‘Sully’ Q&A: Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood & the real Capt. Sullenberger on telling the true story

“It was a very emotional experience for all of us,” admits airline pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger as he recalls the experience of watching the film “Sully” for the first time with his family. “It took us a while to think about it, to put into words how it made us feel. It certainly took us back to those days. It was a very personal story that we lived that was now writ large in IMAX.”

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Sullenberger joined director Clint Eastwood and actors Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart in New York City on Sept. 7 at a special lunch celebrating “Sully” at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. The Intrepid overlooks the Hudson River where Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles had to execute an emergency water landing of a US Airways flight after catastrophic engine failure on January 15, 2009. All 155 passengers and crew members on-board survived.

There was plenty of drama after the landing as well. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the incident for months, which is the subject of “Sully” just as much as the landing itself. “It’s not that these people are evil — they have a job to do, to follow the truth wherever it leads. And I can tell you from being an investigator, that’s exactly what they should be doing,” said Sullenberger about the NTSB investigators. “Having said that, though, it doesn’t make it any easier to be on the other side of the table and have them scrutinize everything about my life and every choice I made.”

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The NTSB was driven to get it right, and so were the filmmakers, who paid great attention to the details of piloting the aircraft. “Inside all of that procedure and nomenclature and process are years of experience,” explains Hanks. “That’s the kind of stuff you get from him and you incorporate that into the movie and it becomes palpable because process is story, and particularly in the story of Flight 1549 and what Sully and Jeff did.”

For Eastwood, the film is not just a tribute to Sully but to all the professionals who work to ensure the survival of all passengers, from air traffic controllers to rescue workers. “The New Yorkers who came and visited the set said that they had great nostalgia because that event came at a time when New Yorkers were in more of a depressed state,” Eastwood reveals. That’s why he made the film as “a gift to New York, because it was an important moment psychologically for the city.”

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