Life on Mars? Exclusive clip from The Space Between Us and interview with director Peter Chelsom

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May 15, 2017

Space has become the territory of movie franchises of late, so it's rare to get an original story set way up there that isn't about a xenomorph, some sort of Trek, or the Force.

Earlier this year, director Peter Chelsom's The Space Between Us landed in theaters. Set in the not-so-distant future, it tells the emotional tale of a young man (Asa Butterfield) born on Mars who decides to travel to Earth to find his father and meet the young woman (Britt Robertson) with whom he's cultivated a literal star-crossed cyber relationship.

We've got an exclusive clip from the DVD/Blu-ray release out on May 16:

 

We also talked with director Peter Chelsom (Hector and the Search for Happiness, Serendipity) about creating a film that envisions life on a Mars colony, working with his longtime friend Gary Oldman, and the alternate ending added to the home video release.

You haven't directed a flat-out sci-fi film like The Space Between Us before. Was it time, or was it just the story?

Well, we did a lot of work on the script in the year and a half leading up to production, but it was always a really good story. This film is like a small film inside a big film. I don't copy or emulate other directors, but I'm the first to stand in line when I think they're great. And I think Robert Zemeckis has done that very well where there's an intimacy and strong pulse at the heart of his stories, but the scope is massive sometimes. Contact is a good example, or Cast Away, or even Forrest Gump, you could argue. Apart from the fact that I love the medium of sci-fi, and people probably don't expect that of me, it's great to have a strong, human story at the heart, and that's what this was for me. It's seemingly different but the same.

The film visualizes what a Mars output would look like, and how it would function. Did you seek input from actual scientists or NASA to create authenticity?

I have to be authentic, or I feel like a fraud if I haven't really, really researched the world of the story. So we had a really good NASA consultant in Scott Hubbard. I worked a lot very closely with him. And when we did a screening for NASA and SpaceX, they were just delighted. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye were both there saying we got it right.

Were there specific references you used for your Mars sequences?

References ... it's funny because the whole cliché of Mars the red planet has changed. I think they're saying now it won't feel like a wash of red. We developed and cultivated our own Mars look. Kirk M. Petruccelli, the production designer, is quite brilliant. Our budget was not a lot, but they say the film looks three or four times what it cost. Kirk's research into what the commune on Mars would look like, based on how it was shipped in pod form and assembled, he really, really took that very seriously.

Was there an aspect of creating the Mars colony that was most challenging to bring to life?

I think the thing that was hardest was not having a lot of time to train the actors for the wire work. Some films don't acknowledge in a Mars movie the gravity difference. Even Ridley's [Scott] The Martian didn't seem to acknowledge it. We had to because it's a plot point with the whole story regarding Gardner, in that he, and his organs, can't survive in a heavier gravity [on Earth]. We really had to work on that. For us, it's a combination of a lot of things. Like when Carla Gugino is in the training in the workout space on Mars, that's a combination of frame speeds, but they are also on wires. It's like the inertia harness used for rock climbing to make less weight. It created this slightly unreal, bizarre look that we wanted in movement. And when they first land, and there's an astronaut running towards them, and he is on a massive crane that got painted out to achieve that affect. So those details I really wanted to get right, so thank God for the NASA consultant's help. (Laughs)

Asa Butterfield is relatively new to the scene. He made an impact with Ender's Game, another space film. What did he bring to the role that made him right to play Gardner Elliot?

There was talk about him playing the lead even before I came onboard the project. Funnily enough, it was concurrent with us doing rewrites and aging up the kids. They were originally younger, but in that time Asa was aging as well. I think he had been the best idea for the film for four years, and in those four years, we aged up the characters four years. It was remarkable. He had such a purity and innocence about him, and that quality is so valuable. It's disarming. It's like he's a lie detector. Also in contrast to Tulsa (Robertson), they have two totally different energies. Towards the end, they meet in the middle beautifully. She settles and her defenses go. And then his arc is that he goes from boy to man. When he says goodbye at the rocket at the end, my note to him was, "I want you to feel that you are 15 years older." He did this take and it was almost Top Gun-ish. It was great! So it was a lovely combination and they were so good together. They were so non-competitive and there for each other.

Gary Oldman has been your friend for three decades. This is your first time directing him, so how was that on the friendship?

I think it's great particularly because I was really asking Gary to play close to himself. When we sat down I said, "Gary, I don't think there should be much visible characterizing here." I've known Gary for so long that I said, "I want Gary Oldman in a good mood at the beginning of the film." He enjoyed it and at times found it a bit scary. There was a point in the middle of the presentation scene in the beginning, he was having such a great time with the crowd and being very entertaining. In between takes, I remember him at one point saying, "I think I want to host the Oscars next." It brought out that warm entertainer in him, and he is very warm and very funny. Not a lot of people have seen that. And the fact we are friends, we have a real shorthand. Nobody gets British jokes like the British because we're weird. (Laughs)

The Blu-ray release features an alternate ending featuring Oldman and Butterfield's characters. Is there one you prefer in the end?

I'll be honest with you, I'm torn about that. The movie ends several times and I think that's the issue. Having the lecture from Gary's character at the end, followed by Asa's character, might have labored the ending. But I really don't know because I like them both. There's a power of the image of showing him actually on the surface of Mars, which I suppose we could have done as well but then you'd have another ending. You put a hat, on a hat, on a hat. It's tough. The film tested so well and our Cinemascore was an A-. It's that balance in commercial filmmaking between listening to what your audience seems to be saying and feeling. When you are sitting with them, you can feel the restlessness when it comes so you adjust. But honestly, I don't know. They are both great endings.

What's on your to-do list next?

I've spent the last eight months working on what will be an eight-hour television series called The Mirror Thief. It's an amazing book and was last year's critic's darling. It's an extraordinary story with settings in Venice, Italy in 1592, Venice Beach, CA in 1958 and The Venetian casino in Las Vegas in 2003. The absolute unlikelihood of those stories being connected is what makes it fun. It's about alternate realities but the engine of it all is a really compelling contemporary thriller. It's the most bizarre, amazing, rich piece of work I've ever read in my life. And it's nothing like everything I've ever done before but to me it's all the same.