The 60-year-old spoke ahead of his latest movie, Sully, where he stars as Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the pilot who heroically landed his ailing passenger plane on the Hudson River.
Read David Gritten's review of Sully
What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done for a film?
Well, having the white moustache for Sully was up there. Did you know that your moustache hairs have a different structure than other hair? So they can paint and bleach what’s on your head with no problem, but for the moustache, they have to pull your individual hairs and paint against the grain. It hurt!
Talking of Sully, what sort of airline passenger are you?
I couldn’t be easier, man. I get on the plane, take my shoes off, get a bottle of water, then keep myself entertained and don’t bother anybody. Sometimes I sleep the whole way. I am a dream!
Captain Sullenberger has become a hero to many. Who were your heroes as a child?
Any grown-up. Look, I was born in 1956, and almost all the adults I knew had been through something profound in their lives — the American Depression, World War Two, facing all the changes in society we had during the Fifties. I knew that I wasn’t going through anything even remotely like that, and I admired that generation immensely. I still do.
Are your four grown-up children impressed by your career?
Nah, they think I’m a knucklehead! Really, I might as well be the plumber for all they care. OK, they’ve enjoyed some of the tertiary pleasures that go along with my work – we’ve had magical summers together when I was filming on location in somewhere fabulous or exotic. But they don’t linger on my actual job. I’m just Dad! They’re terrific young people, and they’re all hilarious. The big sport when we’re all together is who can rag on each other the most. How far anyone can push another up to the edge of breaking point, you know? And when it’s me involved, they always win!
You’ve been married to your wife Rita for 28 years. What’s your secret for making a marriage work?
You know, I don’t understand this concept of ‘work, work, work,’ in a marriage, man. OK, Rita and I make sure we spend a lot of time together, and we make sure that we are honest with each other. But if you have really got to work to make something happen, it sounds to me like you’re in a leaky boat. And all I can say about Rita and me is that we are not in a leaky boat. We didn’t get married lightly, and there’s never been any doubt in my mind that she’s the person for me. We do not require vast amounts of work in order to stay together — as far as boats go, we’re operating on all cylinders!
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What are your three favourite films?
I’ve seen 2001: A Space Odyssey hundreds of time, and could see it again. Taxi Driver, which I saw at a very impressionable age and meant a lot to me. And The Best Years of Our Lives, by William Wyler, which was filmed in 1946 and still seems like it was made today. I don’t understand how it does that, but it does!
What would you be if you weren’t an actor?
I tell myself that I’d like to be an astronaut, because there’s nothing more glamorous and inspiring to me than the story of how we got to the moon and back. On the other hand, would I want to move to Houston for three years and learn a bunch of maths that I don’t know anything about and give myself over to 100 months of training?
I’d probably rather be a tour guide in the Grand Canyon, which I think would be a fabulous, fabulous job.
What is it like to visit the Grand Canyon?
What makes you angry?
I live pretty easy and not much is expected of me — I have staff to do everything from getting me a sandwich to packing my bag for a trip. I’m generally an even-keeled fella…except for when the printer on my computer doesn’t work! You want to hear me shout, at the office or at home. ‘The printer won’t connect! It says “paper jam,” but it is not jammed!! There is not a paper jam in this printer, I checked it!!!! Why does it say “paper jam”!?’
But, you know, that’s about as bad as life gets for me, so I’m not complaining.
Printer features explained
Where would you go if you had a time machine?
I’d go back to 1973 and fly to Germany to see East Berlin versus West Berlin. I never saw the wall when it was there because I figured it would be like the Great Wall of China and never come down. The closest I came was in 1984 when I was doing press for [mermaid-themed movie] Splash. We went to Hamburg and I could have gone on to Berlin, but I didn’t, which I regret now.
I don’t have many other regrets in life. I’m like the Frank Sinatra song and figure they’re too few to mention. But if I could turn back time, I’d get onto a plane, fly into Templehof Airport and see the whole shebang.
What jewellery do you wear?
I play a lot of characters on film who wear big impressive rings they got when they graduated from their fancy colleges or whatever. But I never got one because I dropped out to be an actor. So Rita made one for me — we call it my class ring from the School of Hard Knocks. I don’t have the degree, but I do have the hardware.
What are your favourite hobbies?
Uh…I don’t really have hobbies, as such. I mean, I pay attention to a couple of sports here and there, but I don’t live and die by the results.
I collect typewriters. I have about 200 of them at home and in my office, but I’m not an expert on them. I just like them. But you know what, I work, like, three full-time jobs, and I’ve got no time for hobbies because generally my time is jammed. To tell you the truth, if you want to know a hobby, I kind of like getting root canals because that means I get to stay in place and have a little nap! That’s how bad it is.
Sounds like a busy schedule. How do you relax when you’re not working?
I was on holiday in Greece recently, and, man, there is nothing better than watching a 9 o’clock football match in the Euro Cup or whatever they call it. Give me Holland playing Italy so I don’t have to care about the results, give me ninety minutes, give me a couple of beers and a nice warm night outside, and — boom! — I am a happy guy.
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Sully is in cinemas nationwide from December 2. Read David Gritten's review and watch the trailer
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