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Denzel Washington in ‘Flight’

Eye on the Oscars: The Actor - Lead Actor Contender

When a Denzel Washington performance elicits raves, it’s about as surprising as a sold-out Lakers game.

The two-time Oscar winner is in that elite corps of thespians who repeatedly deliver the goods, and then some.

But there was something about his performance as a deeply troubled airline pilot in “Flight” that caused even veteran producer Walter Parkes to look on in astonishment.

“I think this is the first time I can remember when I saw Denzel embrace and portray fear,” says Parkes of the Robert Zemeckis-directed drama. “Denzel’s superpowers as an actor have to do with a certain kind of strength and moral authority. Yet I can’t remember when I’ve seen him play a character who is so utterly overwhelmed by the circumstances he’s faced with.

“He’s so high-functioning and, yet as things unravel, you see a very real man who is just afraid of what this all means. The depiction of that vulnerability is not necessarily new in Denzel’s work, but I don’t think we’ve seen it so vividly portrayed before.”

Although the film had been in development for a number of years and had gone through several rewrites, Parkes says Washington managed to keep his initial response to the character of Whip Whitaker fresh and alive.

“There was this one well-thumbed copy of a draft from 2008 that Denzel always had,” Parkes says. “It was like a road map that allowed him to stay in touch with his first spontaneous reaction to the material.”

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