Paramount "Flight"

Zemeckis is renown for being such a visual filmmaker, especially given his recent foray into animation -- but he's always mined incredible performances from his actors. What's his approach to directing his cast?

I think everyone in the cast really respects him. He doesn't shout, he's not a bully, he's not a taskmaster. He's much more thoughtful; he's very caring, very smart, and the material meant so much to him. He was living, breathing, eating this film. I remember him telling me he didn't read a newspaper or watch TV or do anything when he was filming; he just didn't want his focus to be swayed at all. So when he's bringing that level of commitment to something -- which is only a film -- it's like, well, then I'm not going to bring anything less to the table for your vision. Ultimately, you're just trying to tell a good story. This subject matter is very close to him, very close to the writer, John [Gatins]; there's not one person, whether you know someone or you have experienced it: addiction touches everybody. And how people can try and endeavor to get out of it. I just think we all felt very passionate about it.

This marks his first live-action feature in 10 years. Did he have a certain kick in his step on set or was he visibly timid or nervous?

Quietly confident. Not quietly confident in that he's making an incredibly amazing film, but confident in his own skin. Confident that he's going to tell the story that he wants to tell, and if people like: Who knows? And he would shrug, and smile. It wasn't fear-based. He was genuinely excited about the material.

Actually, when I was in LA doing the press junket, I did a few interviews with him, and he would speak about how people have been saying to him, "You've been out of live-action filmmaking for ten years, what's it like being back?" And he was like, "I never went away! For me, it's a film. A film is a film. I'm still making movies." He was like, "I don't understand why people think I've been away." I thought that was interesting. He's a very special man, I mean -- "Forrest Gump"? I know it's a universal, family-friendly movie, but he treats every character with such compassion and humor. He's not afraid of the darkness of the humor, but he always infuses it with warmth.

"I'm not interested in the addict, I'm interested in the human being who's just so lost."

Were you scared to take on Nicole? She goes to some pretty dark places -- granted, she's on the road to recovery throughout.

I wasn't scared because of the dark places, I was more scared that I wouldn't be able to get it right. I think that every actor just wants to honor a character, and be true to it -- and to not fuck up, really. The pressure, for me, was also who I was working with; suddenly, the audience was going to be a bit bigger, for me, and I really wanted to just stick to what I felt and how I visioned this character. I also felt a slight responsibility playing a herion addict, since it's a role that's filled with such stereotypes. I'm not interested in the addict, I'm interested in the human being who's just so lost. There must be some fire in her, some real life, some humanity; what's happened to her that she's ended up in this place and where can she find her way out? That's the only thing that I could keep going back to, that the herion and the addiction was a symptom of pain. That was a simple truth for me, and I tried to stick with that.

Was she tough to brush off after shooting?

I was so relieved. It's heavy. It was wonderful to play, but by the end of the shooting, that level of brokenness -- especially when she is into the drugs, and that fear of death, and the heartbreak of her mother... You don't want to stay in that headspace for too long. For anyone, it's not good. My personal life, my normal life, is so important to me. To be able to go back to my personal life and leave characters behind is important; I don't keep them with me.

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"
"Flight" surprised many by opening to over $20 million at the domestic box-office, despite being an R-rated character study. Have the offers been flooding in since that first successful week?

Oh yeah -- can't walk out my front door! No, not at all. That stuff takes time to build up. I can certainly say on a personal level it's so nice to be proud of something that's so successful. It's not that I wasn't proud to be a part of the "Sherlock Holmes" movies, but they didn't necessarily take up as much space in my heart as maybe this would. I'm proud for people to see it, it's my first movie in America, and now this is my home.

Given that you don't appear in the most talked about scene in the film -- the plane crash -- what was your own reaction upon experiencing it?

I saw it the way you saw it; I had no idea. My shooting was before and after they did that, it was sort of in the middle. I had no idea it was going to be that terrifying. But that's great drama, isn't it? Even when we know the ending, we're still watching, hoping it'll be alright. Bob does it so simply, almost, I don't know how he does it. But "Castaway" was his last live-action movie and there was a plane crash in that, as well. Don't get in a plane with Zemeckis.