Bruce Greenwood had a front row seat to the Denzel Washington power that earned him one of the 2013 Academy Award nominations for Flight. Greenwood had previously starred with Washington in the 1980’s TV hit St. Elsewhere, so his powerful presence wasn’t such a surprise.
“I’ve known Denzel off and on for 25 years,” Greenwood said in our exclusive interview. "He’s just one of those guys who when he’s in the groove, you just get right in there with him. It’s not difficult."
As seen in the Flight trailer, Greenwood plays Charlie Anderson, a former pilot pal of Washington’s Whip Whitaker who is now a union rep. Whitaker has done the unbelievable -- landing a crashing plane safely and only losing a few lives in what could have been a national disaster. The only thing is Whitaker was drunk at the time… very illegal!
The first scene in Flight where their two characters meet was also the first time Greenwood and Washington shared time on the Robert Zemeckis set. Given the scene’s place in the story, it proved a stroke of serendipity.
“One of the things that was really interesting about the first scene we shot, it was also the first time that Charlie appears in the movie -- when Denzel’s laying in the hospital. Denzel was already in the bed when I got there. I got right off a plane, went right to wardrobe and went to the set and we started working right away. We barely said hello,” Greenwood recalled.
“It was one of those things where the scene itself mimicked what we were going through as real people because I hadn’t seen him in many years. It was loaded in a way that neither of us anticipated.”
The actor marveled at the Oscar-nominated script by John Gatins. There are so many layers of morality meets fate that could be discussed by audiences long after the credits roll. “I loved how it showed how difficult it is choosing the right thing, and what the right thing is,” Greenwood said.
“When you walk out, you can have that conversation about what’s right and is there a good choice. It’s almost like Sophie’s Choice.”
Greenwood marveled at what his character had to go through. “What was fascinating to me was the nuts and bolts of his job, more the emotional mechanics of what is involved when you have this dilemma of how to help a friend and at the same time navigate these treacherous waters of this hearing where if your friend tells the truth, 5,000 people lose their jobs,” he added.
Another bonus of appearing in Flight for Greenwood was the chance to finally work with the highly lauded director Robert Zemeckis. “This movie had everything on the list, just checked all the boxes."
After describing what a Zemeckis set is like for his actors, one can see why he’s had such success from Back to the Future through Cast Away and now Flight. “He’s a caring guy. He wants to create an environment that’s conducive to people inventing things and at the same time he has a clear idea of what he’s after," Greenwood said.
"But, that doesn’t stop him from allowing the actors to stretch out and try things. It’s a really nice combination of control and freedom.”
Flight is now out on home video – check out our Flight DVD review – and it arrives with all those Oscar nominations in tow. Greenwood knew he was part of something special immediately.
“The first day on the set, I called my wife and said, ‘I’m so grateful to be part of this production. It’s just a beautiful, elaborate and involved script that feels truthful and presided over by some of the people who are the best in the business,’” he recalled. “When you get to work in that environment, it’s really thrilling.”
The highlight of the film comes close to the end and we will not be giving anything away about it, except for the fact that it is the FAA hearing for Whitaker concerning the crash. For Greenwood, with all the film’s stars on the set that day -- including Washington, Don Cheadle and Melissa Leo -- it was a moment to treasure.
“That was really a fun day. Don and I invented a lot of stuff that didn’t end up in the movie and some stuff that did,” Greenwood said. “It was a joy to be a part of.”
We could not let Greenwood go without asking about the recent debut of the Star Trek: Into Darkness Super Bowl trailer. He is returning to the franchise, reprising his role as Christopher Pike.
“I’ve seen 19 minutes of it or so and I’m here to tell you that I can’t tell you anything,” he said and laughed. “But, you are going to be pinned into the back of your seat.”