When it was announced that Tom Hanks would portray “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in Clint Eastwood‘s film Sully, it seemed like perfect casting. Who better to portray an American hero than one of the most likeable actors ever to appear on camera? In the press notes for Sully, Hanks talks about the intimidating aspects of the role and how he prepared to play the much-heralded pilot.
Though Hanks originally intended to take some time off, when the opportunity to play an actual American hero came up, Hanks couldn’t say no. He says, “Sometimes you read something that is so stirring and at the same time so simple, such a perfect blend of behavior and procedure. Now, I’m as competitive as the next actor, so I knew I wanted at least a shot at it, even though I’d been working pretty steadily for about six years. Sure I was beat but, not unlike a solid jolt of adrenaline, this role, Sully, Mr. Clint Eastwood…they all came along. I felt like I couldn’t pass up a chance at playing in this great double-header at the end of this long baseball season.”
Though some of Hanks’ most memorable roles involved him playing real-life individuals, he still finds it daunting to portray an actual person on screen. He explains, “You’re always intimidated. You say to yourself, ‘I’ll never sound like him, I’ll never look like him. Hopefully I can embody some aspect, capture some part of his personality, his characteristics, his gravitas, his charm,’ whomever the person may be. And then you go to work.” For example, Hanks says one of the challenges was “to embody Sully’s level of experience and expertise in the cockpit.”
Hanks reveals that Sully told him that the super-realistic simulations would prepare Hanks for playing him. Hanks says, “He kept saying, ‘You’ll see what it’s like to fly when you get in the simulator,’ and I’ll tell you, it was the most lifelike experience. It feels exactly as though you are in a plane, it requires no imagination because the physics of it—the tilting, the motion—it’s amazing.”
One major advantage that production had was access to the records of what happened in the cockpit because of all the investigations. Hanks explains that it was incredibly helpful because he and co-star Aaron Eckhart (who plays First Officer Jeff Skiles) wanted to ensure that they captured the professionalism in the cockpit. He says, “Luckily, we had the flight plan, we knew what we were supposed to do and pushed the buttons when we were supposed to, which we worked on a lot. It was a fun way to spend a day, but you also got this experiential aspect of being in a real no-nonsense atmosphere, as well as how truly short a period of time this all happened in and how many decisions and feelings that had to have gone into it for Sully and Skiles. In the end, Aaron and I were both eager to make sure we looked like we knew what we were doing in order to do right by them.”
Though Hanks enjoyed the cockpit scenes, he also enjoyed the scenes in which Sully is being grilled by the National Transportation Safety Board representatives. He explains, “I thought they were some of the most fascinating moments for the character and the movie. They were the most delicious things for me to play because the stakes are huge throughout that process.”