‘The Midnight Sky’ is a cautionary tale wrapped in a hopeful message

Felicity Jones as Sully and David Oyelowo as Commander Tom Adewole.
Cr. Philippe Antonello/NETFLIX

The latest feature film from director George Clooney follows an incredible journey through space after major events take place on our own planet. The film is part sci-fi adventure, love story, cautionary tale and full of hope all packed into one incredible plot that could happen to us in the future if we’re not careful. Two of the film’s stars—David Oyelowo and Demián Bichir—discussed what went into making the film and what audiences can take away from the message.

When you were approached or read the script, what interested you to want to sign on? 

DB: First of all, it has to do with the name that it’s coming from, it’s one of those beautiful things that happens in your career sometimes that you’re called by wonderful artists to become part of a project. I don’t know if there’s anyone who can say no to George Clooney —I can’t and I won’t. And then of course the script, it’s a wonderful story and the character is such a fantastic role filled with different layers. It represented a challenge for me emotionally and physically, so all of that together makes it an automatic yes.  

George Clooney on set with Tiffany Boone. Netflix

DO:  Well, you know, two words: George Clooney —that better get any actor’s attention, of course. Then the script, I loved the scope and scale of this. As someone who’s done a lot of independent films, the reason I gravitate towards a lot of them is because I find it more meaningful, dare I say, than than some of the the bigger movies out there. But this one was both a big movie, and also a meaningful movie. It actually had something to say about humanity and wasn’t just pure sort of fluffy entertainment and had this great cast, but also the central theme is around connection and our need for it as human beings. It’s a big truth in my life in terms of something that preoccupies my thoughts.  

The roles were obviously physically demanding. How was it trying to maneuver all that as an actor, specifically the scenes with no gravity? 

DB: Even though I don’t go for a space walk, I had to go through the whole training anyway like the rest of the cast. This is the magic of moviemaking because when you see the film, it’s only a sequence, but in order to make those few moments believable you have to go through an intense type of training and and get the specifics of this particular trick that is acting in zero gravity. It’s often said that actors have to be athletes in many ways and you better be in shape. I’m usually in good shape, I love sports and I exercise regularly, but still, every time you play a different sport, different muscles hurt. So although I’m in good shape, going into this type of training, which focuses on the core of the body and your lower back created a big change and you feel it. You do feel it when you’re training and so that’s that’s very intense—but it’s also part of what we love as actors. 

DO:  It does pose difficulties. But thankfully, our captain in the form of George Clooney has done a couple of space movies himself in the past. He was really able to guide us in terms of what needs to be in place to do that. It started for me with about three months of training here in L.A. to get very strong so that I was able to make something that is actually full of effort, look effortless—you have to in order to look weightless. You are being held up by these wires and you have to move your body in a way that makes it seem like nothing is pulling on your body when everything on your body is actually being pulled. And so there was that element that involved an amazing stunt team as well, but also there was a huge visual effects component to this. Tiffany Boone, who plays Maya in the film, she is someone very dear to this crew of astronauts and so the injury she sustains on that spacewalk leads us to a fairly emotional scene. It’s full of action, it’s full of size and epic space stuff, but it’s also a very human and emotional scene as well. So a lot of things have to come together for that sequence to work.

Would you describe this film as a cautionary tale or a story with hope? Or maybe a little bit of both? 

DB: Absolutely— I couldn’t have said it better myself, because we do see that. We see the greatness of what human beings are capable of achieving and at the same time, it is a wake up call. You know, this is our planet, this is the only house we have and this is the only home we have. There is no plan B, the planet will survive years or years with or without us. The planet has been through all kinds of different changes—climate changes during its life, as humans [we] could just vanish from the face of the earth if we don’t do the right thing. [But] I think there is a lot of hope in the way the characters behave and their strength and their will and determination. There’s there’s great hope because they represent the best qualities of humankind and hopefully we we can start again and that’s what we actually do every day. We have that chance to start over, over and over and over again—the main point here is how much? If we listen, we will be able to learn from all this. 

Netflix

DO:  The film is a lot of things at the same time, it’s an intimate drama while also being an epic sci-fi movie. It’s a cautionary tale but you could argue it’s it’s an unconventional love story as well. It has thriller elements and it has dramatic elements as well. The thing that it ultimately does have is a sense of hope, not only because of what happens in the film, but because we still live in a world where we can correct. When it comes to our planet, we have done irrevocable damage, but we are also in a place where we can sustain our planet to a degree that, you know, it should be OK.  We’re on a knife edge if you talk to environmentalists and scientists, but it’s not as bad as as it is in the film, and so that in and of itself is, I think, hopeful. It’s also a noble ambition, which is to save the planet, but I do think you can have both. Striking a balance in life is one of the greatest tasks to try and overcome and succeed at in life and a lack of balance is why our planet is suffering. A lack of balance is why the pandemic, I would say, has not been handled as well as it might have been. A lack of balance is why sometimes when it comes to our family dynamics, we are struggling and I think the pandemic has really shown that there are few things more important than the people connecting with the people you love and prioritizing that connection.  

“The Midnight Sky” drops on Netflix Dec. 23.

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