The Martian hits theaters this weekend and — judging by its early buzz and positive reviews (read EW’s here) — it looks like it will be a hit. Based on the best-selling novel by Andy Weir, the film follows stranded astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon), who attempts to survive on Mars after his crew mistakenly believes him dead and leaves him behind. Legendary director Ridley Scott (who certainly knows his way around outer space), talked to EW about the making of the film, the secret to shooting fast, and his favorite Matt Damon movies,
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The Martian does not seem like an easy book to turn into a movie
RIDLEY SCOTT: No. The tricky thing is that the book was written with a first-person voice and that’s a bit scary: Can Mark Watney keep us paying attention through quite a lot? What we came up with is that you have to give him something else. Our solution was the GoPro that is everywhere where he is. They record everything — they’re like the black box on an aircraft. So if you have a GoPro present and no one else to talk to, it suddenly becomes a buddy. Matt was able to talk to it that way. So it was tricky but it never became a problem because Matt Damon is such a great humorist.
After seeing the movie it’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to play Mark Watney besides Matt Damon.
Right? He’s so thoughtful and dignified. He really has an interesting dignity. And we both felt that the film had to have that humor — the book is funny. You can miss that and just concentrate on the heroism. I really learned from a film I quite like a lot called The Right Stuff. The book too. You hear the cool voice of Chuck Yeager say in a calm voice: “I’m getting some bumps.” He’s actually going through the bloody sound barrier! It’s pilot speak — they do not allow fear or terror to enter. You can’t let that in. You must keep fear and panic at bay.
Mark Watney cannot panic.
No. He’d be dead. He’d take off his helmet and die.The optimism of the story is the fun.
You had never worked with Matt Damon before this, right?
No, and I have to say I especially enjoyed it.
What had you seen him in that made you think he was right for this?
Oh, everything. Everything! My favorite of Matt’s films are the Bourne films, of course, but The Talented Mr. Ripley was really really special, wasn’t it? But you know everything he does is something I’d like to see.
You shot primarily in Hungary?
Yes, in Budapest I found this building that became the NASA complex.I even found an old site in Budapest of what had been a World’s Fair in the ‘80s, and that became the location for the California scenes. But when it came to Mars, we went to Wadi Rum in Jordan. We shot near where Lawrence of Arabia was shot. I’ve been back there twice — for the helicopter stuff for Prometheus and location shots for Exodus. It’s an extraordinary place. I recommend you go just to see it.
You famously work remarkably fast. The entire shoot of The Martian was just 72 days?
[Laughs] Matt called me ‘Two Take Charlie.’ The key is to know what you’re doing. If you do 90 takes it means you don’t really know what you want. Also, the key in doing my job is to have good taste in casting and cast well. When you cast well, the actors are going to help you on the day. So you cast people who will become partners and that’s how you move so fast. They trust me. I trust them. Most great actors will say: I’m going to get it in two. So if we go on to do 19 takes I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I learned that way back when. They’ve come in totally prepared and you do not want a long dissertation about their cat dying, and their mother isn’t well and the house just burned down. They’ll look at you and be like, “What are you doing? You’re f—ng with my head!
I’ve heard you and the cast — which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels — particularly bonded during production.
I had a great time. And yes, this was one of those movies where people have a good time. To me it’s a good sign if people are having a good time because I tend to push it like crazy.