Roma Downey & Doug White: On A Wing And A Prayer
Interviewed for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Doug’s story is so incredible. It’s something where I know the outcome and I’m still sitting on the edge of my couch the entire time, wondering what is going to unfold. So share a little bit about this story and how it came to you.
Roma Downey: Well, a wonderful script showed up on my desk from a writer called Brian Eggeston. This amazing true life story of a family that get on a small King airplane and the worst nightmare happens, the pilot unexpectedly dies, and the family is left to fly this plane and land the plane. They pray on that plane as one might. I would say there’s probably no atheists in a fox hole. I would think if you were hurdling through the air, you might pray yourself, but they were a family of believers and they prayed to God and through the miracle of all, the hand of God on this story, they managed to land this plane. And you’re absolutely right. Our job was to tell this story, to keep the tension in the story and to uplift your heart when the ending occurs. And it’s a true life story of Doug White and his family. I’m sitting here next to Doug and I think that when audiences see this April 7th on Amazon, they’re just going to be, it’s a real family film with an amazing outcome.
RM: Doug, one of the things that I think is so interesting is how a day can just be so routine until it’s not, right? For better or for worse. You could be getting married, you could be having a baby, or you could be fighting for the lives of your entire family. How do you feel when you think back on that Easter Sunday?
Doug White: For a long time you ask, why? Why didn’t the pilot die on the way down there? Why didn’t the pilot die standing on the ramp, helping us load up luggage? Why, why, why, why? But after months, years or whatever, you get to the point where you quit asking why and you just say, thank you. You say, thank you.
RM: I’m sure the whole time you were in that cockpit, the thought going through your mind was, who will play me in the movie version of this moment? Not really, but Dennis Quaid is such a great choice. Maybe talk to me a little bit about what conversations that you had with him prior, any, and then Roma, how you settled on that bit?
RD: Dennis actually came in to meet with me in my office, he was interested in doing a podcast, a spiritual podcast. And somewhere in that conversation, he mentioned that he was a pilot, that he actually flew planes. And I had this script in my shelf, literally, it was a script that I was developing with Brian, working on and preparing to put together. And so it just struck me in that moment. I said, “Dennis, would you ever read this script I have, it’s called ‘On a Wing and a Prayer,’ and I think you’d be perfect in the role, although if you got the role, you’d have to unlearn everything you know, because you don’t know how to fly this particular plane.”
And he took the script home and we ended up, obviously, he agreed to do it, but I would think it must be strange for Doug, whoever would’ve played him, to see your own life play out on a movie screen, to see this trauma of their own lives play out. But we’re so grateful to Doug and his family that they entrusted us to tell their story, and I think he’s quite pleased with the result.
RM: Doug, did you have any interaction with Dennis prior to filming or after?
DW: Quaid, no, not before, but when they were filming in the Atlanta area, he got my cell number and he called me four or five times during the five or six weeks that they were filming and he’d say, “Hey, Doug, they’re waiting on me on the set right now. I got a quick question. When you were at such and such, how come you did this instead of that?” I’d tell him whatever the answer was and he’d say, “Got it.” And a few days later he’d call me, say, “What were you thinking when you said this and you did that and you went this?” And I’d tell him whatever the answer is. And my son-in-law and my daughter are both in this film in the background, and both of them said on two separate occasions, it’s absolutely eerie, eerie that mannerisms that Quaid has looked just like me.
Matter of fact, they saw him walking across the room from the back there, the one time, they thought it was me. But he could have studied, matter of fact, the last conversation we had, he said, “Thank you for letting me get into your head these last six weeks.” But there’s a YouTube video out there, the next year, when we went down, they flew us down to meet all of our controllers personally, and I had a plaque made up for him and presented it to him and gave a little short talk. He could have watched that and watched how I talk with my hands or whatever. But he did a great job getting into my character, if you would.
RM: It’s amazing, and I’m sure a lot of the ways that you responded were just instinct and some might have been purposeful in the cockpit. The way you and your wife interacted with each other, we found fascinating. I watched the movie with my husband and we were all over each other. I was like, “Put her on speakerphone! We need to be able to hear which the command’s saying too!” And he was like, “I can’t hear what they’re saying now.” And it was hilarious cluster. And I’m like, “Man, honey, we wouldn’t have made it.” At least the two of you worked so well together. Is that how you felt in the cockpit or was it much more disarray?
DW: It was a focused fear. I was, if a hand grenade would’ve gone off beside me and there wasn’t any shrapnel involved, I wouldn’t even have heard it. I’m just so focused on listening to the controller and staring at that air speed thing and making sure we didn’t get upside down. I was just focused. And then if you listened to the whole tape on YouTube at the end, after they sent us over to ground control, you now I lost my emotions then, but I had them all kept inside of me for the whole time. As I’ve said before, if I was going to die, I was going to die trying not to.
RM: Absolutely. Roma, talk to me, it’s one of those things where Doug had to be, like he said, focused and listening to this outside communication, because they not only were the ones with the knowledge, but they could see into the future per se. It might not have been as difficult at that time, because it was life or death, but man, what a metaphor for our faith walk with God and the ability to just fully trust that He knows more, He leads us. Maybe unpack that a little bit for us.
RD: I do. Well, I really see, if you think of the movie as a metaphor for the difficulty sometimes that we face in our lives and the need that we have to remain focused, but also to trust. I love in the film, we show a sequence where the family joins hands in prayer and we see the emergency services preparing on the ground for what they believe will be a different outcome. Thank God it wasn’t a different outcome and the plane lands safely, but I think in our own lives, we maybe aren’t at the controlled of a plane, we maybe don’t have to land a plane. That’s unusual, exceptional circumstances. But we all have something in our own lives where we’ve prayed about and we’ve asked God’s help. And I think there’s a fantastic moment in the film where Doug has to let go and he’s been encouraged by the pilot on the ground who’s talking him down to let go.
And sometimes in our lives we’re hanging on so hard, trying to control the outcome. And sometimes the answer is just to let go and to trust God. And I think that this film has many layers, many meanings for the general audience. It’s a great thriller. You’ll be at the edge of your chair and you’ll be screaming and cheering at the end. And for people who are coming to it as people of faith, it’s about the power of prayer, that prayer works, and that we believe in a God of miracles and second chances.
And a shout out to our amazing cast, not just to Dennis Quaid, but to Heather Graham, to Jesse Metcalfe, and to all the supporting players who make up this really fabulous movie. It takes a village to make a movie. And a lot of people worked at their best and brought their most excellent game to bring this film together. And we’re delighted that it will start to stream on Amazon. It will go out globally April 7th, which is Good Friday, just in time for the Easter weekend. And the true story, of course, happened for Doug and his family on an Easter Sunday. So we think it’s just the perfect time for the world to see a film like this.
RM: Absolutely, perfectly placed and a message of inspiration, hope. Doug, thank you for sharing your story. Roma, thank you for making it accessible for us all to see, and I can’t wait for audiences to get a chance to see it themselves.
On A Wing And A Prayer streams on Prime Video April 7