The opening minutes of “Flight” feature one of the most realistic and terrifying plane crash sequences ever staged on film, and although no one was really killed or seriously injured, Tamara Tunie came away with some very real bruises.
“It was the first time that I had shot anything like that myself,” the actress said in a recent phone interview. “And that sequence with the plane crashing and everything, I called it my first action movie, because that's exactly what it felt like to me.”
The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, stars Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker, an ace airline pilot whose life is spinning out of control on booze and other drugs, especially after a real runaway nose-dive and crash landing (one of the most wrenching scenes in air-disaster movie history) kills four of his passengers and two crew members, possibly resulting not only in the permanent grounding of his career but a lengthy prison term as well. Most of the powers that be know the crash was caused by a faulty aircraft and that few pilots could have made that emergency landing with so few fatalities, but there are airline officials who want to blame the tragedy on Whit.
Washington's performance has brought him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, while John Gatins is up for Best Original Screenplay.
“Flight” was released this week on Blu-ray and DVD.
“It was nothing but a joy,” Tunie said of working with Washington. “Denzel and I worked together a few years ago on Broadway doing ‘Julius Caesar,' so it was like being reunited with a dear friend, and we had the best time and he is a consummate professional.”
Tunie, 53, a film, stage and television actress, director and producer best known for her portrayal of attorney Jessica Griffin on the CBS soap opera “As the World Turns” and medical examiner Melinda Warner on NBC's “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” plays senior flight attendant Margaret Thomason.
So how did Zemeckis and his crew manage to pull off the harrowingly realistic crash landing?
“Basically the crew kind of resurrected an airplane that had been retired to like the airplane graveyard or whatever, and they dragged the thing into a soundstage and they rigged it on hydraulics and a thing we ended up calling the rotisserie,” Tunie said. “It was like a big rotisserie oven that they attached the plane to, so that when it actually flipped upside down we actually turned the entire cabin of the plane and the entire cockpit of the plane completely upside down with this rotisserie.
“And so to simulate the turbulence and everything, they used the hydraulics, so we were really being thrown around that plane. I had the bruises to show for it. And it was as realistic as it could be. And it wasn't difficult for me to imagine how terrifying that would be.”