“It's probably one of the hardest things I've done!” Noomi Rapace on new sci-fi series Constellation - SciFiNow

“It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve done!” Noomi Rapace on new sci-fi series Constellation

Constellation stars Noomi Rapace and Jonathan Banks, and its creators Peter Harness and Michelle MacLaren give us a science lesson in quantum physics and tell us spooky space stories.

“I’d always wanted to do something about the reality of what it’s like to be an astronaut,” says Peter Harness, creator and showrunner of new Apple+ sci-fi series Constellation. “The kind of effect that it has leaving the Earth and being separated from it.

Indeed, that separation theme is taken to the extreme with Constellation. The show follows Swedish astronaut Jo (played by Lamb’s Noomi Rapace) who returns to Earth after a disaster in space only to discover that key pieces of her life seem to be missing, and her loved ones don’t feel quite the same.

“I know that it’s very difficult for a lot of astronauts,” Harness continues. “It has a profound effect. You come back and you’ve changed. It’s difficult to fit back in. I’ve always found that fascinating.”

Constellation takes place both in space and on Earth. Jo is a member of a five-person team of international astronauts conducting a research mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), including experiments with NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory quantum physics module. However, when seemingly random debris hits the Space Station and Jo goes out to investigate, she sees something unexplainable.

During his research on the project, Harness discovered some rather strange tales of what has happened to astronauts while they’ve been in the darkness of space

“I became increasingly aware of the fact that there are slightly spooky stories about things that happen up there,” he nods, “and maybe they’re true, maybe they’re not true, but astronauts seem to have seen things up there occasionally, which they don’t really talk about, because nobody wants to be made fun of or be untrustworthy. I just wanted to find a way of knitting those things together and maybe getting them to explain one another.”

When it’s clear the Space Station is irreparable after the accident, what is left of the crew is forced to leave Jo on her own, desperately trying to fix the last remaining lifecraft and make it back to Earth.

While on her own she can’t help but wonder: is what she saw in the depths of space real? Or was it a hallucination?

What did Jo see out there?

“Everything that could possibly go wrong, goes wrong,” explains Rapace. “In this mission, she’s up in the ISS and then she ends up being alone up there and needs to bring herself back. She’s on a clock, she’s losing oxygen, she is starting to hallucinate and is kind of losing herself, which for an astronaut who has been trained to stay calm and to be rational, not emotional… It’s shocking for her because it’s not what should happen!”

When Jo eventually gets back to Earth and is reunited with her daughter, Alice (played by Davina and Rosie Coleman) and husband Magnus (James D’Arcy) those questions remain. In fact, they get more complicated. Why does everything seem ever-so-slightly different on Earth? Even her loved ones?

“She doesn’t know what she came down to,” nods Rapace. “She’s reunited with her daughter and everything’s sort of like it should be, but it’s not. And that journey she goes on to figure out what’s wrong… if it’s her or the world…”

Jo doesn’t know what she’s come down to.

During that journey, she becomes entwined with Henry (Jonathan Banks) who is in charge of one of the experiments her colleague was conducting in space with a quantum physics module. Jo has brought the module back, though she doesn’t know what it is, but the module now doesn’t seem to be working.

Henry – an ex-astronaut himself – becomes obsessed with what happened to the module in space. Is it the cause of his own strange experiences once he returned to Earth all those years ago?

“It’s quantum physics. Something existing on two different planes at the same time,” Banks answers when we ask him what the show is about. “Henry may not be that surprised that something exists on two different planes. If their scientific background has taught them that there is a possibility, maybe they’re not surprised about the situation that they’re in. [Actually, director and executive producer] Michelle MacLaren said to me it grates her a little bit to hear ‘science fiction’. But I agree with her, it’s quantum physics.”

Jonathan Banks says the show is all about quantum physics, something existing on two different planes at the same time.

Yes, though Constellation is a sci-fi series, a hell of a lot of it is based on real science, especially those scenes up on the International Space Station.

“We did a lot of research,” MacLaren affirms. “It’s always important to me, even when you’re doing something fantastical to approach it from as very grounded and realistic way as possible. We did an accurate replica of the ISS. We did a lot of research on what it’s like to be in space. We had a wonderful astronaut consultant, Scott Kelly, who brought a lot of authenticity to the movements and how we feel and the emotions when we’re in space.”

“I think when you’re doing something which has weird and wonderful and fantastical elements, it always helps to sell it, to make it as grounded and relatable as possible,” adds Harness. “Obviously not everybody in the world gets to spend a year in space but most people know what it’s like as a parent or a child to be separated from each other. So for each of these weird and different situations, we always try to approach it in an emotional landscape that everybody can relate to because that’s very important and keeps people with you if you’re taking them down a weird rabbit hole.”

The showrunners did a lot of research when re-creating the International Space Station.

Jo certainly goes down a weird rabbit hole after landing on Earth. Just when she thinks her space mission is over, another mission is forced upon her: understanding her own life and reality. Which only gets more complicated when the family is involved.

“It was just so rich, it’s so complex, and it’s so rewarding for me as an actress to dig into that,” Rapace says on playing Jo. “But it was also like opening Pandora’s box: what if that is possible? Does that mean that that is possible? We’re still talking, we’re still trying to figure it out…! I loved it. I loved every moment of it. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in a very long time. But it also felt like it was meant to be when I first read Peter Harness’s first two episodes. I just felt like it was written for me. I am her. She is me. And we went on a journey together.”

“I am her. She is me.” Rapace says of her character, Jo.

In fact, take away the science, the quantum physics, the ghost stories and the fantastical… it’s this group of characters that the show’s creators are excited for audiences to fall in love.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they take to the characters,” Harness nods. “What matters, at least to me at the end of the day, is the characters and how they’re portrayed. We’ve got such a bunch of amazing performances in the show. Noomi is giving a career-defining performance and Jonathan is as wonderful as he always is. But we’ve got these incredible girls Davina and Rosie playing Alice, which we were so lucky to find. They’re a real force of nature and I’m very much excited for them and looking forward to seeing what people make of them.”

“I’m really excited to see the emotional reaction that audiences have,” MacLaren adds. “That they’re rooting for the characters and that they really feel for them. But I’m wondering which way they’re going to root for Jo… I think there’s a Sophie’s Choice in the show. But I hope people connect to it.”

Constellation is currently showing on Apple TV+