IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bruce Greenwood Talks 'Flight' Blu-ray and DVD, 'Star Trek Into Darkness' and J.J. Abrams directing 'Star Wars: Episode VII'

Monday, 04 February 2013 16:05 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Bruce Greenwood Talks 'Flight' Blu-ray and DVD, 'Star Trek Into Darkness' and J.J. Abrams directing 'Star Wars: Episode VII'

Actor Bruce Greenwood has achieved a long and esteemed career in television and film that has now lasted over thirty years!

He first gained attention for his role on the groundbreaking medical series St. Elsewhere, and would go on to appear in such movies as First Blood, Passenger 57, and Double Jeopardy, before his career-making role as President John F. Kennedy in the excellent yet underrated film Thirteen Days. He would later play the President of the United States once again in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and have pivotal roles in a series of successful films including I, Robot, Capote, I’m Not There, Dinner for Schmucks, and Super 8, not to mention the well received but short-lived HBO series John from Cincinnati. But it was his role as original Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in director J.J. AbramsStar Trek that made him a household name to Trekkies around the world.

Most recently, Greenwood returned to the big screen opposite his former St. Elsewhere co-star, two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington (Glory, Training Day), in Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis’s (Forrest Gump) critically acclaimed film Flight, which will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning February 5th. The movie was not only a commercial success, but has gone on to earn two Academy Award-nominations including Best Actor for Washington, and Best Original Screenplay for writer John Gatins. In the film, Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot that successfully saves a flight from crashing. However, the ensuing investigation into the plane’s malfunctions reveals that Whitaker is an alcoholic and a drug addict. Greenwood plays a former pilot and old friend of Whip’s, who now works for the airline and tries to protect him from prosecution. In addition to Washington and Greenwood, the film also boasts an excellent cast of veteran actors that includes recent Golden Globe-winner Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2), John Goodman (The Artist), and Oscar-winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter). 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Bruce Greenwood about Flight, as well as the upcoming Star Trek sequel - Star Trek Into Darkness, and his thoughts on director J.J. Abrams leaving the franchise to direct Star Wars: Episode VII. The acclaimed veteran actor discussed Flight, working with director Robert Zemeckis, what it’s like on the set of one of his movies, reuniting with old friend Denzel Washington, how their personal relationship helped inform their characters, why working with a cast of veteran actors helped elevate his performance, playing a former pilot, his pleasure at seeing the movie’s critical and commercial success, Star Trek Into Darkness, what it was like returning to the franchise with Abrams and the rest of the cast, how Pike and Kirk’s relationship has changed since the last film, his thoughts on J.J. Abrams leaving the series to direct Star Wars: Episode VII, and whether or not he would like to play a Jedi Master in the highly anticipated new film.

Here is what the talented actor had to say: 

IAR: To begin with, you’ve worked with many great directors throughout your career but what was your experience like collaborating with Robert Zemeckis on Flight?

Bruce Greenwood: He’s a really calm guy and a very balanced guy. He’s had this tremendously tight script from John Gatins and a raft of really great actors. So he let us play and he was really open with his own experiences, which helped to inform what we were talking about. He’s been a pilot for a longtime himself, so he just let us play. Then he came in and tweaked us here and there. He would ask for a slightly different direction of different color. He was completely involved and always helping. 

As as an actor, what is it like being on a Robert Zemeckis set? Does he give you a lot of rehearsal time or do you have to be prepared to shoot your scene upon arrival?

Greenwood: No, I was doing a lot of back and forth so there wasn’t a lot of rehearsal time. But when the script is really that strong and people are that invested in the characters, you don’t need a lot of rehearsal time. You know, you can get lucky and do without too much rehearsal. 

When you are working with an experienced cast of actors like Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, and Melissa Leo, does that elevate your performance as an actor, as apposed to working with a young cast like you did on the first Star Trek movie?

Greenwood: Well, I would say yes except for the young cast of the first Star Trek where they were all very impeccable actors in spite of their youth. I think this is one of those things where the script is a different animal. It is extremely layered and everybody was really up to informing those layers. So it was really fun to be at work and watch Denzel and Don do their thing. Occasionally I had to say to myself, don’t watch! But mostly it is so organic that you can’t help but just be in it. 

You first worked with Denzel Washington on St. Elsewhere, which was at the beginning of both of your careers, and then more recently in the late Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu. So what was it like reuniting with Denzel on Flight?

Greenwood: Well it’s interesting because we are playing a couple of guys who have known each other for twenty-five years and come together after a long hiatus. You know, I haven’t seen Denzel since we worked together on Déjà Vu so it had been five years since we had spoken. Then I came into the hotel room to do that scene and we barely spoke before doing it, so in a way it was mirroring our real life experience. 

Was that aspect of the relationship between Whip and Charlie written that way in the script, or was that something that you and Denzel brought to the roles?

Greenwood: Oh no, that was part of it. That is what deepens the dilemma, right? Because he’s got this old friend, that at one time was a really good friend, and he has this challenge of trying to bring his old friend back to sobriety. But at the same time, if bringing him back to sobriety involves telling the truth, well then you have to be careful about that because the airline and all the people that depend on it are going to be out of the street. So there is that conundrum and dilemma, and it depends on who you are. The choice that Charlie makes to encourage Whip to lie in order to save these other jobs is either forgivable or not. That’s what makes the conflict interesting. On a certain level Charlie loves Whip. He wants him to get better and he feels for him. Who knows if Charlie didn’t have his own problems at one point?

While your character doesn’t actually fly in the film, he is a former pilot. Did you do any research into airline pilots or talk to any actual pilots to prepare for your role?

Greenwood: I’ve played a handful of pilots actually quite recently and I flew a lot as a kid with my grandfather, so I got a little bit of experience. But for me it was less about the nuts and bolts of actually being a pilot, for this character, and just kind of having a friend who is in dire straights. What do you do to do right by him? And if you do right by him, are you throwing other people under the bus?

Obviously no one sets out to make a bad movie, and everybody hopes that the film they work on will be a success, but you must be extremely pleased with how well the film was received by critics and audiences alike, correct?

Greenwood: Yeah, I really was. Its one of those things where you don’t dare expect it just because you think it is so good. You’re afraid you’re going to jinx it if you say; well I think we have something really special here on the page, and it can’t help but be noticed. Of course, a lot of wonderful movies barely get on the radar. So I am very grateful that people responded to it. 

Before I run out of time with you I have to ask about Star Trek Into Darkness. I know you can’t tell me much about the film, but what was it like for you to reunite with J.J. Abrams and the rest of the cast on this highly awaited sequel?

Greenwood: Well, you know you’re hoping that the reunion is going to be like it was last time and fun. But you don’t want to beg to repeat that experience because it could be a one-off experience. So you hope this will be okay and good, but it was fantastic! It was great being back in that camp with all those guys. You know, we all stayed friends over the years so it wasn’t like we hadn’t seen each other in four years, we’d seen a bit of each other. But everyone’s careers have really taken off and a lot has happened in that interim. So it’s exciting for everybody.

Again, I’m sure you can’t say much, but from the recent trailer it looks like you definitely have a scene in the movie with Chris Pine. What can fans expect from the relationship between Christopher Pike and James T. Kirk in the upcoming sequel, and how has it changed since the last installment?

Greenwood: I can’t tell you that. I wish I could. I can tell you that the relationship is there, but I can’t tell you what to expect. 

I figured as much, but I had to try. Well let me ask you this, what is your opinion of the recent announcement that Abrams will be leaving directing duties on the Star Trek franchise to helm Star Wars: Episode VII?

Greenwood: I think it is a massive challenge and I have no doubt in my mind that he is up to it. I’m really looking forward to it. I think that it is bold. It’s where NO MAN has gone before! 

Finally, would you have any interest in going along with Abrams and appearing in the new Star Wars movie? I think you would make a great Jedi Master!

Greenwood: I’m looking forward to him just bringing the entire cast over. Do you think anyone would object to that? I think we’d just have to change a few of the suits and then we’d be good to go, the costumes would already be done!

Flight will be available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning February 5th. 

To read our coverage of the Flight press conference, please click here.

Star Trek Into Darkness is scheduled for release on May 17th.

To watch our exclusive interview with actor Peter Weller about Star Trek Into Darkness and J.J. Abrams directing Star Wars: Episode VII, please click here.

Star Wars: Episode VII is scheduled for release in 2015.

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