SITTING in a plane flown by Tom Cruise was just one of many surreal moments for Sarah Wright on the set of American Made.
The actress stars opposite Cruise in the action comedy by director Doug Liman.
"Did I sit there and think about Top Gun? Did I feel like I had to pinch myself every day? I knew at the time this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Wright tells Weekend.
The film is based on the outrageous life of Barry Seal (Cruise), a pilot who lands work for the CIA and as a drug runner in South America during the 1980s.
American Made reunites Liman with Cruise, who starred in his 2014 film Edge of Tomorrow.
"The first time I read the script I was totally fascinated by the story," Wright says. "It was just one of those stories that you can't believe that it's true and then I was excited to see what Doug Liman was going to do with it. Tom was already attached to it. I didn't necessarily think it was something I was going to get. I was just excited to go for it."
Wright's audition process for the role of Lucy, Barry's wife, was unlike any she'd undergone before. "The day that I auditioned with Tom and Doug in Atlanta, they had called me on my phone when I arrived and said 'We're so excited to see you and play around with this. Let's have fun and improvise','' she says.
"It was a four-hour audition and because of that I felt so comfortable and so open to be able to take that liberty with them. I didn't feel intimidated by him (Cruise). He always really lifted me up and made me feel like I had so much to contribute."
Much to the surprise of Lucy, Barry goes from a well-respected TWA pilot to a key figure in one of the greatest scandals in modern history.
Once the hotshot airman and charming entrepreneur gets caught up in a shadowy division of the government - running crates of AK-47s and kilos of cocaine - he makes a fortune as a key player in the Iran-Contra affair.
"They were working for the good guys. In that respect I think they thought that they were always untouchable," Wright says.
"She was head over heels in love with him. That was her guy, her soul mate. People have asked me if I was worried that she was going to be that trophy wife character. I wasn't because Doug Liman would be bored by a character like that. He really likes to make females strong and sometimes even stronger than the male characters."
While there's plenty of high-flying action as Barry dodges the DEA on his regular drug runs and grapples with the competing demands of the CIA and narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar, his exploits are depicted with a heavy dose of dark humour.
"The scene where he crash lands the plane and is covered in powder and grabs this bicycle and is still keeping up with his manners in this chaos is funny to me," Wright says.
"The part of Lucy that's so funny is she's so blunt and honest and strong and open. There's a lot of situational comedy in such weird and dramatic situations."
From moving her family halfway across the country in the middle of the night to hiding duffel bags full of cash, Lucy sticks by Barry through thick and thin.
As a mother of two, Wright could relate to Lucy's overriding desire to keep her family together.
"That's what's so bad-ass about her. Lucy will do what she has to do to provide for the family," she says. "She's the one sitting in the car with the kids watching him take off in his plane, or trying to feed them dinner and running outside to find he's bought a Cadillac."
American Made opens on Thursday.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Domhnall Gleeson, Jayma Mays.
Director: Doug Liman
Rating: MA 15+
Reviewer's last word: He plays "the gringo who always delivers'' and Tom Cruise certainly delivers a solid performance in this frantic, fast-paced and funny film.
Star profile: Tom Cruise
Quirky fact: At age 14, he enrolled in a seminary to become a priest. He dropped out after one year.
Best known for: Top Gun, Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire.
If you like this movie you'll like these: Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity, War Dogs.
Quote: As a young actor, people were trying to define who I was before I really knew that for myself. But I still remember thinking 'This is what I love doing, and I hope I'm going to be able to do it forever'."
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