Multiple Oscar winner George Clooney returns to space in Netflix’s The Midnight Sky. Based on the novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the last remaining scientist in the arctic attempts to warn a returning spaceship of Earth’s tragic apocalypse. He discovers that a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) did not evacuate with the others, further complicating the situation. The Midnight Sky is a dramatic exploration of what mankind holds dear, and culmination of our disastrous affect on the planet. George Clooney stars, directs, and co-produces the film.
Last December, Netflix held a virtual press conference with George Clooney and the supporting ensemble. The Midnight Sky co-stars Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, and Tiffany Boone. They play the astronauts en route home after finding a hospitable moon near Jupiter. Caoilinn Springall also stars as the child found by Augustine Lofthouse, Clooney’s character, at the research base.
George Clooney and the cast had several challenges making such a complex science fiction film. Principal photography was broken down into two stages. Clooney filmed the arctic scenes with Caoilinn Springall in Iceland, while the other actors trained on set. The scenes on the ship were filmed afterwards at Shepperton Studios near London. The Midnight Sky has major changes from the source material. Felicity Jones was pregnant at the start of filming. After trying to shoot around her pregnancy, it was decided to update the storyline to reflect her condition.
Please see below excerpts of George Clooney and The Midnight Sky cast discussing the rigors of filming, an amazing special FX scene, on set camaraderie, and the message of hope in the face of destruction.
There are so many movies about space. What did you hope to achieve with this film?
George Clooney: We wanted to talk about what man is capable of doing to mankind. When I spoke to Netflix about my take on this. I thought about all of the anger and hate that has been playing out in our lives. Not just in the United states, but all over the world. And if you play that out over thirty years, and deny science, it’s not inconceivable that we blow it in a big way. The pandemic came around. It became clear that the story is about our desperate need to be home and in communication with the people we love. That was the idea of it. These themes are unfortunately relative.
Describe working with George Clooney as a director. What was it like dealing with all of the technical dialogue and complicated visual effects?
Kyle Chandler: George set up an environment that has a calming effect. He expects everyone to come to the set at 110%. He listens to you and is collaborative. Everyone has a sense of ownership about what’s happening. He knows what he wants.
David Oyelowo: George’s experience on ER, all that jargon on that show, say it fast, make it sound like you know what you’re talking about. Don’t get hung up on the jargon. That was the acting exercise.
Demián Bichir: It’s a beautiful film. You have to imagine all of these things as you’re shooting. I had just done a film imagining King Kong and Godzilla. It wasn’t always a green screen. We had monitors that showed what our planet became. It became emotional.
Tiffany Boone: I felt very lucky not to have to film in Iceland. I felt lucky to be in a warm stage. We were lucky that a lot of things were created for us on set. It was so lifelike. We weren’t just looking at nothing. It was exactly what I had in my mind.
The floating blood sequence in the ship’s cargo hold is absolutely amazing. Describe filming that particular scene.
Tiffany Boone: There was no blood there. It was all of us imagining what the blood was from the first droplet. Seeing it in the final cut was…wow! For me, that was exactly what I was thinking. That whole process was rehearsed for months. To see it go by so quickly on screen is so interesting. We all bought into the moment. The special effects team did such a great job.
George Clooney: Basically, I went to the FX guys and told them I want this blood to be a ballet. I went to the composer, Alexander Desplat, I want you to write a ballet. Everybody had to deal with that sequence blindly. Tiffany, in particular, it’s her blood we’re watching. It’s a really hard thing for an actor to do. It’s one thing about a green screen, but this is a personal moment. It’s about people coming to terms with life and death. To ask them to do it all in their imagination, there’s no blood on tennis balls on sticks. Tiffany had to create this energy. It’s a hard one to do. She just nailed it.
Talk about the challenges of filming Felicity Jones’ pregnancy? Her storyline was updated?
George Clooney: We were about three weeks into shooting in Iceland. We shot all of my stuff first. I get a call from Felicity. I have some news. I’m pregnant. I said congratulations. I’m very excited for you, then there’s this long pause. So what do you want to do? She was committed. At first we tried to deny it, pretend it didn’t happen, and we tried to shoot around her. Then it came down to the idea that the best versions of things work when you don’t see them as problems. Suddenly it became Wilbur, her son’s actual name, who should get a screen credit, became a character to us. All of the crew, these wonderful actors, joined together to protect her.
George Clooney: It became family, so we could write scenes about naming the kid. Doing the ultrasound. I think it was such a stunning scene. They were waiting for any sign of life. And the only thing they heard was inside Felicity. It became infinitely more hopeful. Felicity, and what she went though, was all of our responsibility as well.
Felicity Jones: Initially I was very worried that I would get fired. It was a great relief when George made me feel completely comfortable the whole way through. I have to thank him. When I was trying not to look pregnant, I was denying myself a lot of chocolate cake. When he said I can look pregnant, I was relieved. Thank God! It was an instinctive and special process. It was a testament to his modernity to embrace what was happening. He embraced the truth rather than run away. We have seen pregnant characters in films, but this was revolutionary. We were in space. It was extraordinary.
Was there anything else changed once filming started?
David Oyelowo: We were tasked with finding a planet to colonize. These five people were asked to save the world. My character’s name was Commander Harper, as it was in the book. The story is set decades later. I realized I had never seen an African astronaut in a film like this. I love the fact there was a sentiment of diversity. I felt very strongly, as a person of African descent, that a crew saving the world should have an African. I asked George if he was open to changing my name. We did, and changed it to Adewole, which is the name of the tribe I’m actually from in Nigeria. The name means the king has entered the house. I told George this and he said, well that’s in the movie. Not only am I very grateful to him, but so are millions and millions of Africans.
Talk about the difficulty of shooting in Iceland with such a young actress. Where you happy to be back in the Shepperton Studios?
George Clooney: We were shooting two different movies. The first half, I didn’t see these guys. They were training, learning to work on wires. We were in Iceland and back in the studio shooting. It was just Caoilinn Springall and I until the end of the year. We started in October and shot until the new year. Over Christmas vacation, we finished building the spaceship, and then everyone came in. It was like doing The Revenant for the first half, Gravity for the second half. In a way it’s helpful, if you do your homework and are prepared. Then you’re not bouncing back and forth between two different worlds. I also cut while shooting, so we didn’t have to go back and do reshoots. Thank goodness. They shut us down in February. I got home to LA, Grant [Heslov] was with me, my producing partner for forty years. They said this COVID thing was real, but it only affects elderly people over fifty-five. That was not a thrill for me. (laughs)
George Clooney: Caoilinn Springall put all of use to shame. I would go to the other actors, every shot I did with Caoilinn I did in one take. She was spectacular. She would do one take and it was perfect. She made acting look easy.
What message do you want audiences to take away from this film?
George Clooney: In many ways it’s a film about regret, from the character I play, but he gets redemption. That’s the thing that washes over us. I find it a very hopeful film. I feel that mankind is worth the struggle.
Demián Bichir: Mother nature has told us to go to your room and think about what you did. This is a reckoning time.
The Midnight Sky is currently streaming on Netflix.