Under normal circumstances, Aaron Eckhart is a pretty big deal. A bona fide Hollywood star.

But sitting next to Hollywood legends Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks, Eckhart is ever so slightly invisible. Ignored.

The men have come together in Los Angeles to discuss Sully, the new film about the "Miracle on the Hudson" - the 2009 incident, where Captain Chelsea "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed a commercial passenger jet in New York's Hudson River after birds destroyed the plane's engines.

Eastwood is directing, Hanks plays the title character, and Eckhart, bless him, plays the co-pilot.

Eckhart will pipe up a couple of times over the next 45 minutes but mostly he seems resigned to being wholly upstaged by the superstars.


The incident examined in Sully is still relatively fresh in the public conciousness and, at a glance, appears to have gone rather swimmingly. Which invites the question - where's the story here?

"You're asking the same questions I asked when I first heard about the project, " Eastwood says . "Where's the conflict? We all know that all drama has a conflict to start it off. But when you get in there and you get into the characters and the people and their families and all the pressure. Not to mention trying to land a plane with 155 people on it and save everybody."

The 86-year-old director may be showing his age in appearance and gait but he still commands authority.

Hanks comes across as a looser, snappier version of his enduringly endearing cinematic persona.

Beyond a spectacular IMAX rendering of the incident itself, Sully derives much of its conflict from the subsequent National Transportation Safety Board investigation, during which Sully's decision to ditch the plane is called into question by computer simulations.

"The fact is the technology was not wrong," says Hanks. "It was trumped by human behaviour. It's not a malevolent story whatsoever but it is an accurate one about the differences between what happens in the chaos of real life and what happens in the numbers and technology."

The film also explores the pressure Sully faced when he became an instant celebrity and a hero to the nation, which is how Hanks first encountered him:

"I actually first met Sully and [his wife] Lori at the Academy Awards in 2009, just a few months after it happened, they were at the Vanity Fair party. There's Peter Fonda and Jane Fonda and Justin Bieber and everybody, Brad and Angelina, then Sully! It was literally like that. The white-hot focus of attention is not always a healthy thing. And they had experienced just enough of the non-healthy stuff that Sully had shaved off his moustache."

Surely this was an aspect of Sully's story that Hanks related to?

"You learn very quickly that there is a public version of yourself that people wanna see, and there's a private version of yourself that you must protect. And that's the battle you wage. And both of them had gone through that.

"I said, 'Are you ready for another go around because you're gonna have to be trotted out again for this movie. And they said 'No, no it's okay, we know what to do and what not to do'."

Hanks demures when I describe him as "universally beloved", but nevertheless indulges my query about whether he feels his iconic status is something to be overcome in order to really sink into a role.

"Well, look, every actor has a countenance that they bring into every movie, Clint did when he was acting. You bring along with you everything you've done prior to that, and there's no denying that, but that's not a hindrance. I see brand new stuff to try and new things to figure out and they're all a challenge that makes you lose a little sleep when you're doing it. Because you don't wanna be bad, you wanna be fresh and real. So being an artist acting in movies is not being a celebrity. Celebrity is this other thing you've got to make your peace with and you navigate it and you learn by making horrible mistakes and you just hope they don't call you Mr Hanks on the set. So I don't think about it any other way. There's a job at hand."

Eastwood suddenly grumbles to life, having picked up on an earlier remark made by Hanks.

"Justin Bieber. . . " he gravely intonates. Just hearing these two words come out of Dirty Harry's mouth feels oddly noteworthy. " . . . as Sully," he continues with but a hint of a smile. "Why didn't I think of that?"

Although spry with a pop culture reference, Eastwood is content to align himself with a more traditional style of storytelling

"It's more fun to believe in telling a story, a real story, than it is in the comic books. Though I loved comic books when I was a kid. I remember Superman. I read the very first edition of it. That's a long time back. And all that's great. And you always dreamed as a kid, 'Wouldn't it be great to see that as a movie?' but now I'm in the wrong generation. Now I want to see what a real scientist says or what a real athlete says or a real commander of an aircraft."

Indeed, Sully represents an increasingly rare beast - a decently-budgeted Hollywood drama for grown-ups. What do Hanks and Eastwood make of the hastily evolving movie climate?

"We're doomed," jokes Hanks. "It's all over. I peaked in the 90s. Clint can keep going. Aaron's got a bright future ahead of him but it's probably all gonna be seen on Netflix so what are you gonna do?

"It's scary sometimes," says Clint, entirely failing to convince me that anything at all scares him. "Because the so-called blockbusters - well if you can make a blockbuster out of a good story, and with people and different emotional things, that's great. But if it has to have an Erector Set-looking person walking through it? For me, I think I'll just stick with my own generation. Or quit."

What: Sully, the real-life story of the Miracle on the Hudson
Who: Starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood
When: In cinemas next Thursday