In Netflix’s The Midnight Sky, director George Clooney stars as a survivor of a catastrophic event that has annihilated the earth’s population. Holed up in an arctic research center with a young girl who was left behind during an evacuation, Clooney’s cancer-stricken scientist must take care of his young charge while also attempting to alert the crew of a space mission (played by Kyle Chandler, Felicity Jones, Damien Bechir, David Oyelowo and Tiffany Boone) before they return to their now-deadly home planet.
The dazzling sci-fi drama has earned an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects, but there was a surprising element of the film that was completely real: actress Felicity Jones’ pregnancy.
In the exclusive clip, Clooney reveals to Oscar-nominated Nomadland director Chloé Zhao that he was shooting his character’s half of the film in Iceland when he got the surprise call from Jones. “She says, ‘Well, I’m pregnant,” Clooney recalls. “I knew how to answer that, which is: ‘Congratulations!’ But if you saw my face, I’m like, ‘Oh, shit.'”
But rather than shoot around Jones’ pregnancy — or incorporating visual effects to make her pregnancy invisible — Clooney embraced it, bringing a new sense of reality to the space-set film. “You know, women every single day are pregnant, going to work and doing their job,” Clooney says, noting Nomadland star Frances McDormand’s Oscar-winning portrayal of a pregnant police officer in Fargo. “Why not in space?’
Searchlight’s Nomadland, set in the sprawling American west and following a community of modern-day nomads who live out of trailers and vans, is much closer to our own world than the far-reaches of space seen in The Midnight Sky. But that doesn’t mean director Zhao wasn’t prepared for surprises from her cast, which alongside McDormand and David Strathairn was made up of real-live nomads who were making their film (and acting) debuts.
“We didn’t get to meet the folks until a couple of days before shooting,” Zhao explains. Many of those new actors came with their own stories about their lives living on the road, and not all were so keen to capture details of their personal lives on screen. But as Zhao worked alongside these real-life nomads, a level of trust was established between director and cast — and they became more willing to reveal themselves in front of the camera.
Making space for those actors meant subtle changes to Nomadland’s script, depending on how comfortable the performers were with their personal lives. “You have to quickly adjust something for Fran to do, so that scene could be made into the film,” Zhao remembers. “A lot of times a very personal story [would come up at] the last minute, where they [decided] they wanted to share or not. Those were really the heart and soul of the film. I was very lucky to have them.”
Watch the Directors Roundtable in full below:
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