See Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomie Harris in new take on David Bowie cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Man Who Fell to Earth (TV series)
David Bowie, he ain't.
That's not a put-down, but a true statement about Chiwetel Ejiofor's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Based on Walter Tevis' 1963 novel, the sci-fi drama (landing on Showtime this spring) first beamed onto screens as a 1976 movie, starring the music legend as an extraterrestrial who, well, falls to Earth.
"You can't think of the film without thinking of David Bowie," says Alex Kurtzman, who serves as co-showrunner with Jenny Lumet and John Hlavin on the new series. "And it was a radically daunting prospect to stand in his shadow. His legacy is very meaningful to people, and that was not something to play around with lightly. The hubris of even choosing to do that could take you down."
Echoes Lumet, "You cannot chase, you cannot replicate the magic of David Bowie. You can't hope to."
Luckily, the creators landed on a concept that would take them on a divergent path. To start with, Ejiofor plays "an entirely different character with an entirely different story," Kurtzman explains. "He is of the same alien species that Bowie was in the film, but he's not the same character — and he wasn't the first one here."
Once he lands on Earth, Ejiofor's otherworldly visitor sets out in search of a particular human scientist, played by Naomie Harris. "He arrives on our planet looking specifically for her," teases Kurtzman. "She has such extraordinary ability inside of her, but is afraid to engage with the part of herself that can make the world better."
Both Kurtzman and Lumet are vague about what happens from there, but will tease that it doesn't follow the dispiriting road of the book and movie. The writers began work on the series by pondering some timely questions ("How did we get to this moment?" "Why are we so fundamentally disconnected from each other?"), which they say led them to a more optimistic vision than that of the source material.
"One thing that I really responded to was the loneliness of [Bowie's] character in both the novel and the film," Kurtzman says. "They're about this extraordinary loneliness, and how human loneliness can ultimately destroy you. I loved that feeling in the work that had been made, [but] it was not the story that I wanted to tell, and it was not the story that Jenny wanted to tell. We were interested in integrating that loneliness, but I think we wanted to tell a story that's ultimately much more uplifting."
Adds Lumet, "I believe in human beings, and I wanted to write about human beings pulling it out, stepping up, and making it through. Because we're pretty cool species. And I believe that if a spaceman came to Earth, he would see all our shenanigans and he would say, 'Wait a minute, you guys are capable of some really beautiful stuff.'" Like the music of David Bowie, perhaps.
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Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomie Harris star in a new take on the cult classic film starring David Bowie as an alien who, well, falls to Earth.
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