‘Devotion’ movie features Oregon pilot in behind-the-scenes role

When the major motion picture “Devotion” opens Wednesday, some Oregon talent will be part of the high-flying, based-on-real-life story.

Mike Oliver, general manager of Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras, is the pilot who’s really at the controls of the vintage airplane supposedly flown in the movie by actor Jonathan Majors.

“Devotion” tells the story of Jesse Brown, who became the first Black aviator in U.S. Navy history. The film, adapted from Adam Makos’ nonfiction book, also explores the friendship between Brown, the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who faced segregation and discrimination, and his fellow fighter pilot Tom Hudner (played by Glen Powell), who was white, and had attended the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

Both Brown and Hudner served in the Korean War, and when it came time to make the movie, the filmmakers needed an F4U Corsair aircraft, and someone to fly it.

That’s where Oliver, 50, came in. A few years ago, Oliver recalled in a phone conversation, he got a call from Steve Hinton, president of the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California. Hinton had been contacted by Kevin La Rosa II, who had been aerial coordinator and helicopter camera pilot for the smash hit, “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“Kevin asked Steve if he knew of any people who could do the flying (in ‘Devotion’), and who had the Corsairs,” Oliver said. “So, Steve called me.”

The Erickson Aircraft Collection features displays of vintage aircraft, including an F4U Corsair, which Oliver had been restoring. After he read Makos’ book, Oliver said he was inspired to paint the plane with the blue color and markings that would have been on the craft Brown flew.

The story of Brown, who was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart, made an impression on Oliver. “Growing up in that era, and being an African American, and all the controversy of him going into the Naval Academy to be a fighter pilot, when it was all white guys in there,” made Brown’s achievements all the more impressive, Oliver said.

As an African American man himself, Oliver said, he wanted to be part of telling Brown’s story. In addition to Oliver, Jim Martinelli, who also works for Erickson Aircraft Collection, flew a vintage Skyraider plane for some scenes in “Devotion.”

“We spent probably three-and-a-half to four months filming the movie,” Oliver said. “We started in Wenatchee (Washington), then went to Pasco, and flew down to Savannah, Georgia. It was fantastic. Being my first movie, I didn’t know what to expect. It was a lot of good coordination, a lot of people that were professionals, and knew what they were doing.”

Oliver, along with stars Majors (whose credits include “Lovecraft Country”) and Powell (who costarred in “Top Gun: Maverick”), recently went to the Los Angeles premiere of “Devotion.” The premiere, Oliver said, was “Grand. It was a true red carpet.”

In an event closer to home, Oliver is also planning on attending and delivering “a little speech” when “Devotion” plays in Madras, at a post-Thanksgiving screening.

“Devotion” opens in theaters on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

— Kristi Turnquist

503-221-8227; kturnquist@oregonian.com@Kristiturnquist

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