The material, he said, was simply too good to pass up.
Washington, 57, earned Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Critics' Choice awards nominations last week for his work in the film, which was directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by John Gatins.
Co-starring Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly and John Goodman, the movie is about what happens to Washington's character Whip Whitaker after he successfully lands a faltering commercial aircraft, but authorities discover he had alcohol and cocaine in his system at the time.
Asked if he wanted to play the part because he was close to someone whose life was similarly derailed due to substance abuse, Washington told reporters at a recent Los Angeles press conference: "No. I think it was the material. When I read the material, the script, I just said, 'Wow, this is good.'
"My late agent... the last two scripts he gave me were 'Flight' and 'Safe House' and that was part of it, too, just a promise I made to him, but I don't like waving the flag," Washington noted. "It's like when people say, 'What do you want people to get from this movie?' I say it depends upon what they bring to it. I don't try to decide what people should get from it or why. I don't do a part for those kinds of reasons. ...
"If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage. It's very rare," he went on. "I don't read a ton of scripts, but I read a lot of scripts. First of all, you felt like you read it in 14 minutes because you turn the pages so fast. You can't wait to see what's going to happen. This was one of those scripts. I had to have it; had to be a part of it. ... But it was on the page; the guts, the pain, the tears. It was like a Eugene O'Neill play."
"Flight" is in theaters now. It is rated R.