by James Mottram

First Man is a melancholic film in many ways…

It’s quite melancholic but then, for me, profound. It’s because we’re so used to a language with cinema where there’s a big music ending, but for me, Damien really shifted gear in a way that I haven’t seen or felt.

What was special about working with Damien?

I’m older than Damien, a couple generations older. I love seeing what the young dudes are up to. How they see cinema, how they see the camera. Damien’s angles and his style. His three films are very different, stylistically. I just love watching what he likes, what he’s after, what he’s thinking about. You have to stay on top of technology and you have to stay on top of how the language of cinema is changing and how people are viewing it now, too. He’s a very inspiring leader, who’s organised and knows what he’s doing, but he’s also very generous in making everybody inclusive and contributing. And coming up with something original and alive.

Was it easy to find out about your character?

There’s not as much written [as Neil Armstrong], but there is a lot out there once you get into it. There’s a lot of people that knew Ed, and NASA’s a great source. People at NASA loved Ed. We had a phenomenal tour. This is their heartbeat, this time period. They were so generous and so knowledgeable. When I went into the space suit department, Ed’s their guy because he was the first person to try this suit out.

That first walk in space, they had no idea. So, they brought all the old stuff out of the archives and we tried the suit, it was like a chute, tied up with shoelaces. They didn’t know what was working. They gave it to Ed and Ed tried it. He was their donkey, their test mule. So, for them, he’s their guy. It’s things like that, facts will only give you so much in the end… You can’t play a fact. You’re just trying to get some semblance of who this man was. I’ve got a limited amount of time and I’m going to tell the story. Just some semblance of the type of calibre that he was or what he was made of.

What was the biggest motivation for your character to go to space? If it wasn’t about fame.

It was a sense of achievement, the sense of accomplishment. This is the goal; they were military pilots. They were used to taking machines and testing them. And that’s what they wanted to do, that was their addiction; ‘I want to take that plane, I’ll be the one, even though we don’t know whether it works to do that’. A sense of pioneerism, they show me doing a version of the real interview that Ed did where he talks about the children, inspiring mankind.

They led a spiritual change. They change the way we see the world and our place in it. And it’s a privilege, it’s a different world, they were all government employees. It’s not like now where it’s all privatised and there’s a lot of money involved. In a sense, it was America coming together.

Do you think this movie will change people’s understanding of the American dream?

…and what it costs. Yeah. I hope, if anything, it gives you some idea of the reality of achievement, accomplishment, of trying to do something. Rather than the fairy tale version. You see that it’s not glamorous. It’s not The Right Stuff. It’s a very practical look at what it takes and what it costs to do something and the basicness of it. Space ships are not glamorous. Every space movie, there’s big capsules with plenty of room and there’s buttons for this and that. We’re used to that version of, but this is like nuts and bolts. You hear the sound of that thing, it’s moving, it’s like an old submarine. It’s creaking under the pressure and the effort.

As a kid, did you ever want to be an astronaut?

Not sure, but I bought a telescope for my little boy and showed him the moon and the stars. You can see it. It’s still mind-bending. You can’t get your head around it. It was on my bucket list to do a space movie. 2001, then Blade Runner, they’re a couple of my favourites. To do this story, with this team, and the access that this team got, help that this team got, to make this movie was a pleasure to be a part of. That’s quite rare. The size and scope of this movie, for the intimacy and the type of movie it is… This is the team to do it with, so I was very happy to be a part of it.

And we’ll next see you in Pet Sematary?

Yeah, it was Wyck Godfrey, who was one of the main producers on First Man that went on to run Paramount and he gave me a call and he said read it. I’d always loved that book. I said, ‘you know what, this is a tough shoot, but I feel like playing this man that would go to anything length for his child’.

First Man is in cinemas now.

Read our review here.


Leave a Reply