by Gill Pringle

After Yvonne Strahovski submitted a video audition for sci-fi adventure flick, The Tomorrow War, the filmmakers still had one more hurdle for her to jump – they needed the Australian actress to “chemistry test” with Chris Pratt.

Having seen Strahovski in TV series Chuck, they knew The Handmaid’s Tale star had the action chops to play elite warrior and military scientist code-named Romeo Command, but the video audition carried no clue as to how she would work with Pratt on screen.

“Romeo Command is an integral part of this movie and we needed to make sure Yvonne had chemistry with Chris Pratt,” says co-producer Jules Daly. “So, after we watched her tape, we did a long-distance chemistry read, and even though Yvonne and Chris were on different continents, you could see right away that they connected with each other. As clichéd as it sounds, something magical happened between them during that read. And once they met in person, it grew even deeper.”

Having ticked chemistry off the list, director Chris McKay was astounded by Strahovski’s intense physical commitment to the film’s numerous battle sequences. “Yvonne just threw herself fully into every action scene of the film, body and soul, and she was always game for the fight against the aliens. She’s just an incredibly powerful actor. I’m still blown away by what she brought to this role,” says the director, best known for his work in animation, including The Lego Batman Movie.

The Tomorrow War tells the story of how a family man – Pratt’s Dan Forrester – is drafted to fight in a future where the fate of humanity relies on his ability to confront the past. Leaving his wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and young daughter behind, he is sent to a post-apocalyptic Miami Beach on a perilous search-and-rescue mission, with fellow draftees Charlie (Sam Richardson), Dorian (Edwin Hodge), Norah (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Cowan (Mike Mitchell), where they battle the nightmarish extraterrestrials known as “white spikes.”

Lightning-fast and armed with tentacles, multiple battle-scarred limbs and mouths filled with rotting teeth, the ravenous creatures slaughter most of the new recruits. But with the help of Strahovski’s Romeo Command, a wounded Dan and his comrades carry on the fight to save mankind.

Recuperating at an army base, Dan learns that the only hope of defeating the aliens is if Romeo Command can use her expertise to devise a biological method of killing the female creatures. To do that, however, they first need to capture one alive.

Only fitting for a character who represents Earth’s last hope of eradicating an alien threat, Strahovski came to the set looking like she meant business, immediately impressing executive producer Rob Cowan with her authoritative presence. “She really carries herself like someone who’s in charge of this massive global operation,” he says. “And when you see her fighting the white spikes, you really believe it. She’s basically the leader of the military science division and has a plan to save the world. Plot-wise, she’s a very important character.”

After starring in Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt is no stranger to action roles that call for both physical prowess and a sense of humour. “This role was definitely in my wheelhouse,” he tells us.

And while time travel has played a role in countless films over the years, he says he was particularly impressed by The Tomorrow War’s unique take on the concept. “Our philosophy is that time is like a river flowing in one steady direction, and the devices that the draftees wear on their arms allow them to jump between two rafts on that river of time,” he explains. “You can jump from one raft to another, but that’s it. So, if I jump 30 years into the future and spend ten days there, when I jump back again it’ll be ten days after I left.”

With J.K. Simmons cast as Pratt’s father James, the veteran actor reveals he has wanted to work with Pratt for some time. “When I read the script, we do see the micro and the macro. There’s beautiful family stuff with Chris’ character at home with Betty and their daughter. And then we get a glimpse of my estranged dad kind of non-relationship, and it was great to be able to incorporate that small picture with the gigantic picture of, ‘Are we going to save the world or not?’” he says.

The relationship between father and son is certainly far more complicated than Dan’s relationships with the two women in his life.

“There is a nod to It’s A Wonderful Life at the beginning of this film. Even with him doing this ‘hee-haw’, that moment was lifted from It’s A Wonderful Life,” says Pratt who also serves as an executive producer on the film.

“Thematically, we have some similarities there. This is a guy who’s not happy with his station in life and the course of the events in his life. He’s also got this relationship with his dad that he’s estranged from, and he’s blaming his father for all of his issues.”

“It was all there on the page,” adds Simmons. “And the beauty of working in this scenario with a guy like Chris is that we can take the page, and incorporate all that, but then we also have the freedom to kind of, whether it’s goofing around, being funny, or finding other angles into the drama and the conflict and the emotion of it. We felt free to make it our own too, so you end up doing six or seven takes of a given scene and really then the director has six or seven significantly different versions of the emotion, and the passion, and the drama, and the comedy to choose from.”

“Essentially, the film is Dan’s story,” says screenwriter Zach Dean. “It deals with his relationship with his family, and it looks at who he is as a man, a husband, and a father. Yet at the same time, it explores what the future might have in store for all of us, so it really tells two stories: One is very personal about the Forester family, and the other is a science-fiction action epic about humanity as a whole.”

If some studios might have concerns at putting an animation director at the helm of a big action blockbuster, then Pratt knew McKay came with the right skill set. “I’ve been able to work with him before. He’s been making films for years, and this is a big live-action movie, it was a massive step for him and for me coming on as a producer. I had so much to learn. I was grateful to be surrounded by really smart people and I was grateful to be working with Chris. He’s the kind of guy that is open to collaboration but also has a very clear vision. This is 100% his baby,” says the actor.

“Chris had cut his teeth mostly in the post-production process, and then as a director of animation and then a director of live-action. I think the best directors come from that side because you know what you need to give yourself in the room. He gave himself a lot of amazing options for the edit. He’s got this great knowledge of film, but also just a really vibrant personality, an exciting aura about him when he’s on set. It’s really contagious.

“I remember being up on top of a glacier in Iceland. He’s walking with sticks and a camera on his shoulder, trudging through the snow and looks at me, he’s like, ‘This is what I fucking got into this for, man’. He does say the F-word a lot. I’m quoting him. He says, ‘We’re up on a fucking glacier making a fucking movie right now’.”

While the film also carries an important environmental message, Pratt argues that it is never heavy-handed. “I love it. I’m so pumped. I’ve heard this rule that when you give a dog medicine, you wrap it up in some hamburger so that when they eat the hamburger, they don’t know they’re eating the medicine too, so I think it’s important to do that.

“Just when you’re talking to the dog, you don’t say, ‘Hey, it’s time for your medicine’, you say, ‘Hey, it’s time for your hamburger’. So, any medicine that’s in this movie, it’s going to taste like a hamburger. Don’t worry about it. It’s like a great entertaining, vibrant, exciting blockbuster movie. There might be a little takeaway, but mostly it’s fun and exciting,” he says.

It was these themes of climate change and the planet that drew McKay just as much as the action and the aliens. “What was really important about the script to me was the idea of, what do you owe the future? What do you owe the world? How do you leave the world in a better place? Do you count your blessings that you have in front of you? All that kind of stuff was really important.

“I love genre movies, science fiction, action and horror movies. That’s the stuff of why the little kid in me wanted to make movies, that’s the thing I responded to, but also I’m caught somewhere between John Carpenter and John Cassavetes.”

McKay’s enthusiasm was infectious, according to Pratt: “There’s an excitement and an enthusiasm for the craft that he has. It’s his life, man. You could see it. I’m just excited to see what he does next. I hope I’m a part of it because, after this movie, I really think the world is his oyster. He can do whatever he wants. He shows that he can handle a massive budget, get it done on time under budget, and deliver a great movie. He’s going to have his pick of jobs that are really cool.”

The Tomorrow War releases on Prime Video on July 2, 2021


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