Jesse Metcalfe stars as Kari Sorenson, a retired flight instructor who helps Doug White land a plane when the pilot dies midflight in the true story film, On a Wing and a Prayer. Shakefire sat down with Metcalfe to discuss his role in the film and his preparation to play a character based on a real person.
So when we’re first introduced to your character, he’s in the garage working on cars. I know you’re a fan of classic cars. Was that something that you brought to the film, or did that just happened to be the character?
Jesse Metcalfe: Yeah, that was already in the script but something that I liked. They say, I don’t know if this was Meisner or Stanislavski, but that acting is doing. So it’s nice to always be doing something in a scene instead of hitting a mark and saying lines. I just think it makes the whole thing feel more authentic, but with this particular character, this particular real-life character, Kari Sorenson, he’s masking a lot of his is emotions when he’s first introduced the movie and I feel like him being a little detached and working on the car while Ashley, his girlfriend, is trying to engage with him on an emotional level and him, you know, deflecting in that way, was very appropriate.
How does it feel getting to play this character who can bring out those emotions over the course of the film? So often we see men having to be the “man” who keep their emotions bottled up, that kind of stuff. So, being able to portray a character who starts out like that in the beginning, but then finds that the ability to do that by the end of the film.
Metcalfe: I mean, that’s that’s what drew me to this project and what drew me to this character is that I felt like he had a really full emotional arc in the movie. He starts out in one place and ends up in a completely different place, a better place, becomes a better man through the course of the film.
Speaking of places, you’re in one place in the entire film. It’s you and Ashley in this garage. So much of your performance is either with her or you’re talking on a cell phone. What were the challenges for you doing an entire film in a single location? You’re only acting with her. What were those challenges you faced in doing that and being able to convey this emotion and this character?
Metcalfe: Well, a lot of times when you’re talking on the phone in a in a scene, it can really feel like you’re acting in a vacuum because 99% of the time, the other actor who’s supposed to be on the other end of the line is, isn’t there. And you’re running lines with, you know, the AD, the assistant director. So, that’s where your preparation comes in. You really have to layer in a great amount of subtext so that you can keep up the urgency and maintain the stakes of the situation.
Now as far as being in one set the entire time, that didn’t really present any particular challenges and what made that even easier was working opposite Anna Enger Rtich, who’s a really talented actor who plays Ashley. I think we had great chemistry, and we worked really well together. She really helped me with all that aviation jargon running line with me between scenes. I think we created some really great moments in that contained space, acting on a cell phone. But yes, it can be challenging.
Did you actually know much about planes beforehand because in the film you’re an expert.
Metcalfe: I didn’t know anything about planes, but through the course of researching my character. I learned a lot more. I obviously had to look up certain technical things that I was telling Dennis Quaid’s character because I didn’t know what it meant. So it makes it nearly impossible to remember lines when you don’t know what they mean. So through that process, I think I gained a lot of aviation knowledge, but I wouldn’t say I’m ready to fly a plane.
Did you get to meet the real life Kari at all?
Metcalfe: Unfortunately not. I had to craft this performance from the limited video and limited interviews that are on the internet.
Do you find there being any difficulty in doing roles that are based in reality and these real-life people in real life scenarios as opposed to something that’s completely fictional?
Metcalfe: Yeah, there’s just a little bit more responsibility to be true to these real-life people and their life experience. And it possibly opens you up to more criticism because the people that lived this may find inaccuracies, although I know we tried to be as accurate as possible with these true to life events.
What was something that you brought yourself into the character?
Metcalfe: I bring a lot of myself all my characters because that’s the way I work as an actor. And Kari had some pretty heavy stuff to contend with; the loss of both of his fathers, his stepfather, and his biological father in plane crashes. So I try to bring a similar level of loss and trauma from my own life to my characters. But that’s something that I never reveal, because that’s ‘s my secret sauce right there. That’s my magic. Then once you start sharing that with everyone it loses its power.
This film takes place Easter Sunday, how do you celebrate Easter Sunday?
Metcalfe: Just with usually with family. Yeah. Usually with family. I mean it’s almost like Thanksgiving in a lot of ways. It’s a time to be around the people that you love and have gratitude.
What do you hope people take away from this film and your character in particular?
Metcalfe: I just hope people are inspired by this movie. Maybe inspired to keep the people they love a little bit closer. To open up, to your friends and your family, who really support you. This is a really inspirational story, from my character’s perspective, about redemption, about healing. And like you said previously, Kari Sorenson is a man from another generation, Right now there’s so much awareness about mental health and emotional health, seeking therapy for maybe things that you’d experience in your life. He’s just one of those men from the old guard that shoved all of his emotions down, and that’s not good, you know? Because then oftentimes, you take those emotions out in other areas or on other people and I think that him being able to be part of helping Doug White save himself and save his family was a cathartic experience for him and allowed him to heal and to let go of the past and become a better man. I think it’s a really inspiring story.
On a Wing and a Prayer is now streaming on Prime Video. Check out our review of the film here.