Bloated Washington lets it all hang out

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Flight starts with a phone ringing, disturbing a man who is fast asleep.

Waking up with a jolt, his clothes strewn on a chair with an equally nude woman beside him, he answers the phone before reaching for the vodka and a line of cocaine.

Minutes later, Captain Whip Whitaker is strutting down the runway, head held high in his pressed SouthJet uniform with his flight attendants beside him.

Baring his body in its (almost) full glory, paunch and all, is two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington, who plays Whitaker.

“Did I have any doubts about letting it all hang out? No, that’s what it’s about,” says the star of Malcolm X, American Gangster and Courage Under Fire.

“He’s a slob, he’s letting go. He’s not in the gym, he’s a womaniser and a drunk.”

For his all-important close-up, Washington admits there was no sucking in.

“I wanted my stomach to stick out. So I was breathing out, if anything,” he admits, with a deep chuckle.

“I could have easily covered myself up but that’s not the point. I wanted it to feel real. This is who he is, and this is what he is. I didn’t want to be half in, half out – no pun intended,” he adds.

The usually fit 58-year-old let himself go a bit to make his body look bloated. “I didn’t put on that much weight – I just didn’t exercise and ate a late meal every night.”

His commitment has paid off, with Washington up for another Academy Award. Having won twice for his roles in 2001’s Training Day and 1989’s Glory, he now faces Daniel Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman and Joaquin Phoenix in this year’s category for Best Actor.

“It is what it is,” he says about his rivals. “Daniel is Lincoln so he’s going to be hard to beat. He’s obviously the front-runner.”

This marks his sixth Oscar nomination so, understandably, he’s being quite modest about the nod. “It beats a sharp stick in the eye,” he jokes, before adding, more seriously: “It’s a great honour. It’s always exciting to be commended, to be accepted and honoured. But I’ve been down this road before so we’ll see what happens.”

Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by John Gatins, who has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Flight sees Whip’s background under scrutiny after he miraculously crash-lands a plane after a mid-air catastrophe.

But despite being hailed as a hero, underneath the ironed uniform and stiff pilot’s cap, the seasoned pilot struggles with his own personal demons, particularly with alcohol and drugs.

“I never looked at him as a flawed hero. He’s a good man with problems. We’ve all seen that when certain people have too much to drink this other side comes out. He has a tremendous ego, and he’s a brilliant pilot but he has issues,” explains Washington.

The film has not put him off flying though. “I’ve been on planes that have been struck by lightning and hit some pretty rough air. You know, the time to worry about flying is when you’re on the ground,” he says.

“There’s no point worrying about it when you’re in the air – it’s too late. There’s nothing you can do about it anyway. There was one particularly rough time on a private plane and I had to calm the flight attendant down.”