*“Flight” was one of the highest points at the New York Film Festival and was the closing film. Cast members and filmmakers were on hand at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City after the movie to discuss the film. Besides being an excellent story, “Flight’s” exceptional cast added to the movie’s distinction. Denzel Washington’s impeccable performance embodied the troubled airline pilot Whip Whitaker.
In this unique and fascinating story, Washington’s character was an airline pilot progeny; his father was a Tuskegee Airman. After a daring air maneuver on a damaged plane that saved the lives of all his passengers except four, a simulated test was given to ten other pilots during an investigation into the crash. All ten failed the test and all onboard their planes would have died. The Tuskegee Airmen were known for their brilliance and skill. Despite efforts to keep the all Black airmen grounded, their aeronautics mastery forced the government into letting them fly and thus helped win World War II.
Don Cheadle, as always, was extraordinary. John Goodman’s over the top performance was unlike anything he has ever done and James Badge Dale as the cancer patient was stirring and thought provoking. A blemish to the irreproachable cinematic feat were the initial scenes of a naked flight attendant, that served no purpose at all other than gratuitous titillation when parading around Washington’s hotel room. Following that senseless nude display, Whitaker boarded that fateful flight and slips on the first step of the plane. The Film Strip asked Washington if the audience was to read anything into that misstep. Not wanting to give anything away, Washington would not confirm any plot tips. However, director Robert Zemeckis said, “I told him to slip on the step. It was raining, it was slippery and you know me, I’m always trying to lay the story pipe in there. He is as high as a flying kite.”
Denzel, It’s understandable why any actor would agree to take this part but what was your motivation?
It was just a great screenplay first of all. I read it and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Then my agent said Zemeckis wants you to do this movie, and it’s just a great movie.
There are a lot of messages in this film. Is there one particular thing you want audiences to walk away with?
Well it depends upon what they bring to it. So I don’t try to decide what people should get from it, or why. I don’t do a part for those kinds of reasons.
Do you think your character should’ve gotten prison time?
I actually thought that the number [of years] was too low. And I thought he should have gotten at least 20 years.
If it’s possible to get inside your head for a moment, what does a successful, renowned actor dream about?
I have the flying dream I’ve had for most of my life. And somehow I always end up in the city and I go underneath bridges. Like there’s these low bridges that will either be over a train, like the Conrail train, or a small body of water, and I’ll just work my way down under, and I stay under. Then I have the other part of the dream and I start to go back up, but then I’ve got to get back below the wires, and I don’t know what it means [Laughs].
The 20th anniversary of the Malcolm X movie is coming up. Any thoughts on that experience?
Wow. Twenty years! You know the first time landing in Africa was in 1986 when I was doing the movie Cry Freedom. And the first time landing in Egypt was in 91, 92 for Malcolm X and that was just a powerful feeling, being able to move around with the people. I never felt threatened or anything like that. Gosh, that was 20 years ago? I was 12 when I made that movie [Laughs].
Ever since he was a kid, Robert “Bobby” Fitzgerald Diggs aka RZA was a die-hard kung fu fan. Since he lived, ate and breathed martial arts movies, it was no surprise he would become a founding member of a group called Wu-Tang Clan. Although winning many music awards, he continued to become more and more immersed in Asian culture. Now as director and star of The Man With the Iron Fists, that also stars Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, RZA is extremely proud and happy this story he put to pen and paper is soon to be released as a major studio film.
RZA relishes the Asian experience in ‘Iron Fists’
RZA sat down with Lucy Liu recently to talk about their much anticipated film, ‘The Man With the Iron Fists.’ The shoot in China was tough on RZA, he says. “I was very lonely. Out of the 400 people [on the project] only 17 spoke English. You not only didn’t see any Blacks in China but you don’t see Whites either. Waiting for the elevator one day on my way to my room I saw a White guy and we were both like, ‘Hey man, how are you doing’ and we just started talking about sports. He was working for Ford that was building a new car plant there.”
Being at the helm of his much-cherished venture had its advantages, and one of them was being an actor. As an actor, RZA felt secure in doling out duties to his cast because he understood their mindset.
“Being an actor helps me as a director,” RZA explained, “because I know what it feels like when something isn’t right, when something is wrong. I think that helps me understand and able to collaborate more.”
Lucy Liu corroborated what RZA had just stated.
“Although it was Bobby’s project, he made it our project. I think everyone that participated in it, including Russell, knows that you made it our thing [she looks at him] and never presented it as, ‘this is what I’m thinking, this is what I want and you have to do it.’ He allowed us to bring what he thought we were going to bring [to the table], which is something different, something special and unique to the characters. And in between takes…he lets you do your thing. From an artist’s perspective he communicates what he thinks you need.”
When he was writing the story of The Man With the Iron Fists, RZA felt it was paramount to put emphasis on his predecessors.
“It was very important to pay homage to those things that inspired me,” RZA said, especially Bruce Lee. To me, Bruce Lee is a minor prophet. In the Koran it teaches us that we have major prophets and we have minor prophets. So Abraham, Moses and Jesus would be major prophets.
“Minor prophets only live for small periods of time and inspire people in their own small ways. I feel Bruce Lee was like that. He awakened the world to the strength of Asian men, and Asian people in particular. He brought martial arts films to a world stage and now there are billion dollar corporations based on his vision. Enter the Dragon is one of the greatest martial arts films made by Hollywood. I think the second one would be Kill Bill and hopefully the third one will be The Man With the Iron Fists.”
Javier Bardem conjures up evil once again in ‘Skyfall’
Javier, it’s obvious you had a lot of fun with this character. What were some of the dynamics you enjoyed dealing with?
I realized that the character was there [on the page] with many colors and layers to fulfill, but it was fun to create and also have the opportunity to do Silva. He’s more of a broken person with a very definitive and a specific goal to achieve, which is way easier to portray than a symbolic idea, which it was more or less in “No Country for Old Men.” That was the idea of violence, a horrible fate itself. That’s what Chigurh was; there was no human being behind him. Here, Silva is a broken person. We wanted to create somebody that creates uncomfortable situations rather than being somebody scary or threatening. I found a great creative laboratory to perform with a great director in charge. A lot of things were popping out, different options of the scenes, and he put together the ones that he considered the best ones and that’s what you saw. But nothing was written on stone, which I think is great. It’s a great risk for a movie like this where everything has to be in place, No! Thank you.
Did you feel any pressure since this would be the 50th anniversary of Bond movies when ‘Skyfall’ is released?
No, the pressure I’m feeling is now, when I’m doing this, promoting the movie. [Laughs]. You know, it’s like whoa when you receive a James Bond script. Of course something clicks inside of you. It’s a lot. I’m 43. I was 12 the first time I saw a Bond movie in a theater. It was ‘Moonraker.’ But then you have forget about all those old memories and focus on the material. As I said before, the ground was very fertile to work in. You just do your job and don’t think too much about the rest of things, but there is one thing I’m always telling people, and it’s true. I was shooting one day and then I saw Judi (Dench) and Daniel (Craig) looking at me and I forgot the lines because it was like, ‘Jesus, that’s M and that’s James Bond, and they’re looking at me. Sam Mendes said, ‘cut’ and laughed because he knew what happened. I said, ‘Man, I’m sorry. I’m a human being. I just realized I’m in a James Bond movie.’
I guess that says a lot about the gravity of a James Bond film. When an Oscar winner takes a moment to pause, it certainly is not a typical day in the neighborhood!
Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment reporter. [email protected]