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When the name Lisa Nowak comes to mind, most think of the NASA astronaut who famously drove across the country wearing adult diapers to kidnap her ex-lover’s new girlfriend, later to be charged with attempted murder.
The diaper component of the story proved to be particularly buzzy and was expected to be a key storyline in Lucy in the Sky, the film loosely based on Nowak’s life and post-space saga. However, after its TIFF premiere, audiences learned the diapers are not featured in the retelling at all, which has led to plenty of critical chatter online.
“I found it interesting that response, people who said, ‘There’s no diaper and I’m not OK with that,'” director Noah Hawley told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday. “I thought it said more about them really; what is it that makes you want that detail, that makes you want to reduce her to a punch line again? The goal of the film is to rehumanize her and to build empathy for her, to show you that she had an emotional and existential crisis and that’s part of becoming an adult.”
Hawley added that Nowak has already paid her price after NASA dismissed her from the program, saying, “At the end of the day, her punishment was she lost the thing she cared about the most. We don’t need to also punish her by humiliating her.”
Jon Hamm, who stars opposite Natalie Portman as her fellow astronaut and extramarital lover, echoed the same message that the team didn’t want to exploit the diaper storyline for laughs.
“We’re not interested in humorizing this very real and human experience. We’re more interested in making it about the philosophical questions behind it and the emotional questions behind it,” he said.
Interestingly, writers Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi, who wrote the original version of the script before it was revised by Hawley, said their version included a diaper mention on the very first page.
“I think the movie is fine without the diaper, as much as we love diapers,” joked DiGuiseppi.
The diaper-less decision reflects the film’s desire to go beyond the sensationalism that surrounded the story in 2007 and explore how those who experience something as life-changing as going to space are expected to come back and return to normal life.
“The way that story came out was all a bit tabloid’ed out, and I think people tended to forget that that’s a real human being going through what seems like a pretty difficult time for whatever reason,” Hamm told THR. “I think Noah in particular wanted to dig in there — I certainly did too — to dig into the question of what is that? Why do people unravel like that? What makes them like that?”
Rather than reducing her to a punch line, the film aims for analysis and a discussion of mental health for Lucy Cola, a moniker used in place of Nowak’s real name.
“I made Legion, which is very much a mental health story. I think what’s different about this is Lucy is not a mentally ill person — she is a high-functioning, hugely efficient, well-rounded person who goes to space and has a profound experience that she doesn’t really know how to process. And rather than facing it and dealing with it, she just puts herself back into her work,” Hawley explained.
Portman, who called the film a “childhood dream come true,” added that she wanted to be part of a story where she could “play a woman or see a woman on screen grappling with existential questions. It was a really rare opportunity.”
The L.A. premiere, which was held on the Fox Studios lot, also welcomed castmembers Pearl Amanda Dickson and Jeremiah Birkett.
Lucy in the Sky hits theaters Oct. 4.
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