Interview: Heather Graham and Jesse Metcalfe on their new faith-based true story drama, On A Wing and a Prayer

Arriving just in time for the Easter weekend, the credence of a family in peril and the determination of the stranger who can save them come together in On A Wing and A Prayer, a faith-based drama streaming on Prime Video from April 7th.

Directed by Sean McNamara, written by Brian Egeston, and based on the incredible true story of Doug and Terri White and their harrowing journey to safety, On A Wing and A Prayer tells of their mid-flight danger when the pilot flying the White family from the funeral of Doug’s brother in Florida back to their home in Louisiana suddenly dies.

An amateur pilot at best, it falls onto Doug to fly his family to safety.  Still stricken with grief, Doug looks to the faith of his devoted wife and the on-the-ground experience of fellow pilot Kari Sorensen to talk him through a safe landing.

An optimistic affair that embraces the spirit of hope and one’s own belief in a higher power, On A Wing and A Prayer is perfect family fodder for the Easter season.  As the film launches globally, Peter Gray spoke with two of the film’s stars, Heather Graham (who plays Terri White) and Jesse Metcalfe (Kari Sorensen), about not working together, if they met their real-life counterparts, and if they learned anything new about themselves or their craft during filming.

Congratulations to both of you on the film.  It’s always nice to watch something so positive and uplifting during these uncertain times.  Obviously the two of you are here today, but your characters never directly interact on screen together.  Did you ever come across each other on set? Are you meeting for the first time during this junket?

Heather Graham: We met a long time ago at a celebrity poker tournament.  Jesse was so sweet, and I was very stressed out.  He was super kind.  I was really excited, obviously, because he’s so talented and cute, but I’m sad we didn’t have any scenes together.

Jesse Metcalfe: I know, me too.  I mean, that was one of the major challenges of the movie, not ever acting opposite the actual actors.  You know, you’re sort of performing in a vacuum.  She was stuck in the cockpit of this plane.  I was stuck in my character’s garage (and) on the phone the entire time.  Technology has really infiltrated our storytelling, so you have to really maintain your energy (and) the stakes of the situation while you’re reading off camera with the AD or something…

Heather Graham: When his character shows up it’s a super highlight of the movie, because it’s such an important moment.

And Dennis Quaid’s character – your on-screen husband, Heather – he has an enthusiasm for flying, and it’s described as a hobby early in the film.  We see that put to the test later on, and it got me thinking if there’s a hobby or interest for both of you that you think you could have pursued if you didn’t become an actor?

Jesse Metcalfe: I play music.  I play guitar and (I) sing a little bit and write songs and stuff.  That’s kind of like a dream.  I don’t know if I would have made it or if I would have been successful, but I do that on the side.  Then I feel like I could have gone a totally different route and gone into like finance or real estate or something.  I mean, I can do anything.  No, I’m just kidding.  I have lots of interests.  Heather?

Heather Graham: I mean, I’m really into psychology, so there’s a part of me that I think, like, therapy is really cool.  And, look, could I have my own lifestyle/travel show where I travel the world eating food? That is also something that sounds fun!

I love that you think “Can I possibly do that?” You’re Heather Graham, you could do it!

Heather Graham: I should do that, yeah.

And with this being based on a true story, does it add any extra pressure to your roles or your research? Given that you’re playing people who are still alive, do you meet your counterparts to inform your performances? Or was this more about honouring their essence on screen?

Heather Graham: Well, I did meet Terri White.  She’s really sweet.  We FaceTimed.  She was incredibly supportive.  She saw the movie and said I did a great job.  She’s so sweet and nurturing.  She’s like, “I liked your accent”, so that was really lucky.  That doesn’t happen a lot.  Sometimes when you play a real person you could piss them off, but she’s really a sweetheart.

Jesse Metcalfe: I agree with Heather.  She was very lucky to have had a conversation with the real person that she was portraying.  I think it’s important to do that when telling (their) story.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to talk to Kari Sorensen, so I just researched him on the internet.  I really liked the picture that was painted of him within the script.  It was a lot to grab onto as an actor, and I just sort of filled out some beats with the print interviews and video clips that I found of him online.

You’ve both maintained longevity in your careers.  I think it’s safe to say you’re pros at this point, but I imagine each new film comes with new opportunities.  Is there anything that you learned about yourself or your process during this film?

Jesse Metcalfe: I would say, like I mentioned previously, that kind of acting in a vacuum, because films are made that way now.  Everything’s on a shorter shooting schedule, and actors are kind of coming and going, and they’ve just come up with more creative ways to make a film faster and with less money.  That presents, I feel, the different challenges to actors.  It’s all about prep, really.  Your preparation.

Heather Graham: Yeah, I’ve been working with this acting coach called Warner Loughlin, and she has this technique where you come up with all these memories from your character’s life.  You close your eyes and you picture the formative moment from when you were six or when you were 10 or 11, and you make up all the moments when, you know, I met Dennis’ character and we got married.  So I did that (and) it’s kind of fun.

On A Wing and A Prayer is streaming globally on Prime Video from April 7th, 2023.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.