Denzel Washington has been working for so long now that he’s sort of an institution, one of those performers who is both movie star and actor. I think there is a clear distinction between those two things, and there are movie stars who never really push themselves out of their comfort zones, just as there are great actors who don’t possess whatever that particular charisma is that makes someone iconic. Washington is capable of disappearing into a character, but he’s also one of those guys who financiers love because he’s been such a reliable box-office sensation over the years.
“Flight,” the new film by Robert Zemeckis, calls on both sides of Denzel’s personality. It’s the story of a guy who is capable of exceptional things who is also a high-functioning alcoholic and drug abuser, and his character is a hard person to like. Denzel’s charisma helps with that, and he manages to show you how this guy is able to coast on charm even as he burns his life down. If he wasn’t such a movie star, I’m not sure you’d have any sympathy for him, but if he wasn’t such a good actor, I don’t think that slow crumble of addiction would feel as authentic and unapologetic as it does. It’s the sort of work that reminds you just how good someone can be.
The press day for “Flight” was a strange one. Zemeckis cut out halfway through the day, and John Goodman (who is as much of a stand-out here as he is in “Argo”) wasn’t present, either. The way things were going, I was nervous that I wasn’t going to end up talking to Denzel, which would have been an enormous frustration. In the end, I did end up part of the group that sat down with him, and he was pretty much exactly what you’d expect.
I thought for sure I must have interviewed him before, but as I looked back into our archives, it appears that we did not get him for “Book Of Eli,” and when “Safe House” rolled around, Katie Hasty did that one. Dan Fienberg talked to him for “The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3,” and since “Unstoppable” was Fox, that wasn’t even an option for me. So this may well have been the first time we spoke, and he seems like one of those guys who can make even a short conversation feel like it matters to him.
We’ll have a few more interviews from “Flight” before the film lands in theaters this Friday, November 2, 2012.