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Natalie Portman set to play a troubled Earthbound astronaut in Pale Blue Dot

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Jan 12, 2018, 12:16 PM EST (Updated)

Just in time for her turn in next month’s release of sci-fi horror tale Annihilation, Natalie Portman’s been cast in Pale Blue Dot, another film with a sci-fi backdrop — though it remains to be seen how far director Noah Hawley will veer its dramatic story toward the fantastical.

News of Portman's casting, revealed by Variety, appears to affirm Fox Searchlight's commitment to get going on Pale Blue Dot, only days after Hawley told SYFY WIRE he was hopeful for a green light on the project. Scheduling conflicts led to Portman’s casting on the film, where she’s replacing Reese Witherspoon as Pale Blue Dot’s lead actor. Witherspoon remains attached as a co-producer.

Based on the premise that protracted time in space takes a toll on one’s ability to cope emotionally with life on the ground, the role will find Portman grappling with the Stepford-esque mundane perfection of everyday life once she’s back on Earth. It’s a setup that hews pretty closely to the makings of a character study, the kind that falls far closer to a conventional drama than to a space-themed genre picture.

Add in the quirky but humanistic directorial sensibility that Hawley showed off in Season 3 of Fargo (you know, the one with Ewan McGregor), and it’s anyone’s guess as to how spaced out Pale Blue Dot is likely to get. Maybe some of the creative juices Hawley’s expending on his script of Marvel’s Doctor Doom origin story — a gig he told SYFY WIRE he’s getting a kick out of — will spill over.

In the meantime, what we can be sure of is that Lena, the biologist Portman plays in Annihilation, won’t be getting by on her inner life alone. Instead, she’ll be picking up a gun to get to the bottom of a supernaturally malicious environmental threat that’s left her husband, the only person to return from the hot zone alive, comatose.

As you can tell, the stakes seem a lot higher than merely figuring out what harmed her husband. Dubbed “The Shimmer,” Annihilation’s blighted area evidently conceals much bigger secrets than the FX-heavy natural beauties — and terrors — that Lena discovers along the way.

Annihilation is slated for a Feb. 23, 2018, release in the U.S., with Netflix set to debut the film in March everywhere else, thanks to an international streaming agreement.