Hero on the Hudson
Tom Hanks plays pilot who landed plane in middle of New York's Hudson River
On a frigid day in January 2009, a few minutes after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport in New York, a flock of Canadian geese struck US Airways Flight 1549 at 2,000 feet, taking out two engines.
The captain had 208 seconds to decide how to save the 155 passengers and crew on board.
Luckily for them, they had Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger at the helm, a pilot with over 20,000 flying hours over a four-decade career.
Having no thrust to return to LaGuardia or nearby airports, he forced a landing in the middle of the Hudson River, a move no pilot had ever trained for, and saved everyone aboard.
The press dubbed the incident "Miracle on the Hudson" and Sully, at least to the public, was a hero.
But not to the National Transportation Safety Board, which conducted a series of hearings over 18 months to determine whether the decision to crash-land in the river was irresponsible and dangerous.
Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles were put through the wringer at these hearings, knowing they could lose their flying licences and careers over it, as they battled the inevitable PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that accompanies such adrenaline-fuelled life-and-death circumstances.
Heroes are always catnip to Hollywood, and two of the biggest players collaborated to bring this story to the silver screen in the new biographical drama Sully, which opens here tomorrow.
Clint Eastwood directs it and everybody's favourite everyman, Tom Hanks, plays Sully, with Aaron Eckhart rounding up the cast as Sully's First Officer.
We are at The London West Hollywood hotel and Oscar-winning 60-year-old US actor Hanks is, as usual, a great interviewee, in a good mood and armed with a great sense of humour, and always dressed in a suit for the press.
How did you get involved in this project?
I remember meeting Sully at the 2008 Oscars at some party. Somebody said, 'Would you like to meet Sully Sullenberger?' I said, 'Miracle on the Hudson' guy?... I read the script in 17 minutes because all of this stuff was new.
The story really is about the 18 months he spent with his heart in his mouth and an elevated heart rate waiting for this NTSB board hearing to reach its conclusion.
I was astounded by that and that's one of the reasons I jumped on it as fast as I did.
Sully told me that by the time they had actually had the very last one of those things, they knew there was nothing, but they couldn't admit it, even on that very day.
What was it like working for the first time with Eastwood?
You do no rehearsal. None. I mean, you don't even run the lines under his supervision on the set.
If you're smart, which we were, you show up a little bit early and you talk to his cameraman to get a sense of what you're going to be in and how it's going to work.
By and large this big massive huge undertaking of logistics and design and engineering, lighting, what a movie is, is reduced to what happens when the camera is rolling and that is all that he is interested in.
We got together on our own to go over the long dialogue scenes, and we got the word back saying, 'Hey, the boss doesn't like your rehearsing, go back in the hotel'.
He wants one thing and one thing only - immediacy and authenticity. So in a way, every director is different and is going to demand that you deliver the goods, but he does it with no hand-holding whatsoever.
He trusts you to show up and be ready to go.
Are you a good flyer?
I am a very good flyer. I take off my shoes and then I get a bottle of water and that's it. I am a dream (laughs). Sometimes I sleep the whole way. I am a great passenger. Keep myself entertained and I don't bother anybody.
Can you talk about the air simulator experience?
I'd never been in the simulator before. That experience is so incredibly lifelike that they should charge tickets.
They should let people go in and for US$40 you get to fly an airplane in a simulator for a while.
Because it's crazy-authentic to really experience and that was fun.
Sully said that despite his long career, this is what he'll be remembered for. What are the highs in your own life?
Well, I'm a grandfather, I have fabulous kids. They are all funny and are more or less self-supporting.
I'm controlling my blood sugar and my knees haven't gone bad. I win! Fabulous! I'm still here!