Published Sep 11, 2015Following last year's biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, veteran director Ridley Scott is returning to space for The Martian. The master behind Alien and Prometheus (among many others), Ripley has spent plenty of time in the cosmos before. For this new film, he took a massive and diverse cast with him.
The film stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney — an astronaut who's stranded on Mars after his crew mistakes him for dead. He's forced to spend months alone on the planet, struggling to survive. For Scott, that struggle against a deserted planet echoes his love of westerns.
Speaking at a TIFF press conference, he said, "I was brought up on Westerns. I watched them on television when I was a kid. Because I was weaned on that idea… the odds of man against nature."
Thanks to the structure of the story, Matt Damon spends the bulk of the film alone. As he explained at the press conference, it was a different experience than usual. "Those guys all worked together more than I did…. I literally just met most of the cast right now," Damon said, getting a big laugh from the room. "They were literally wrapped — 55 of the actors were wrapped by the time I started working on the movie. So it was a very different kind of movie."
The Martian was adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name from Andy Weir. The book was initially self-published as an eBook, eventually finding an enormous fan base and getting republished by the Penguin Random House subsidiary Crown Publishing.
For Weir, the entire experience has been surreal. "I was getting emails like, 'Hey I'm a literary agent, I think I can sell your book.' Oh okay, go ahead. 'Hey Random House wants to make a print deal for your book.' Oh okay, go ahead," he recalls. "But this was all just email and voices on phones. You get really suspicious when people are offering to make all your dreams come true for no readily apparent reason. I kept waiting for this point like, 'Oh there's this tax thing, we need $10,000.' I was just waiting for something like that. But once they started sending me cheques I figured, well, if they're scamming me they're not very good at it."
The script was adapted by screenwriter and frequent Joss Whedon collaborator Drew Goddard, who explained he was thrilled at the opportunity to work with Ridley Scott. "Look, he's my favourite filmmaker of all time," he said. "My dad took me to see Blade Runner at the age of 7, which is a terrible idea. Watching Harrison Ford shoot a naked woman in the back and going, oh, this is what I'm going to do with my life."
The film features a much more diverse cast than we typically see in a big-budget blockbuster. "First Mexican in space," Michael Peña boasted. "Write that down."
A member of the press pointed out that Scott received some flak for a lack of diversity in Exodus. "Look, I've got no regrets for anything I've ever done, and I was very proud of Exodus," Scott said. "But when they start saying, 'shouldn't Moses be black and shouldn't his wife be Ethiopian,' I don't know, I wasn't there."
Jessica Chastain added, their crew of astronauts had more women than the real-life NASA average. "I'm very happy that it's a very diverse group of actors and people. I'm very happy that on a crew of six people, two are women. [A NASA representative] told me that about 10 per cent of astronauts are women. So our odds are better. Hopefully in the future, we're going in a better place. It makes me happy to see more than one kind of person."
The Martian will screen four more times during TIFF. The film will receive a wide release on October 2.