Kelly Reilly on Playing a Heroin Addict in 'Flight'

The English Actress Makes Her American Film Debut in Robert Zemeckis' Live Action Movie

Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" ended up surprising us all by being a riveting character driven film as opposed to your average Hollywood action movie. It is filled with a number of great performances from very talented actors, and one of the most notable is Kelly Reilly's as former photographer Nicole Maggen. When we first meet Nicole, she is in the throes of a nasty heroin addiction that almost claims her life. While in the hospital, she meets airline pilot William "Whip" Whitaker (Denzel Washington) who is going through his own substance abuse issues and becomes a kindred spirit of sorts as they both look for ways to escape their demons.

For Reilly, "Flight" marks the first movie she has made in America. Before this she was best known for playing Mary Watson in the "Sherlock Holmes" movies, and she starred opposite Michael Fassbender in the unnerving horror film "Eden Lake." When it came to playing Nicole in "Flight," she explained to Christopher Rosen of the Huffington Post how she goes about preparing for a role.

"If it's there in the script it makes your life a lot easier," Reilly said. "You're not searching for something. You're not trying to figure out how to make this character believable or real. You're not trying to skirt around bad writing. This character, to me, just jumped out. I already felt a kinship to her; I wanted to play her. I knew that this sort of addiction that got hold of her so tightly was a symptom of this woman's heartbreak. I knew there was somebody underneath worth fighting for. There are all these stereotypes of heroin addicts being junkies or drop outs or people who we shouldn't care about. I just thought that can't be true. They're somebody's son or daughter; they're human beings. They're just lost. That is something John Gatins got in his script. I really wanted to play that rather than the stereotype of the heroin addict."

When it came to playing a heroin addict, Reilly explained to Rosen the amount of research she did to better understand her character. She spent a lot of time on Google learning about those addicted to this particular drug, but that only gave her so much information. But while I was at "Flight's" press conference at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Reilly went more into depth about who gave her the answers she needed to know most.

"I did consult a wonderful guy called Mitch in Atlanta who helped me understand the inner life of a heroin addict as much as one can without experiencing it, and he really did open up his story to me," Reilly said. "There was a technical side of it as well as he taught me how to inject heroin without really injecting heroin. I wanted to honor the truth of somebody in that situation, and I think that was the most difficult part without ever having experienced that."

But despite "Flight" gaining strong critical praise for its direction and performances, Reilly doesn't see herself being nominated for an Academy Award. When it comes to the Oscars, they tend to honor the showiest performances above all others. Reilly's performance as Nicole is powerful largely because it is an understated one that doesn't draw too much attention to itself. She explained this in more detail to Rosen.

"I know there is a lot of buzz around Denzel and the film. A few people have kind of suggested that it could be a possibility for me. I don't see it myself," Reilly said. "That's just not me being humble or anything. I genuinely don't imagine that to be the case. Mine is more of a quiet performance and I don't think it's an award winner. I still feel incredibly flattered to have people even suggest that. As much as it was never a dream of mine -- a dream of mine would be to be on stage in New York -- it would still be a mind-blowing thing to happen especially for something you feel proud of."

Michael Caine once said that in the theater you play a character, but in television and film you are the character. Some of the greatest performances I see from actors in movies come from those who inhabit their characters more than they play them, and Kelly Reilly's performance in "Flight" is no exception to that. While we all love the showiest of performances, it's those subtle ones which deserve the most credit. My hope is that the Oscars will prove Reilly wrong and give her the credit she deserves for her work here. It's one of the best portrayals of an addict that I have seen since Michael Keaton's performance in "Clean and Sober."

Related articles:

'Flight' - Denzel Washington at His Most Unhinged

Anthony Hopkins Transforms into the Master of Suspense in 'Hitchcock'

Tyler Perry on Taking the Lead in 'Alex Cross'


Christopher Rosen, "Kelly Reilly, 'Flight' Star, On Why She Probably Won't Win An Oscar," The Huffington Post, November 26, 2012.

Ben Kenber, "Interview With The Cast And Crew Of Flight," We Got This Covered, October 30, 2012.

Published by Ben Kenber

I am an actor and writer, and they both serve to keep me sane in an increasingly insane world. I mostly write movie reviews, but sometimes I try to go outside of that to write something else. I have also cov...  View profile

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  • Laura Everly 12/8/2012

    good reporting I saw this movie I liked it covers a deep troublesome topic...addiction and actually has a good positive ending....Denzel Washington one of my fav. actors and I agree I thought Kelly Reilly did a great job in her performance good writing and good review Laura Everly