John Goodman appears in just a few scenes in the made-in-Atlanta movie “Flight, ” in theaters Friday, but his is the quintessential small but powerful role.
“It was nice just to see how much I could get away with, ” the jocular Goodman said during a recent interview.
The movie, which earns its R rating almost immediately after the lights dim, concerns pilot Whip Whitaker, played by Denzel Washington, who manages a heroic landing after his plane starts plummeting to earth. Following the miraculous feat, though, questions about his physical state at the time of the flight emerge, and the instant celebrity finds himself under investigation.
After the harrowing scenes of the distressed flight, followed by those showing Whitaker in the grip of alcoholism, Goodman’s lighthearted turn as the good-time Harling Mays provides desperately needed levity. It’s telling that two of Goodman’s scenes are excerpted in the movie’s 2-minute, 32-second trailer.
“He’s a one-stop shop, ” Goodman said of his character, a pharmaceutical salesman of sorts. Getting ready for the role required a lengthy visit to the hairdresser.
“Oh (expletive), ” Goodman hooted at the memory. “As I remember, we were in what was then the Mansion hotel (now the Mandarin Oriental) downstairs in the spa for about eight hours putting hair extensions in. I had to keep the damn things in for two months!”
“Flight” is Goodman’s second made-in-Atlanta movie. He played a baseball executive in the Clint Eastwood film “Trouble With the Curve, ” which was released Sept. 21, and started our interview by saluting the so-far-undefeated Atlanta Falcons.
“It’s a beautiful city, ” he said. “I had a great old time.”
Screenwriter John Gatins said he initially set “Flight” in Oklahoma but switched locations because metro Atlanta had both the urban and rural settings his script called for (plus the world’s busiest airport), not to mention the state’s tax credits for filming projects.
“Georgia is so film-friendly right now, ” he said. “I loved Atlanta for so many reasons. You have this great skyline and this really great city, but you can drive in any direction and be in a rural setting.”
Gatins worked on the “Flight” script for a decade. Informed by his former fear of flying with his own battle for sobriety, he created the most horrifying scenario imaginable: a drunken pilot at the controls of a doomed jet.
“I got sober when I was 25, ” Gatins said. “When I started this movie, I was 30 or 31. I started flying a lot for work. It was kind of on my mind. I was like, oh what if?”
He loved the chemistry between Goodman and Washington, also known for their on-screen partnership in the 1998 supernatural thriller “Fallen.”
In two of Goodman’s scenes, his character is doing something we were just sure was a wink to acknowledge the earlier collaboration. (We won’t give it away; both Goodman and Gatins said it was coincidence anyway.)
Gatins said his life pre-sobriety may have informed Goodman’s character, too.
“He’s a parrot head looking for an island, ” he said. “The reason I love that character so much is we all have a Harling Mays. I may have been a Harling Mays for some people.”
Like Goodman, he enjoyed his time here and hopes to return.
“The people in Georgia were so nice, so inviting, ” he said. “You guys have the greatest culinary scene in the world right now. I’m going to be back.”