Clint Eastwood has directed more than 30 features, but “Sully” represents Eastwood’s first experience recreating a historical event. During a panel conversation Wednesday at New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, which overlooks the Hudson River where Capt. Chelsey Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549, Eastwood and stars Tom Hanks (Sullenberger) and Aaron Eckhart (co-pilot Jeff Skiles) joined the real Sullenberger for a conversation about the process of making the movie, which hits theaters today.
Staying true to the incident and its aftermath was a top priority for the cast and crew, and Eastwood shot in the same spot in the Hudson where the plane landed, and cast some of the real first responders who rescued passengers. The actual water landing, however, demanded F/X.
“We had to make some mighty good visual effects to make it look convincing,” Eastwood said. Though Eastwood was drawn to Todd Komarnicki’s script (based on Sullenberger’s book, “Highest Duty”) he also had a personal connection to the story, having survived an airplane water landing himself decades ago. “That certainly helped as far as the relationship to the passengers was concerned,” he said.
Sullenberger also helped the production by teaching Hanks how pilots work together in the cockpit and giving extensive notes on the script, which Hanks said had many inaccuracies before Sullenberger corrected them. “Much of it was about procedure and nomenclature and the process,” Hanks said, adding that the time he spent with Sullenberger was invaluable for learning how to operate like a real pilot. “Sully has impacted enough information on me that it becomes part of the [natural] instinct.”
Eckhart also said having Skiles share his expertise was a unique advantage for the role, but added there was an added pressure to playing a real person. “They’re going to be defined by this picture for the rest of their lives, so you take it very seriously,” he said. In addition to having his own pilot’s license, Eckhart has a strong physical resemblance to the real Skiles, according to Eastwood. “When I met the real [Jeff] Skiles, I thought, Jesus, this is really good casting,” Eastwood said.
Sullenberger said he was proud to be involved with such a thoughtful representation of his real-life experiences. “Everyone involved worked so hard to make this real,” he said. “It not only looks real and sounds real, but it feels real.” When an attendee remarked that Hanks looked especially calm as a pilot performing an unprecedented emergency landing, Sullenberger said he respectfully disagreed.
“I thought Tom made me look panicked,” he said.