The story transforms a familiar tale of U.S. Airways Flight 1549—in which Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles safely landed in the Hudson River, in 2009, after losing both jets in a bird strike—into a fierce political thriller, full of surprises and even twists.
In Los Angeles, in the London Hotel, we had the opportunity to talk to the director about his passion for music, cinema and Spain, a country where he shoot many of his westerns.
Q: I wonder how difficult or stressful it was to shoot the actual scene of the plane landing in the Hudson river
CLINT EASTWOOD: It was very difficult with these particular actors. I don’t want to say too much about it here, I didn’t know they would be sitting here next to me so I’ll have to tell a little lie. No, actually, I was very fortunate to have these guys and Lauren Ann I’ve worked with her before, very fond of her, but uh, Tom I’ve always been a great admirer of. He’s from Oakland so he’s always told me I have to be a great admirer . And Aaron, I’ve seen in films, too and he was terrific so, I was lucky to have them.
Q: Mr. Eastwood! What was the first topic that came to mind when you said I am going to do this movie how am I going to approach it?
Yeah, yeah, that’s a very good question.. That’s a way all those people they say “very good question”, that’s because they’re really trying to think of a really good answer to go with it. This script sat on my desk for almost a week and uh, my assistant said one night I was going home “Take these scripts with you” and she said look at the one about- it’s called Untitled Script about the miracle on the Hudson, something like that. And then that night I went home and started reading the other scripts and then she said “Did you read the one about the Hudson?” I said no, no. And so the next night I read the other script, she said “Did you read the one about the Hudson?” So obviously when somebody says it three, four times all week long you say something in that script really appealed to her, I’d better read this. So I read it, and I said what the hell was I reading? Why wasn’t I reading this script instead of the other turkeys and along the way, so, I just fell in love with it right away. I thought I knew all about the miracle on the Hudson because I’ve followed the newspapers very carefully and the television and everything when the event happened. But all of a sudden, it kind of made sense and the first thing I started asking myself is what a conflict there? This guy Sully Burger did a fabulous job on landing a plane, all 155 lived, what’s the conflict there? And then all they said was well no he went through periods of self doubt, inspired by the National Transportation Society or whatever the hell it’s called, NTSB. And so he had to actually kind of prove his decisions. And they came out to be the right decisions. So then it became very dramatic, that’s what I was looking for - for the drama. Sometimes you have to look deeper than the first thought. You think this was a wonderful event, and that, who wants to see a whole movie about it? Now you have to live through it with them, then you have to feel emotions about the various characters, and all the different attitudes you have about that, and this family life, how this affects them, how it affects their self reliance. . . So it became a very fascinating story. Then, all I did was just add some different things, some dream sequences so the viewer could see what it would be like if he hadn’t made those decisions. And kind of get a feeling of that in a nightmare-ish kind of fashion so uh, this one thing leads to another and there you are!
Q: Mr. Eastwood, how much did your love of music and your mastership of technique helped you achieve your creative freedom as a filmmaker?
You know it’s just time, and time goes on. Maybe it’s because I’m spending more time behind the camera and not concerned with films projects that demand my presence and so I’m relieved of that and I can sort of go ahead and worry about what everybody else is doing. And uh, it’s just a matter of growing up. And you never stop growing up. If you do then you would not be at the enjoyable part of your life. The reason life is enjoyable to me is that I learn something new every day hopefully about myself about other people, other actors, watching other people perform is very exciting for me.
Q: Did any of you ever have a near death experience?
TOM HANKS: I’m a pussy man! I haven't done anything that’s like, near death, I mean, you know. Once I had to swim in an open ocean in Castaway, ohh ahh ah jeepers, ah crazy! No I haven’t experienced anything remotely like this… I mean, when I was in high school, maybe I almost smashed in the back of a bus on a motorcycle or something like that. But yeah, no not even remotely like that. I think there's five roles for us in real life: You can either be a hero, villain, coward or bystander. I’m the bystander. [laughter]
Q: American culture is a lot about heroism and we’re so quick to call everybody a ‘hero’ So what’s your thoughts on heroism and professionalism?
CLINT EASTWOOD:I agree. I think we are in a different uh, certainly different from when I grew up. You thought of heros, you thought of somebody like, Audrey Murphy, somebody who done something who was above and beyond the norm in certain situations, in his work kind of thing. But uh yea, we are creating, and I think everybody is all sort of in this politically correct thing now we have where everybody has to win a prize you know all the little boys in the class has to go home with first place trophy and so now we’re making everybody, well you know, every soldier, some of them were clerk typists, and a lot of things other than riffle men. So, they don’t get the chance to be heroes but they are very important people. The very use of the word hero is a little bit over done. I don’t think someone somebody who does a little extra, beyond what’s to be expected.
Q: Knowing the skill to fly a machine, did that give a different appreciation of Sully’s achievements there?
Yeah, and Sully… Aviation is very exacting. In other words, when you go to fly everyday, you check the plane out, you check everything. It would be like you got in your car every morning. And you check the lugs on every wheel, and check the gasoline thing, you’d check under the hood, tons of different deals. But a car, we don’t care if the wheel’s half off, as long as we get there by the skin of the teeth. In aviation, you just don’t do that. You need an exacting person. Someone who's really good with detail and who knows and lives by the rules. And Sully is that kind of guy. He lived by the rules and making decision about uh, landing the Hudson because he’d been through training and he did not imagine himself doing that before, I don’t think. He might have thought about it in some time in his life. All of a sudden you have to think about a lot of things happen in very few seconds. And uh, that’s the whole story is about. Whether do you or do you not?
Q: As a director of this movie, did that help you to understand, you know, what these 155 people went through emotionally, even better? Because of that experience?
I think it did. But I clearly haven't thought that much about it. In recent years, when this project came up I went back and thought about it a little bit but it was a little bit different because I wasn't with a group of people. I was just a passenger in a lone spot in a plane and I didn’t have to react off of anybody else. And I never knew what the pilot was doing, i was just guessing that he was gonna do a water landing. If he had bailed out and left me there I’d been in bad trouble. But fortunately he did the right thing and waited for me. And uh, it was an experience. It was different. But at the same token, it gives you an idea where you get to that moment where you’re still “ this is it” some people live through this and some people don't. And that was all I thought about. And fortunately when I got in the water, I felt better.
Q: Is there anything that the audience can learn or take from this story and or this movie. Cause I learned how important is was to work together. You know, Sully did an amazing job and everybody else did an amazing job, you know?
CLINT EASTWOOD: You know I think that’s answered in Tom and final statement in the picture. We all just did our job and we escaped and existed and uh, that’s, uh kind of - that's the way Sully did. He gives everybody credit but he doesn’t take it
Q: Mr Eastwood. Your style as a director is usually straight down the line, you don’t use a lot of visual flourish or embellishment. I’m just wondering as you’re filming, are you conscious of that or just letting the script tell the story without adding a lot in the picture?
CLINT EASTWOOD: Well, the only embellishment that I did on the script is try to make it very realistic; discussions and philosophies and but, you know, the only thing I did was try to add in the dream sequences. I added those in because I was going elongate -just trying to figure a way to- The movie is an hour and a half, I didn’t want to add a few seconds and an hour and a half, an hour and 28 minutes of chat about it. So you have dream sequences of what if happens so the audience could be into the picture for other reasons other than just finding out about Sully and the thing - if he hadn't done what he had done, things would have been a mess. And um, I know, people in a single engine aircrafts, they’re always looking for some place to land. If that river had not been there, that would have been bad… a lot of things have to fall into place for this event to happen but it did cause the right guy was there to take advantage of it at that time. If he had waited two seconds longer, it wouldn't have worked, and If he had gone too early, he would have not made the airport. He would have come up short on the other end. it’s a lot of what if’s but he did the right thing. Water landing is and can be done if executed right, can also be not so good if executed wrong. It’s a matter of quarter inch and one side hitting before the other. There’s a million things that could go wrong there if it wasn't for good quality flying.
Q: Do you consider that you have a style as a director then because your work is usually in a very kind of straight and without all the flourish or visual addition?
CLINT EASTWOOD: Uh, I don’t know what you mean. Because when you read a story, you see it as a finished product. You then just think about it as you go and say maybe this product could use a little of this a little that. But uh, it’s just your thoughts along the way and you put them down.
Q: Mr. Eastwood, when we spoke to the real Sully just an hour ago, he told us how you came over to his house and had lunch for three hours before deciding to make the movie and wondered what it was that you were looking for specifically from that meeting?
The first time I met Sully? Well, there’s a lot of ironies there. Both Tom and I are from the Bay Area, Oakland. It turns out Sully lives just behind Oakland and in Danville and so all of a sudden “oh he lives there” . so, A lot of things fell into place to get this picture going. And so after reading the material, I said, well I’d like to meet this guy , where do I have to go? A flight to Chicago? Or where ever he lives. “No, no, he lives in Danville.” Danville, I know where that is. It’s on the way to Red Bluff or whatever, but anyway, so I went right up and saw him. There was a lot of things outside of logical thinking that were making this project come together. And just, Everything seemed to fall into place. Tom was my first choice, only choice, to play Sully.
Q: Have you ever learn to speak Spanish?
I did shoot many times in Spain, in Almeria, a wonderful land. I know how to order food and move around but I don’t really have a deep knowledge of the language
Q: Have you ever read any Spanish Authors?
For a while I was intrigued by the magic realism of the South American writers, but I do not remember on top of my head any right now. What I can tell you is that I love el Amor Brujo de Falla and the music of a new Spanish composer Arturo Cardelús
Q: Do you have good memories of Spain?
Of course, I stay for a while there visiting the tarverns, the bars, chatting with the people. Spain is really a warm country