The “Flightplan” concept of recently widowed mother Kyle Pratt running around an airplane, searching frantically for her missing daughter while the crew insists that her child is already dead, is terrifying enough. Equally horrific is the notion of an actor less accomplished than Jodie Foster attempting to carry a film that relies so heavily on an often-wordless portrayal of such intense emotions.
What many audience members might never realize as they settle down in their seats for the movie, however, is that the latter shocker very nearly played itself out.
“The movie was actually written for a man,” director Robert Schwentke recently revealed. “We sort of took one shot with an actor, and then we had the idea that this is maybe [the wrong story] to do with a man — maybe we need to do this with a mother. It’s much more archaic; the bond between a mother and daughter is a different one than the father and the daughter. Thinking along the lines of how we can make this the most emotionally impactful movie possible, we started thinking about Jodie and, thank God, she was interested in doing it.”
“They were just two different characters,” the two-time Oscar winner said about the early script’s relation to the final product. “Originally, as it was conceived, this man was somebody who worked a lot and kind of allowed his wife to pretty much do all the primary childcare stuff, and he didn’t know what kind of sandwiches [his daughter] ate. There was a lot he didn’t know about her, and so the process of looking for her was also, in a lot of ways, the process of discovering her and discovering his new role as a parent.”
“Then there was a part where he descends into a kind of madness,” Foster remembered of the point where the two scripts jibe, “and he can’t really tell what’s real and what isn’t, and he doesn’t know if this all happened or not, or if he imagined it.”
“It’s more sympathetic to see the motherly instinct,” insisted Erika Christensen, cast in the film as a seemingly innocent flight attendant.
Voicing a sentiment echoed by several of the film’s stars, Christensen said Foster’s real-life connection with her children lent an expression of truthfulness in her eyes that many actors could never capture.
“It’s just a really relatable role and a really relatable situation,” the “Swimfan” and “Upside of Anger” actress said. “There’s just so much love [between parent and child] and so much of the future that you see in a child. It’s one of the most powerful emotions.”
“That just didn’t ring true with a man,” Foster agreed. “It is true that women tend to typically have a problem differentiating between themselves and their children; they kind of don’t know where their kids stop and where they start, and it’s hard to explain that to people. It’s like [when] you can feel the pin hitting someone else’s hand. I think that can be a peculiarly female phenomenon with their children.”
Since the pleasures of the film are derived largely from its various Hitchcock-like twists and turns, audience members would be well-advised to avoid seeking anything more detailed than the basic storyline: Foster’s recently widowed character boards a transatlantic flight with a surly captain (Sean Bean of “National Treasure” and “Fellowship of the Ring” fame), a flirtatious fellow passenger (Peter Sarsgaard from “Garden State”) and various other crew members and passengers. After a brief nap, she awakes to an all-too-real nightmare: Her young daughter is missing. Or is she?
Foster said despite the film’s premise, she’ll continue to snooze in the air whenever possible.
“I like strapping into the seat belts; I fall asleep immediately,” Foster said before relating an experience on one particularly hellacious flight that could serve as the plot for another midair horror flick.
“I had a crazy lady once who started yelling at me, calling me names and whatnot, and I listened to it for a while and then I got a friend of mine to come sit in that seat. Then she yelled at him.”
“Delayed flights,” Christensen shrugged when asked for her own worst travel story. “No fun. Delayed layovers are the worst — if you’re in some random city, and you’re supposed to be there for two hours and are stuck there for seven. I don’t do well if I’m hungry and tired. I’m such a baby about it.”
“I just had a flight from hell, going into Martha’s Vineyard,” Sarsgaard offered, wearily rubbing his forehead. “I’m not a very good flyer. Coming into this very small airport, we banked really hard, two full sideways circles around the airport, then went to land and touched down halfway down the runway, went all the way to the end and we had to turn — while going probably 70 miles an hour — a hard right. The pilot looked nervous. He looked like something had happened, and there were audible gasps in the cabin. Being a little bit of a scared flyer, when people start freaking out because something’s happening, I just feel like I have company and it kind of makes me feel better.
“Still,” he acknowledged, “you really don’t want to hear that on a plane.”
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