In anticipation of the release of George Clooney's upcoming Netflix film, The Midnight Sky, the Oscar-winning actor/director/producer appeared in an exclusive Q&A event yesterday with actress (and friend) Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok). The pair virtually spoke at length about Clooney (Gravity) heading back to sci-fi to direct and star in the adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton's novel, Good Morning, Midnight.
Set in a near future 2049, Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, an ailing scientist who stays behind in an Arctic satellite outpost in hopes of communicating with the crew of the Aether spacecraft (manned by Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demian Bichir, and Kyle Chandler) that's almost on its way back from scouting one of Jupiter's moons for potential human colonization. On Earth, a catastrophic event has just occurred and Augustine is essentially the last man standing who can tell the astronauts to go back and start anew.
His first directorial effort since 2017's Suburbicon, Clooney told Blanchett that after he read Mark L. Smith's script for The Midnight Sky, he immediately had a take on how to bring it to life. So he pitched himself as the director outside of just starring in it. Obviously, he scored both gigs.
However, Clooney went on to explain that so many of the elements that feel entirely organic to The Midnight Sky were actually products of luck, like casting seven-year-old newcomer Caoilinn Springall as his young co-star, Iris, or the fact that actress Felicity Jones' (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) real-life pregnancy was unexpectedly folded into the script.
Clooney said he was shooting the Icelandic portions of the film when Jones called him to say, "I have some news... I'm pregnant." The director said he immediately congratulated her and then asked how she wanted to proceed. She opted to stay in the production.
"Our first step [then] was, we tried to shoot it without acknowledging it," Clooney explained. "We tried to do head replacements and shoot around it for a couple days. But it really takes the energy out of actors and she was desperately trying not to look pregnant. And I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, '[These astronauts] go away for two years and people have sex, so she got pregnant.' Once we leaned into it, we can have the [crew] trying to name it and we built an ultrasound machine in a day and put together a scene for Felicity and Tiffany. We loved it because they are listening for any sign of life and the only one is from Felicity's [womb] and it led to the ending, which feels like it always should have been there."
Without giving away that ending, Clooney said he hopes audiences will see it's indicative of the cautionary yet hopeful vibe he wants to convey, despite a rather bleak reality for the planet.
Clooney noted that even that final tone was impacted by the realities of COVID-19. "When we first started, I talked to Netflix and said, 'Look, I think we have to talk about that we see all this anger and hatred all around world. If you play this out, it's not inconceivable we could destroy ourselves by 2049.' So that was my pitch and then the pandemic hit when we wrapped. Then [the film] was much more about our inability to communicate and our inability to touch and be near one another, and that loss. It's funny how real that became and the lack of being near one another and our need to do that."
The Midnight Sky is Clooney's third high profile space-centric film, after Solaris and Gravity. Ever the student on any of his sets, Clooney said he certainly took elements of both films, such as the dreamlike feel of Solaris, and Alfonso Cuaron's technical approach to shooting space in Gravity.
"Alfonso, arguably, did the best physical version [of space] with Gravity because there is no north or south in space," Clooney said. "You're constantly moving, so the idea was to keep the camera rotating, like he did, but not so much that you make people throw up. It is a trick. And Martin (Ruhe), our cinematographer, had a beautiful plan and worked on it for a long time."
Clooney was also generous about the work of his friend, composer Alexandre Desplat, whose music impacts the entire story. "I remember saying to him, 'You're going to write more music than you ever have before,'" the director laughed. "We'd taken out a lot of dialogue, so we have to tell the story with music, which makes it feel more dream-like. I relied a lot on the music taking over because the film is a meditation on what we're capable of doing to one another and also the good in us and our fight to survive."
The Midnight Sky debuts Dec. 23, 2020 on Netflix.