U.S. Airways pilot Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger became an overnight hero in 2009 when he safely landed an engine-failing Flight 1549 in New York City’s Hudson River – saving all 155 people onboard.
On Tuesday night, the 65-year-old once again stepped back into the spotlight – hitting the red carpet for the New York premiere of the Clint Eastwood-directed film about his odyssey and its aftermath, Sully.
The film, based on Sullenberger’s autobiography Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters, stars Tom Hanks in the title role.
Hanks, 60, and Sullenberger posed side-by-side in sleek suits at the premiere at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall – just 8 miles from Queens’ LaGuardia Airport, where the pilot flew Flight 1549 that fateful day.
According to Hanks, it was important to him that the film convey the pilot’s deep integrity and “[protect], I think mostly, his reputation being at stake.”
“This man did his job perfectly for 4 million passengers or something like that. He says in the movie, his entire career is gonna be judged on 208 seconds, as opposed to the thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of hours he did his job perfectly,” Hanks told reporters at the premiere.
Eastwood, meanwhile, said that signing on to the movie wasn’t a difficult decision to make. “Not only is it a great story in the way Sullenberger handled it but the impact it had on New York in a bad time, and the spirit it gave back to the city. Even though it was a tragic loss of a plane, there was no loss of life,” he explained.
Both of the flight’s engines failed following takeoff after a flock of birds flew into the plane. The film explores an internal investigation about whether Sullenberger needed to make the miraculous emergency water landing – dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson” – or whether he could have returned the aircraft to its takeoff airport.
“He really embodied him,” the 48-year-old actor explained. “He obviously spent a lot of time with Sully, and just physically with his hair, and the mustache.”
“He started holding himself straight like Sully did, and his economy of speech, and all of that sort of stuff that really nailed the precision of Captain Sullenberger. It was really impressive,” Eckhart continued.
Sully himself regularly visited the set, where an Airbus A320 was disassembled and transported to a pool on the Los Angeles Warner Bros. lot.
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Scenes were also shot on New York’s Hudson River using many of the actual rescue boats and people who were there that day.
As for Sullenberger himself, his signature mustache may be gone but he was all smiles at the premiere – which he attended with wife Lorrie Sullenberger. She’s played by Laura Linney in the film,
Hanks was there, meanwhile, with wife Rita Wilson, who Instagrammed a snap of her with her husband, Sully and Eastwood.
“It’s like I got jammed in between the Mt. Rushmore of cool, contemporary men!” she captioned the photo.
Sully is in theaters Sept. 9.
• With reporting by MAGGIE PARKER