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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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Interview: John Goodman discusses made-in-Atlanta “Flight”

John Goodman's character in "Flight" offers some much-needed levity.

John Goodman's character in "Flight" offers some much-needed levity.

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.”

6 comments Add your comment

Dirk D

November 1st, 2012
3:59 pm

The scene where the plane clip the church steeple was filmed in my hometown of Covington, Ga, they built the church from scratch on a farm in eastern Newton County just off of Hwy 278.

BP

November 1st, 2012
9:50 pm

Nice comments from Goodman, especially since he is from the New Orleans area.

GaPeachy

November 2nd, 2012
9:49 am

Very cool! Love to hear the nice compliments since all the transplants are down her complaining. I can’t wait to see this movie, Denzel never gives a dull performance.

Steve

November 3rd, 2012
1:47 am

Just saw the movie. Powerful. Compelling and uncomfortable in every way. The article was correct, John Goodman’s ‘good doctor’ interloping gave the movie some much needed levity. I want to recommend for everyone to go see the movie – Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle are outstanding and there was a woman, a down and out addict, I don’t know her name, she was great too. However, the first scene does in fact earn the R rating with about five minutes of very attractive full frontal. Denzel’s character was channeling his inner Charlie Sheen. Once you get past it though, the movie is more a dramatic introspection and legal maneuvering drama. Denzel’s 50 year old backside makes a cameo too. I will probably go see it again. Atlanta is my home now and I was glad to see it in the backdrop of a big budget pic. What an awesome city. I highly recommend Flight. There may be an oscar recommendation or two coming from this one.

Jennifer Brett

November 3rd, 2012
7:18 am

Steve: I agree with your thoughtful comments. The actress who played the drug addict was Kelly Reilly.

Jennifer

Mechelle Huber

November 5th, 2012
4:02 pm

John Goodman is from St. Louis. He only lives in New Orleans (Basically St. Louis only with hurricanes and beaches with in driving distance) Saw FLIGHT and loved it, Goodman himself went sober in 2007 after nearly 30 years of alcoholism (preDan Conner days)