In the nail-biting action drama Flight, you can’t help being mesmerized by rising British actor Kelly Reilly. Reilly, who plays Nicole Maggen, a down-on-her-luck photographer and recovering drug addict, is slowly unveiled as a vulnerable, kindred spirit to Denzel Washington‘s character, Whip Whitaker, a pilot who pulls off a miracle landing after a midair catastrophe.
“When we meet her, she’s on her own journey as an addict,” Reilly says of her character. “Her drug of choice is heroin. With the loss of her mother and an alcoholic father, she just made wrong decisions, she took some bad roads, and ended up very lost.”
When Nicole meets Whip, she’s dealing with her serious substance abuse — and, as the film progresses and the circumstances of the near-crash are examined, it’s revealed that Whip may have his own issues with alcohol. Their chance encounter in the hospital where he is recuperating from the accident and she is recovering from an overdose ultimately puts her on a path to recovery. “The story is about the people you meet in your life and how they can change you,” Reilly said. “This is someone who is trying to change but is ball-and-chain to her addiction. Whip helps save her and gives her a place to really try to heal herself.”
Reilly was excited about working with veteran actor Washington, an experience she says was like “being a boxer in a ring with a heavyweight champion. He’s so intense, brilliant and heartbreaking.” She adds that in nearly every scene, she was moved by the honesty he brought to Whip. “It’s really humbling to watch somebody be that truthful to a character going on quite an ugly kind of journey.”
The film — which is garnering Oscar buzz — also stars Oscar winner Melissa Leo as NTSB lawyer Ellen Block, Don Cheadle as pilots’ union lawyer Hugh Lang, John Goodman as Whip’s friend Harling Mays and former VIVmag cover girl Garcelle Beauvais as Whip’s ex-wife, Deana. Flight is directed by Robert Zemeckis, whose credits include Cast Away and Forrest Gump.
You may recognize Reilly from Sherlock Holmes and its follow-up Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Flight marks Reilly’s first movie to film in the United States and her first opportunity to portray an American. Reilly worked with a dialect coach to perfect her Georgia accent, but it was the film’s universal themes of recovery and redemption that really had an impact on her.
To assist Reilly in preparing her character, the filmmakers asked Mitchell Riley, a local Atlanta street artist and former addict himself, to instruct Reilly on the techniques and physical sensations of injecting heroin. He also familiarized her with paraphernalia such as syringes and spoons. Riley was on set to monitor the action during filming.
“The real gift he gave me,” Reilly says, “is that he talked with me about his addiction and journey into recovery. And that psychology is what was interesting for me to apply into my character, how one can pull themselves out of that emotional prison.”
You might want to save dinner for after the movie: The film includes an incredibly realistic airplane crash that will have a major impact on your stomach! In case you’re wondering how I can judge, see this previous VIV Says post.
Do you plan to watch Flight — realistic crash and all?
Photo credit: Robert Zuckerman