Chiwetel Ejiofor, Naomie Harris and Bill Nighy speak to us about the new The Man Who Fell to Earth TV series from Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet. It’s a reimagining of Walter Tevis’ 1963 seminal science fiction novel about an alien who lands on Earth, and a sequel to Nicolas Roeg’s singular 1976 film starring David Bowie.
Ejiofor stars as Farady, the thirsty extra-terrestrial, Harris the scientist who helps him on his mission and Nighy as a version of Thomas Jerome Newton.
Walter Tevis’ novel examines the politics of its time and this series does something similar in the modern day with pressing issues such as climate change, inhumane immigration policies, unaffordable healthcare and the impact of technology and capitalism on humanity. What were the topics that particularly drew you to want to take part in the show?
Bill Nighy: All of those. They’re even more urgent in our society now than they were back then. They’ve got progressively worse. I suppose the environment… before we address the environment there’s nothing else to do, but that has to be the priority because it is getting late, and now it’s getting really, really late. Scientists tell us we have very little time and for certain things it actually is too late to address.
Chiwetel Ejiofor: It’s also for me the way that migration is framed, and it’s framed in all of these negative terms, and it’s often completely ignored what migration brings to a place. Obviously, historically that has been such a rich and important part of our culture globally. The idea of an alien coming and encountering that, encountering hostilities of migration but also with this capacity to offer so much, it felt very truthful to our time in terms of what our focus has been in recent times, and sometimes the mean-spirited way in which we look at migration. We look at it through a very narrow lens and I felt like this story had an element of a corrective in there too which I enjoyed.
Naomie Harris: For me the most important point was about climate change and drawing people’s attention to that. If you preach to people, it turns them off, but if you have a powerful message that’s couched in entertainment then it’s a wonderful way of connecting with people’s hearts and moving them in a very different way. I also think the exploration of what it means to be human at this particular point in time and how we got here, who we are and how we would be seen through the eyes of an alien, I thought that was a really beautiful and timely exploration that we all need right now.
Chiwetel, we’re really interested in how you approached your fish-out-of-water performance as Faraday. Can you tell me more about your prep for the role?
CE: Ultimately you can only really play your own alien, so the preparation was me trying to figure out when in my experience I felt any alienation, or I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Turns out there’s been quite a lot of feelings like that over the years! I guess it’s leaning into those feelings, and the dynamics of one’s history and just running with it. That’s where I was emotionally setting myself in the show.
There was a physicality to it too, really trying to understand the physicality of when something isn’t entirely new, and trying to fit into a body that’s new and to not push for anything humorous. I think that the circumstance had its own underlying humour and fish-out-of-water often does. It felt like it needed be grounded in the reality of this character, and really understanding that Faraday is not a newborn, but is an adult being with his own experiences trying to assimilate in a new place.
Naomie, you played highly skilled scientist Justin Falls – so did you speak to any people in STEM to prepare for your role?
NH: We had a lovely scientist, Melanie who was really helpful because obviously quantum physics wasn’t something I ever specialised in or was particularly good at in school! I knew nothing and she was helpful in breaking down these incredibly complex mathematical equations and theories and making them simple so that I could just about understand them and make it feel like I knew what I was saying.
As far as climate change goes was Greta Thunberg, and the way she speaks to the younger generation, something you discussed?
BN: I noted the way in which some adults, mostly male dismissed her and the terms they used to dismiss her were vile and disgusting. She seemed to bring out a vicious and deeply unattractive response. I salute her! The young, it’s their present and their future. It’s just comic really that the old aren’t that fussed about, whereas the young are like, “excuse me, I have to live the next bit!” It’s that simple to some degree.
Did creator Alex Kurtzman speak to you much about what he wanted to achieve with The Man Who Fell to Earth regarding humanity in the digital age?
CE: I think that the show is very positive about humanity ultimately, and that was something that I think we were very keen on. What Faraday encounters is this family and the family he becomes part of is filled with this passionate love for each other and this dynamic of sacrifice and engagement that he is penetrated by. He recognises it as this most fundamental human trait which is our capacity to love each other.
That, I think, is the lasting message of the show. All of the distractions that we have and all of the elements that push us in different directions don’t wrestle us fundamentally from the core values of humanity. That is ultimately what will save us and I think this show is speaking to that.
The First Three Episodes of The Man Who Fell to Earth are available to stream exclusively on Paramount+ UK. New episodes will be dropping weekly on Wednesdays. Find out more on what’s available with our handy geek guide to Paramount+ here.