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Honor Roll 2012: 'Flight' Director Robert Zemeckis Embraces the Restlessness, Flaws and Limitations of His Work

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire December 14, 2012 at 10:39AM

Following the computer-animated folly "Mars Needs Moms," the biggest flop in his remarkably accomplished career, Oscar-winner Robert Zemeckis is back on top a mere one year later with one of his most acclaimed films to date, "Flight."
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Robert Zemeckis on the set of "Flight"
Paramount Robert Zemeckis on the set of "Flight"

Going back to what you said earlier about character -- all of your films are credited for their visual panache, but you have a remarkable gift for generating great performances from your cast. How has your approach with actors evolved over the course of your career?

I don't know it's evolved, I think it's pretty much been the same. I don't try to coax a performance out of an actor in any way. If it's even necessary, I just try to explain what that character might be feeling in any given scene. And then it's their responsibility to find however it is they go about finding that.

So it's really in the casting. When I interviewed Denzel's co-star in the film, Kelly Reilly, she told me you really had to fight to cast her in the film.

Look, the studio always wants to top-load the movie as much as they can. I don't even know what actress brings whatever box office cache to movies these days -- so you always have to go through that dance. But once they saw Kelly's audition tape, she was pretty much the person. It's never easy, though.

Let's talk about this journey you've been on with this film. You've done countless press junkets over the years, but you've never been on the festival circuit quite the way you have with "Flight."

Yeah, I've never done the New York Film Festival before. "Polar Express" was at the Chicago Film Festival. I think it's generally because the films that I've been making over the years are released at a different time. When you release a movie on the first of November, then you are kind of in that place, so you might as well take advantage of everything you can.

"Flight"
Paramount "Flight"

Releasing it in the fall, on top of the festival hoopla, it also positions itself for the awards race. What's that side of the circuit been like for you?

We'll have to see what happens. It's always a great honor to get recognized by your peers. If that were to happen, I don't think there's anything much you do differently. My own opinion is, the best chance for a film to get recognized by awards committees is for the film to be successful.

Which "Flight" is. What do you make of its surprise success?

It's remarkable. It makes me feel like, okay, mission accomplished! But it also makes me a bit sad to think that a movie that's R-rated… when we talk about movies by their ratings, it always seem to suggest that they're exploitive. This was just an adult drama that was made the way it should be made. It makes me a bit sad to think that an adult drama is expected to do no business. It's a sad state of the industry.

You're proving against-the-grain.

Well, if it continues to do business it will be a fluke. I do think there's a hungry audience out there for movies that are about something.

And does the success of "Flight" make you want to do more films of its nature?

"I'm not one of those guys who needs to be constantly working."

You know, I try not to react to what I just did. No film has ever made me want to make another kind of film. Although maybe you can't help but react to the movie you just made.

That's the one thing that can be said of your career: you never repeat yourself.

Yeah, that's just my restlessness -- it's not by design. I guess if someone sent me a script about an alcoholic airline pilot, I wouldn't do it. Unless it was, like, so good.

I want to talk about you and 3D. Do you have any interest in tackling the medium for a live-action feature? I can't think of a more suited candidate.

3D is a magnificent format if it comes from the story. So the short answer is absolutely. Now that you don't even need two cameras anymore, the answer is "sure." But it has to come from the story. It can't be 3D just for the sake of being 3D; that's why it gets a bad rap.

So what is next for you?

I have no idea! No idea. But that just goes along with the question that you asked earlier. Even though it's not conventional Hollywood wisdom to do it -- I've never had my next film set before a film comes out. I kind of like to finish it completely and take a breath. I'm not one of those guys who needs to be constantly working. I work a lot, but not constantly.

This article is related to: Honor Roll 2012, Interviews, Robert Zemeckis, Flight







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