I mentioned to a friend that I was interviewing you, and he raised a question about the pairing of Sofia and Ruxin. You and Nick Kroll have great chemistry, but how often do you hear that Sofia would never marry someone like Ruxin in real life?
I think that Sofia would marry a Ruxin. I would marry a Ruxin!
Why? What does she see in him?
I think he’s charming. I think he makes her laugh. This season we’re having some marital issues. I think I’m doing four episodes and each one has to do with their relationship. So there’s going to be a new side of Ruxin and Sofia. But going back to your question, I’m very attracted to Nick as a person. Nadine is. It’s not a sexual attraction, but it could be if I got to know him better and he got to know me. He’s somebody who’s intelligent and funny and he has it going on. He’s a great guy.
I think if anyone feels that way about the show it would only be because of Ruxin’s tendency to skew the truth or rub certain things in his friends’ faces.
Yeah, I mean, I understand [why] other people looking at it might think, “Oh, Sofia would never,” but I think that’s incorrect.
You originally thought fantasy football was much different than it is. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned? Do you have your own team?
I don’t have my own team. I’ve learned that it is incredibly competitive. To me it’s just way too complicated. I probably just don’t have the time in my life to even learn about it anymore. It seems really fun.
Is that the topic of conversation frequently on set? The guys have their own league together, right?
Yeah. I don’t feel like they’re always talking about it, but they certainly know more about it than I do. They know about football all across the board. They’re fans, which is cool. It’s a little unrelatable to me. I like watching football, but I still don’t know football. I don’t understand it. I didn’t grow up with a father who had me watch sports, and he rarely watched sports. And I didn’t have any brothers or cousins around, and I went to an all-girls school. So the male world, the masculine world is still so foreign to me.
Is there something you do have an interest in that would normally be attributed to guys? A passion for beer or cars or something?
I’m all girl. [Laughs.] I really am. I like esoteric things, so if a guy’s spiritual, but that would be more feminine anyway. I don’t have anything like that at all. Hiking! I like hiking, but I like hiking with trees. [Laughs.]
As opposed to mountains?
Yeah, as opposed to mountains. As opposed to just the desert. [Laughs.]
What can you tell me about the other movies you’ve already filmed, like “Snitch”?
So “Snitch” is with The Rock and I play his wife. I got to do an amazing kissing scene with him, but it was cut out of the movie! Yes it was. Because they ran out of time and they needed to shorten the story and get to the point quicker and a lot of our scenes in the beginning got cut. Our relationship scenes got cut in the beginning, which is heartbreaking but it’s fine. At least I got to do it. At least I experienced that man’s lips.
How do you compare working with Dwayne Johnson to working with Denzel Washington?
I think I got to work with the two hottest men in Hollywood, that’s for sure! One is not better than the other. They’re both amazing. They’re so hot. I’m a lucky girl!
If she’s a good flyer: “I am a very good flyer I think. I don’t worry so much about the plane going down ever. I just don’t feel like that’s the way I’m going to go down. I just have the belief that the end of my life won’t be in a plane crash, so I rest assured in that. Once in a while if I’m sleeping and we land kind of hard it will jerk me and I’ll be like, ‘Where am I? Where are we?’ [Laughs.] And it will freak me out for a second. This movie, I think if you’re already queasy about flying I’m curious to see how people will react after. But being that most people survive the plane crash, it might be comforting for most people.”
Favorite Chicago restaurant: “I love going to Sunda. I like ordering their sushi. They have a crispy rice thing that I love. And I love the ambience.”
Romantic recommendations in Chicago: “You could take a horse carriage ride. A horse carriage ride is romantic. It’s really cold to do that now. Sunda’s a great restaurant but it’s not necessarily romantic. Publican’s also a great restaurant but it’s not necessarily romantic. You know what I love? I love Chicago on the weekends and at night. I think it’s the most beautiful place ever. I think Chicago’s a great place to fall in love and to be with your significant other. It’s just magical there. I love it … I always said that if my husband or boyfriend or whatever I have wants to move to Chicago and I’m in love, I don’t care, I’d move over there. I wouldn’t base it on weather.”
When the Chicago-set, L.A.-filmed “The League” doesn’t feel like Chicago: “[During] some of the scenes outside … because there are palm streets in the back. [Laughs.]”
Guilty pleasure movies: “I like watching cartoons. I like Disney movies. I have a whole collection. I have 100 years of Disney. I have everything in there. I have ‘Tarzan.’ It has everything. It’s like a Pandora’s box. I love ‘em all. There’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ is in there, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I’ve got not ‘Toy Story,’ that’s not Disney. I have ‘Cinderella’ but I have an older ‘Cinderella’ as well. I just like putting ‘em on. ‘Pinocchio.’”
On her iPod: “I’m not really into bands. I’m really weird. I just have a whole bunch of music. It’s just music that I like to hear. I don’t have favorites. I have Paul Simon but then I have R. Kelly. And then under R. Kelly I have Ricky Martin. And then with Ricky Martin I have Rihanna and after Rihanna I have Roberta Flack.”