Bringing Mars down to Earth

Best Adapted Screenplay nominee Drew Goddard discusses The Martian.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Ridley Scott, Matt Damon and Drew Goddard at The Martian tea
Ridley Scott, Matt Damon and Drew Goddard at The Martian tea Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Adam McKay and Charles Randolph (working from a book by Michael Lewis) for McKay's The Big Short, Nick Hornby (novel by Colm Tóibín) for John Crowley's Brooklyn, Phyllis Nagy (book by Patricia Highsmith) for Todd Haynes' Carol and Emma Donoghue's adaptation of her own novel for Lenny Abrahamson's Room, join Drew Goddard (book by Andy Weir) for Ridley Scott's The Martian as the five Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nominees. Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Walter Isaacson's biography for Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs is a glaring omission by the Academy voters.

Jeff Daniels, the star of Woody Allen's The Purple Rose Of Cairo and James L. Brooks' Terms Of Endearment, is the thread between Oscar nominated actors Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and Matt Damon in The Martian during my conversation with Drew Goddard.

Jeff Daniels, NASA director in The Martian with Steve Jobs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin
Jeff Daniels, NASA director in The Martian with Steve Jobs screenwriter Aaron Sorkin Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: The Martian is supposed to take place in 2034?

Drew Goddard: Roughly. We never quite say. But it's about 20 years into the future.

AKT: What makes it different from 2016?

DG: Really, the only change is that we don't have the technology to make it to Mars. We didn't want flying cars or jet packs or anything, you know, crazy futuristic.

AKT: Even the costumes on earth. Some look very 2011, I would say.

DG: I think that's right. We wanted to feel contemporary so that it felt relatable. It was important for this movie that it felt relatable to us. I didn't want it to feel like a crazy futuristic movie.

AKT: How did you discuss the combination of the ordinary with the fact that you were creating a futuristic world?

DG: We talked a lot about that early on. We wanted to feel the rough edges of science here. Science fiction tends to be very shiny and clean. And Ridley wanted to make it feel human. Very much everything had to go through this NASA vetting. You know, could NASA make this? All of the design.

AKT: It had NASA vetting?

Brooklyn screenwriter Nick Hornby, Saoirse Ronan, producer Finola Dwyer, Colm Tóibín and John Crowley
Brooklyn screenwriter Nick Hornby, Saoirse Ronan, producer Finola Dwyer, Colm Tóibín and John Crowley Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

DG: Yes. NASA vetted everything. And we used their research and technology to build our labs and to design everything so that you could feel human. The fundamental mission statement was - this needs to feel like humans made it.

AKT: Jeff Daniels plays the head of NASA. What did you think of that casting?

DG: Look, I love Jeff Daniels. He's a dream. You are always looking for actors that could break your heart and make you laugh. And Jeff has done that for his entire career, so he was a no-brainer.

AKT: As a representation of cinema in general, there is The Purple Rose Of Cairo. He is stepping down from the screen.

DG: That's right. He is stepping… or Terms Of Endearment!

AKT: I spoke with him about Steve Jobs and Purple Rose a couple of weeks ago. I had not seen your film yet, then.

DG: Oh really? Next time you see him, you have something else to talk about.

AKT: What did you think of him as Teddy [Sanders]?

Matt Damon in The Martian:
Matt Damon in The Martian: "Science fiction tends to be very shiny and clean. And Ridley wanted to make it feel human."

DG: I love him. One of the things that is tricky about that role is that it could very easily become the antagonist because he is in charge of making a hard decision. You know, that could come across as a guy who's getting in the way of our hero, Matt Damon [as Mark Watney]. But I think Jeff really humanised it so that you understand - he's trying to do the best thing also for his team. It all comes down to Jeff's performance.

AKT: Last question. What's your favorite planet?

DG: Oh great. You know what? It's going to sound boring but I'm going to go with Earth. I actually love our planet. It's a pretty good planet.

AKT: Do you get that question a lot?

DG: No, it's actually the first time I've been asked.

Read Ridley Scott on The Martian and space dogs, Matt Damon on playing the greatest botanist on the planet, Jessica Chastain on outfitting an astronaut, spacesuit versus sweatpants and loving the soundtrack in The Martian plus screenwriter Drew Goddard on adapting Andy Weir's book.

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