Even if Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” had been pitched to her as, oh, say, yet another Pixar sequel about a large, furry blue monster with horns and purple spots, Laura Linney still probably would have jumped at the chance to be in it.
“There are a few directors who can whisper my name, and I don’t care what they want me to do, I’ll show up. He’s one of them,” says the 52-year-old actress, who this month will appear in her third Clint Eastwood film (previously, she starred in his 1997 drama “Absolute Power” and in his 2003 mystery “Mystic River”).
Of course, anyone who’s been paying attention knows that this “Sully” is the director’s big-budgeted, IMAX-sized dramatization of “The Miracle on the Hudson,” the real-life story of a US Airways flight that fatefully – and almost disastrously – ran into a flock of birds on Jan. 15, 2009, after departing New York’s LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte.
After both engines failed, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeff Skiles were forced to ditch the Airbus A320 into the frigid river; miraculously, all 155 passengers and crew members survived.
The film – which stars Tom Hanks as Sullenberger, Aaron Eckhart as Skiles and Linney as Sullenberger’s wife, Lorrie – is due in theaters Friday, Sept. 9.
And while awards season is still months away, pundits are already speculating that Linney could be in line for a fourth Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the California mother of two, whose only connections to her husband in the immediate aftermath of the event were a television and a telephone receiver.
Linney recently spoke with the Observer by phone from Los Angeles; here are six interesting things we learned about “Sully” and her role in it.
1. This isn’t just the story we’ve heard; it’s the story behind the story. “We know about the journalistic narrative that came out, that a plane went down in the Hudson and everyone survived, and how fabulous that was. But what most people don’t know – and certainly me being one of them before this – was the trial that happened afterwards, was the fact that he was not able to be with his family, that his wife was all the way in California, that they were only able to speak occasionally on the phone. And then also what happens when someone becomes instantly famous, from one day to the next. All of their lives changed, and that can be quite stressful.” As for Lorrie, in the movie, she’s the only survivors’ loved one depicted; “so she sort of represents all the spouses, or family members, of every other person on that flight.”
2. Linney met Sully for the first time in August, but has never met or corresponded with the woman she played on screen. So how did the actress prepare for the role? “Well, you have a responsibility to the script, and to the narrative that is being put before you. I also had the research from Sully’s book (“Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters,” which is a really good read. And then there’s a lot on YouTube, actually – there are a lot of interviews with her; there’s a lot of information there. So I took those three things and sort of tried to braid it together as well as I could.”
3. She spent just two days working on the film, and they were short days. For Eastwood and Hanks, shooting started Sept. 30, 2015, and lasted nearly two months. But Linney only has a handful of scenes, each consisting of her talking to Hanks’s character on the phone. So it was easy to wrap the part quickly – “particularly because he (Eastwood) only does one or two takes. ... He trusts you, you have to trust him – that when he says, ‘Let’s move on,’ that it’s OK.”
4. By the way, when Linney shot her scenes, she was in fact talking to Tom Hanks. “When you see him talking on the phone, I was on the other end of the phone; and when I’m talking on the phone, he was on the other line. Granted, we were in separate cities,” she says, laughing, “but it made a big difference. A lot of times when you film a movie and you have a scene on the phone, it’s just a reader, or whoever they can get. It’s rarely the actor that you’re supposed to be speaking to. ... But it was important to the two of us. It changes the timing, and the rhythm, and how you respond to things.”
5. She felt isolated from the rest of the production, at least somewhat mirroring the isolation Lorrie Sullenberger must have felt from her husband during the moments that have been re-created on screen. When Linney filmed her scenes, “I was the only actor that was there. And I wasn’t around while the other sequences were being filmed. So there was a sense of (my part) being its own separate thing. You sort of hope that you’re matching the tone of what everyone else is doing.”
6. Sully was a hero, but perhaps even more significantly, he was an expert. Sullenberger had four decades of experience and some 20,000 hours of flight time before “The Miracle on the Hudson.” The fact that he saved 155 lives, Linney says, proves that “when someone is prepared, and when someone has a tremendous amount of skill earned by time and experience, it pays off. There’s not a whole lot of value placed in that type of commitment now. Experts can be experts just because they say they’re an expert. But this is a situation where, clearly, if it had been anyone else in that cockpit, that plane would not have survived. None of those people would have made it. So it’s a wonderful confirmation, at least for me, that experience counts for something.”