Home Behind The Scenes Interview With Writer & Director Of Apple TV+ New Psychological Thriller ‘Constellation’

Interview With Writer & Director Of Apple TV+ New Psychological Thriller ‘Constellation’

First 3 episodes out now on Apple TV+

by Dave Elliott

As the first three episodes of the brilliant new Apple TV+ sci-fi psychological thriller Constellation land on the streaming service today, we had the opportunity to chat with creator/showrunner/exec producer Peter Harness, and director/exec producer Michelle MacLaren, about the mind-bending show.

‘Constellation’ stars Noomi Rapace (Django, Jack Ryan) as Jo — an astronaut who returns to Earth after a disaster in space — only to discover that key pieces of her life seem to be missing. The action-packed space adventure is an exploration of the dark edges of human psychology, and one woman’s desperate quest to expose the truth about the hidden history of space travel and recover all that she has lost.

Alongside Rapace, the series also stars Jonathan Banks (‘Breaking Bad’, ‘Better Call Saul’), James D’Arcy (‘Agent Carter’, ‘Oppenheimer’, ‘Grace’), William Catlett (‘Black Lightning’, ‘A Thousand and One’, ‘The Devil You Know’), Julian Looman (‘Emily in Paris’, ‘The Mallorca Files’)Barbara Sukowa (‘Voyager’, ‘Hannah Arendt’) and introducing Rosie and Davina Coleman as Alice.

Created and written by Peter Harness (“Wallander,” “The War of the Worlds,” “Doctor Who” ), the drama is directed by Emmy Award winner Michelle MacLaren (“Shining Girls,” “The Morning Show,” “Breaking Bad”), Oscar nominee Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall,” “The Experiment”) and Oscar nominee Joseph Cedar (“Footnote,” “Our Boys”).

Geektown: Thank you for spending a bit of time to chat about your show. I completed it today and I loved it. Yeah, I’m looking forward to seeing what the wider world thinks now.

Peter Harness: Yeah, so are we. I mean, it’s just today we’re starting to get an impression of what other people make of it, so we’re desperate to know as well,

Geektown: Whilst watching it thinking “The biggest issue I’m going to have with this show is that I’ve got to interview people about it!” How do you talk about a show like this without spoiling anything? Because it’s just like…

Peter: I don’t know. Let’s just jump into the minefield and then we can pick up the pieces later! (Laughs)

Geektown: Peter, you are the man responsible for it, so I mean, where did the story for it come from?

Peter: Well, the producers asked me whether I would do a show about astronauts in some way, like the experience of being an astronaut, and that’s something that had always fascinated me. I’ve always found it very interesting, the effect that it has, going up there and being separated from the earth. That has a real measurable effect on people, and different people come back having processed it in different ways. I mean, some people think that they saw aliens on the other side of the moon, and some people think that they saw angels floating in space, and some people think that it’s proof of the existence of God, and some people think its proof of the total non-existence of God. But every astronaut comes back changed by it, and their life is divided into before going into space, and after going into space.

For most astronauts, it’s a completely different proposition after they come back, because they have changed. Something about them has changed. I also knew that there were odd stories about people seeing angels in space, people hearing dogs barking, or smelling toast burning, and things like that. That plus there were a lot of similar stories about high altitude pilots as well, that they don’t tend to admit to it. I think it’s called “Lie to Fly”. They have to keep secret about these things, in order to still be allowed up there. I just wanted to tell that story, about what it’s like going into space, and the things that people see.

That collided with another thing, which had been in my head for a while, which is I guess a bit of a ghost story from my own life, which was being on holiday in the forest in Sweden, and every night hearing the sound of a little girl calling for her mama in the forest, who we could never locate this girl. Looking around during the day, there was nowhere that she could have been. When I was writing that, the space stuff, I suddenly this story of the girl in the forest came into it as well, and I worked out that the girl in the forest calling for her mother, was the girl who her mother was looking for up there on the ISS. The series became about that crucial relationship, and that separation and coming together and separating again, basically. That became the emotional heart of it, and then a bunch of other stuff came in as well.

Geektown: For you, Michelle, as Peter just alluded to, there’s a whole array of things that you’re dealing with as a director. You’re not only dealing with shooting “in space”, you’ve got scenes with helicopters in, you’ve got these vast snowfield landscapes… That must be a huge thing to deal with.

Michelle MacLaren: It was. It was awesome! It was epic. I mean, you have an incredible team. I had wonderful partners – Markus Forderer, our cinematographer, and Andy Nicholson, our production designer – and Andy built a replica of the ISS that was incredible. Markus and I were a great collaboration in that I love to do things practically, and realistically, and be on location. He also loves to do things that involve the Volume stage [the big virtual stage technology developed by ILM for shows such as ‘The Mandalorian’]. Actually, it was a great collaboration, because we pushed each other out of our comfort zones. Most everything was shot on location, except the space stuff, obviously. But in Finland, Markus and I actually went out, in a second unit, and shot a bunch of plates, and so all the interior driving car stuff was down on the Volume stage, and that was really helpful, because we weren’t freezing! There are some very emotional scenes there, and we could take our time, and not be cold in doing so.

Everything exterior was shot practically in Finland. The cabin… the interior of the cabin was on stage, but the exterior of the cabin, and all the exterior scenes were actually on location. But it was a great collaboration. It was very challenging. Doing zero-G is one of the most, if not the most, challenging thing, I have ever done. But again, we had a great stunt coordinator and special effects coordinator, Martin Goeres, who designed a unique rig that you could go backwards, forwards, and sideways in the same shot.

Geektown: Oh, wow.

Michelle: That was really wonderful. Thanks to Noomi and everybody’s physical strength, they all trained, they executed the wire work, and rolling on different chairs and whatnot, on different platforms that we built, really well. But they also did miming, especially Noomi. She did a lot of… when we shot from the waist up, she’s actually pretending that she’s on wires in a lot of it, and she did a phenomenal, phenomenal job with that.

Geektown: Yeah, I mean, the space stuff looks incredible. Really, really well done.

Michelle: Thank you.

Geektown: You also had science advisors. It’s one of those shows that, although it is out there in places, it does feel quite grounded as well. It’s a really nice mix of that. Who were the people that you had on set, and helping?

Michelle: I wanted it to be very grounded and realistic, and Peter can talk to you about the quantum physics experts and whatnot. But from a practical point of view, we had Scott Kelly, who’s an astronaut, and has been one of the people who’s spent the most time in the ISS. He was our on-set consultant. He came to Berlin and helped with the training of the actors, and helped us understand what it’s like physically, and emotionally to be in space. But also how to use certain props that, in space, we would use differently on Earth. For example, I asked him, “How would you secure Paul? He’s stuck to the wall. How would you keep him steady, so you could do surgery?” He goes, “Well, there’s no resistance, so I would just duct tape him into place.” So that’s what we did!

Peter: It’s very funny how every day, in a lot of those situations, there’s something about, “Well, we’ve got this problem with this bit of machinery, what would you do, Scott?” He said, “I’d just hit it with a hammer.” (Laughs)

Michelle: (Laughs) That’s… they do! They hit it! Yeah.

Geektown: As you alluded to there, you’ve talked to quantum physics people, as well Peter?

Peter: Yeah. I can’t pretend to know this inside out, because actually, I don’t think anyone can because it’s an “un-understandable” branch of science. But there are aspects of it which people can have theories and opinions on. I was keen that, even if it’s not front and centre, the science is as right as it can be, or as right and as cutting edge as it can be.

We had a scientific consultant called Michael Brooks, who was the editor of New Scientist, and who knows a lot about this stuff. I think I wanted to come up with something that, even if we never explain it, and whatever the lifetime of the series might be, I’m sure we will get there. But I wanted to know that it was grounded and that it has rules and that there are rules that, even if they’re mysterious, to begin with, we know what the rules are. We know why things are happening, and we know that we’re following it, in a logical way, and not making it up as we go along, because I think we’re asking the audience to make a number of leaps of faith.

But I was always very keen to promise the audience that even if we got all these toys out of the box, and played with them, we would start slotting them back into place as we went, and not introduce more and more mysteries, and try and trick people in that way. I’m very keen that, even if we might not always be entirely sure what’s going on, neither do the characters. I think if the characters don’t always have an idea, if the characters say, “I have no idea what just happened to me,” then the audience can perhaps accept that. I think we do start to explain ourselves, a little bit, as it goes.

Geektown: Yeah, totally. Well, I think that’s my time, but I know it looks like you’re possibly setting up for future seasons, and I really hope you get more, because I think there’s so much more you can tell with this show. It’s really good, and I hope it does really well for you. I’m looking forward to seeing how it hits with the public.

Peter: That’s really kind of you to say, so thank you very much.

Michelle: Thank you so much.

The first 3 episodes of ‘Constellation‘ Season 1 are out now on Apple TV+ globally.

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