Denzel Washington takes a budget flight

Watch Denzel Washington tell the BBC: "It looks like a $100 million movie"

In Hollywood, it costs around $100m (£63m) to make a blockbuster movie, so $31m (£19.6m) for Denzel Washington's latest film, Flight, might seem like a bargain.

The film's centrepiece is a 50-tonne plane crash, which allowed director Robert Zemeckis to flex his technical expertise in creating the all-too realistic terror of an aircraft carrying 96 passengers falling from the sky.

But despite a tense 20-minute opening which seems to brace the audience for an action-filled thriller, Flight is a character-driven drama, which dives into the depths of addiction and depression.

"When I saw it, I was like, 'Wow! It looks like a hundred million dollar movie'," says Washington, who has been nominated for an Oscar for his role as whisky-swigging pilot, Whip Whitaker.

"I'm just doing the acting. There's no hundred million-dollar acting as opposed to twenty million-dollar. Acting is acting."

Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly in Flight. Copyright Paramount Pictures. British actress Kelly Reilly stars alongside Washington in her first major American film

Zemeckis is no stranger to big budgets, either. His films - which include Forrest Gump, Cast Away, The Polar Express and the Back To The Future trilogy - have grossed more than $4bn (£2.5bn) in the box office.

"I have a lot of experience making movies and I was able to put together a crew of people who I've worked with over the decade," he says.

But for a director whose last film - A Christmas Carol - reportedly cost $200m (£127m) to make, Zemeckis is surprisingly scathing about big-budget movies.

"I think the real problem with making these expensive films is that you can't make movies that are compelling, interesting or edgy. I think what suffers is the storytelling."

Flight was written by John Gatins who spent 12 years developing the story. His commitment has been rewarded with an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.

An addict at 25-years-old, Gatins brought his personal story to script. "It was a tricky movie both creatively and financially - it was never a sure thing until the day Bob (Zemeckis) called me to say, 'we're really doing it'."

Gatins says he was surprised when his story of addiction was picked up by the studio and Washington.

"It's a movie with addiction at its core - you can point to 10 addiction movies that have made 50 cents at the box office.

"Paramount taking the leap was incredible - they had been tough in setting financial parameters on the production, so it took Bob and Denzel taking cuts to make the movie go - it was a leap of faith on everyone's part."

For Zemeckis, his main focus was to "get these characters right".

Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on the set of Flight. Copyright Paramount Pictures. Robert Zemeckis says Washington's performance is worthy of an Oscar

"When you don't have a lot of money, you don't have a lot of days and that was a concern. But I had a tremendous cast that just stepped it up and got it done."

British actress Kelly Reilly stars alongside Washington as heroin addict Nicole Maggen in her first major American film role.

While she is known for her performance as Jude Law's wife, Mary Watson, in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Reilly is nevertheless used to shooting small-budget movies.

"When I was on the set of Sherlock Holmes, it felt much bigger. You talk to Paramount people and they say, 'we did this on a shoestring'.

"I'm used to doing films like Eden Lake, which were really made on a shoestring, like half a million pounds."

For his part, Washington - an actor with enough clout in Hollywood to pick and choose his roles at will - worked with Zemeckis and Gatins on the script over a two-month period, "tweaking this and tweaking that".

"In that process you find out more about the character and you also find out what the writer thinks about it."

Gatins was on the set in Atlanta for all 48 days of filming and collaborated with Zemeckis as the film was shot.

"I'm a writer myself," says Zemeckis. "So I'm really respectful of the written word.

"I always need to have a creative soulmate with me on any movie and the writer is always the perfect person for that."

Denzel Washington with his Oscars in 2002 Washington has won two Oscars and is nominated for his role in Flight
Oscar regular

Washington's recent Oscar nomination is his sixth and he has won twice, for best supporting actor for the Civil War drama Glory in 1989, and for best actor for 2002's Training Day.

Zemeckis reckons his latest performance is worthy of the accolade.

"As the director I just love watching all the little nuances and all the fine, fine work that he does."

Washington's co-star Reilly agrees: "Just to see someone of that stature lose himself and not care. To play the part as well as he did - I admire that tremendously."

But Washington, who is in the running against another multiple Academy Award-winner Daniel Day Lewis for his role in Lincoln, isn't ready to place any bets: "We're all in the same club and we've been recognised for our performance which is wonderful and we'll see what happens."

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