First Man Trailer

With the ending, I really like the idea of you going on this sprawling journey and then the story concluding with two people in a room. How did you arrive at that ending? With the ending in mind, how did it maybe influence how you wrote the rest of the script and the build up to that final moment?

You know, what’s interesting is we played with several different endings in the course of the writing. I say we had an ending for a while which involved Deke driving Neil home from quarantine… We had an ending which involved seeing some of the break, because after quarantine, there was this huge three day tour and then a subsequent like 45 day tour.

The two or three day tour was they literally went New York, Chicago, LA, this is all in one day. There was a huge parade in New York, and then a similar parade in Chicago, and then a huge banquet for them in LA. Reagan, I believe, was governor at the time, came down and spoke. There’s all sorts of dignitaries there. We played with that in detail. Neil, just before he was introduced that he’ll never fly again, because he’s a national treasure now. The President Patterson ending, but we then discarded that. Then what should really be Neil coming home from quarantine, having to face the house, and not quite knowing a way to matter. We actually shot that.

As we were filming, the stuff leading up to it and what would happen with Claire and Ryan and their interaction and that relationship really started to pop. It became pretty clear that that relationship was going to be our real central thread, which we had always hoped for, but you never know until you get the actors on set and see what they do. Claire was just so marvelous, as was Ryan, that we really were sort of knocked out by the work. We began to really latching on to this idea … I think at some point on set, Damien reached out like, “Wow, the end of this movie might really be the two of them in that quarantine.”

What we loved about it is, it’s a moment of hope, right? It’s a moment that despite all the brutal stuff we’ve seen this couple go through, at the end of the day, maybe they are still reaching for each other. It felt redemptive. We started to really talk about that throughout production.

In post, Damien never even cut the other … He cut them once, but he never showed us a cut with anything other than this as the ending now. Now, we did play with various versions. We played with a version where they looked at each other and they don’t reach for each other, which was slightly darker ending. It just was a little too dark and a little too ambiguous. We then moved into this world in which they are reaching for each other. That wound up feeling right.

There’s still that darkness there, though, with the huge sheet of glass between them. 

Yes. Exactly.

I think that’s a great final image because it leaves you with mixed emotions like that. How have you found the ending lands with audiences? So far, is the response to the movie close to what you intended? 

You know, it’s interesting. I would say most of the folks who I’ve spoken to find the movie as emotional as we intended. For me, it’s a super emotional movie. Just starting with the death of that child is devastating. For me, it’s all about loss and grief. I think there’s some folks who find the movie and Neil cold and distant. I would say that’s not entirely wrong. I mean, I think he was a bit distant and remote. On the other hand, it mystifies me a little bit because to me, it’s a very deeply emotional and upsetting story.

I will say this, the story is, I likened it a little bit to Bolero, the piece of composition, which is repetitive, which is beautiful and pulls you in, and is sort of repetitive, but in the end, it’s a crescendo that can leave you speechless if it’s done right. To some degree, I think we were going for that a little bit, this notion of it is grief and loss and failure, and grief and loss and failure, and grief and loss and failure, until you get to the moon. Then there is the moment where there is a moment of release, which is surprising and powerful. I think for those who find it frustrating until they get that last 20 minutes, that’s the point. That’s the point [Laughs]. It was incredibly frustrating and incredibly hard. The movie is somewhat in that fashion. It can be frustrating and hard, because this is not a biopic, where you’re supposed to be walking alongside … I think most biopics are about walking alongside your protagonist, getting to spend two hours with Abraham Lincoln.

I love that movie and Steven and Daniel-Day Lewis did a terrific job of literally putting us in the presence of this man we only know in legend, and letting us see, oh this is what he was like, right? This movie is a little bit that, but what it really is is the human issues. Neil, I think, was certainly very, very bright and had a heck of a nice brain, but he was an ordinary American, right? And trying to raise an ordinary family. A bit of an every man from Wapakoneta, Ohio, who dreams of flying, and winds up being the first man on the moon. There’s a little bit of an every man quality to him. We’re really trying to put you in his shoes, so you can feel how tough that journey really was.


First Man is now in theaters.

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