"That was a good call," says actor Forest Whitaker, 40, of the cancellation of the project. The Texas-born Whitaker had been cast in the lead role of a National Transportation Safety Board investigator in the film, which was budgeted at $7.2 million and scheduled to begin shooting in Winnipeg on Oct. 2 last year.
"I don't think people were ready for that at the time when we were going to do it," Whitaker says. "I don't think (they're ready) now, even."
Indeed not. The film, which had been partnered locally with Credo Entertainment, had Whitaker's character, Mike Grady, investigate a crash claiming the lives of 700 people. Whitaker says it was never intended to be hyper-realistic.
"If you look at the script, a lot of the stuff was just in my head," Whitaker says. "I go in and reimagine all the deaths of the people on the plane."
He expresses only mild regret at not being able to play a role that would have been a unique addition to a career that began with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and includes an award-winning portrayal of jazz legend Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's Bird.
"(Grady) was an interesting character, he really was," Whitaker says. "He was a guy who was an ex-alcoholic who was struggling with a mistake that he had made before."
And though the film may never be made, Whitaker says it was a compelling story.
"It dealt a lot with the FAA and issues of concealment. It almost read as if it was a true story, because of the political things that were going on inside of it," he says.
The Texas-born Whitaker, of course, is accustomed to productions that stall or are postponed or cancelled altogether. All those possibilities looked imminent for Panic Room, the David Fincher-directed thriller opening in theatres next Friday.
The role played by Jodie Foster was originally cast with Nicole Kidman, who had to drop out for knee surgery.
"We shut down and we didn't know what was going to happen," says Whitaker, who plays one of a trio of home invaders in the suspense thriller.
"That's always really hard for a crew and for a cast, and we had had maybe two or three (delays) before that."
Foster's last-minute acceptance of the role was met with enthusiasm, especially since the actress who played Kidman's daughter, Kristen Stewart, more closely resembles Foster.
"When Jodie came in, I thought it was great," Whitaker says. "It was always said that Kristen was a young Jodie Foster, so they looked like a mother and daughter. It looked like the movie was fighting to let that happen."
Whitaker's next job is behind the cameras as the director of a live-action version of the animated series Fat Albert, and not specifically on the Bill Cosby monologues that inspired the series.
Barry Pepper, Whitaker's co-star in Battlefield Earth and Mel Gibson's co-star in We Were Soldiers, plans to shoot a film in Northern Manitoba in April. It's an adaptation of the Farley Mowat story Walk Well, My Brother from the short story compilation Snow Walker.
Set to direct is Charles Martin Smith, the American Graffiti star (Terry the Toad) who played a Mowat hero himself in the 1983 classic Never Cry Wolf. Smith scouted Churchill locations last year.