And the two-time Oscar winner embraced the role in every way, costar Aaron Eckhart, who plays copilot Jeffrey Skiles, says in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE.
“He really embodied him, and obviously spent a lot of time with Sully, and just physically with his hair, and the mustache,” Eckhart says. “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.”
Sully himself regularly visited the set of the Clint Eastwood-directed film, which depicts the miraculous landing and the subsequent investigation that threatened to destroy the pilot’s reputation and career. An Airbus A320 was disassembled and transported to a pool on the Warner Bros. set.
“I’ve been making movies for a long time, but whenever you see a complete plane in a pool right there – it blew us away, everybody was very impressed with that,” Eckhart says.
When they filmed on the Hudson in New York City, the scene was very evocative of the day of the landing.
“We had all of the actual boats that were used in the rescue on the Hudson, a lot of the same people who were all there,” he says. “It was quite moving to hear them tell their tale and to get the feel of what it was like. It was very cold, and everybody said it was very quiet.”
Hanks and Eckhart even practiced on a simulator of the Airbus A320 to capture the emotions and pressure of the fateful flight.
“For simulation we had the exact flight pattern mapped out on the simulator as they flew on that particular flight, and that was interesting because you get up in the air, you’re 3,000 feet or whatever it is, and you have three minutes to figure out what will happen and then to troubleshoot it and then to land the plane and make the decision to land on the Hudson, that’s not a lot of time,” Eckhart says.
“Then we had the transcripts and the radio conversation between Sully and the tower, to hear how calm he was and how precise. It was great filming those scenes and everybody getting out on the wing and seeing Tom take charge. It was a blast.”
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Eckhart, who is in the process of getting his pilot’s license in real life, says he has more confidence in air travel than he has ever had before but isn’t ready to take to the skies alone.
“I actually haven’t flown by myself,” he says. “I’m sort of a perpetual student – I always have my instructor with me. I think letting go of your instructor is going to be scary for me.”
Sully is in theaters Sept. 9.