Peter Chelsom Talks about ‘The Space Between Us’

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The Space Between Us is a sci-fi love story that follows the life of Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) a young man born on the Mars colony who falls in love with Tulsa (Britt Robertson), an earthling who seems to be the only person to understand.

Gardner realizes that the only way to truly connect with Tulsa is to come to Earth and be with his one true love. Unfortunately, his body is not used to Earth’s atmosphere, which creates a lot more issues than the original 33.9 million miles that kept them part.

Along with Gary Oldman who plays Nathaniel Shepherd, the man who started the Mars colony, the two young lovers worlds are put through Hell as they search for Gardner’s father and his true place in this world or any other.

We spoke to director Peter Chelsom about The Space Between Us and this is what he had to say:

R.C. Samo (RCS): Talk about a long distance love story. People in Southern California don’t want to go over the other side of the 10 fwy to date yet this is a relationship that goes between Earth and Mars.

Peter Chelsom (PC): Yes, but isolation doesn’t depend on distance. I always have to get the theme right when I start. Isolation versus connection amplified by the vastness of space.

RCS: Oh, I like that. You have an extremely talented cast, Britt (Robertson) is fantastic in this and almost everything she’s ever done. Gary Oldman can read the phone book and he’ll be enthralling. Asa (Butterfield) was wonderful in this film as he’s very young in his career. What was it like guiding him through a story like this?

PC: His basic qualities in his essence was right for the role because he has just such a purity about him. His eyes and that stare, he’s very unguarded. There is nothing really defensive about him, which is perfect for a boy who was born on Mars and hasn’t learned earthling neuroses. That was his natural being. You’re already starting from a very strong place and he was very, very directable. I work differently with different actors; did I directly him? Yes, because I think he had to push himself more than he had as his range gets greater in this role than in any previous role. In the end, he got quite a nice range to him and he grows up by the end. It is a coming-of-age film. He’s the nicest guy there is, he doesn’t have a bad bone in his body.

RCS: And when you have Gary (Oldman) and Carla (Gugino) it kind of helps you step up your game.

PC: Yeah, I have been friends with Gary (Oldman) for 30 year and we have been looking to work together for nearly all of that and it was just a complete pleasure working with him as we look to do something together again soon. Gary and I come from very, very similar backgrounds. We have a real short hand; I think for Gary though, I want him to play very close to home. It’s the least character you will see him playing.

I think he both loved it and found it disconcerting at times because there’s nothing to hide behind or to hang on to, but he did like how close he was to the character — there was a moment when we were doing the presentation scene in the beginning where he’s presenting the rocket and there he is dripping in Prada and fake tan with raven-esque hair, looking amazing and between takes he looks at me saying, ‘I think I want to host the Oscars next,’ because that warm entertainer in him came out, of course that just applies to the start of the film before things fall apart.

With Carla (Gugino), I had known forever. She actually auditioned for Serendipity all those years ago and I made such a big mental take at the time thinking, ‘I have to work with her,’ because she’s an extremely professional and such a good, dedicated actress/

RCS: Now, it sounds like you guys had a fun set then. I mean obviously with professionalism but then there are people that you care about and that you enjoy working with.

PC: It was nice. The timing of the shoot was incredibly tight. We only had 39 days for principle photography, which is unheard of for a movie like that. It just makes you more decisive actually, and I kind of enjoyed that.

RCS: Doesn’t it give it more of an indie film feel where you’re on this crunch time where you need to finish faster than you normally would on another film?

PC: For better and for worse (chuckles). My sets are probably more of an indie feel in terms there isn’t a sense of hierarchy in I love to work very hard and I love to laugh, so we do have a good time.

It’s funny because — I think a few months ago I did a front page for IMDB to curate a list of films that influenced me on the making of, The Space Between Us and one of the films I said I watched before shooting was Million Dollar Baby by Clint Eastwood. It had nothing to do with the film other than it was shot in 34 days and he goes home at 4:30 (p.m.) and so I looked at it because I wanted to remind myself of what that limited amount of shooting time, how it informs you camera style and actually if you are shooting cinemascope, as we were, it’s rather nice because things linger longer, wider and they play out more.

RCS: You filmed an alternate ending for this film. If the alternate ending had been the actual ending, what do you think the audience reaction would have been in regards to how the story flowed and or changed the worldview?

PC: There is a crass answer to that and they would have scored it a few points less because they felt there were too many endings to the movie. Me, personally, I just don’t know, I like them both. The scene is Gary Oldman coming full circle doing that lecture he gave at the beginning but now to the people on Mars and how he’s changed his view.

But, you are making a film that is a family movie, a commercial move (they hope) and you’re torn sometimes. Sometimes you make those decisions and you regret them, but it’s not a massive difference, to be honest. I think audiences felt that we had enough ending, that was the sense we got. We had to cut our losses and do it visually, which is nice with a massive shot of Gary and Asa overlooking the new colony as it develops, suggesting the future.

Sometimes, images like that at the end of a movie, images can mean more. If you put it all into just words, then you’re narrowing down its interpretation. The best example for me is the last shot of Being There, where he walked on water. I’m old to have seen it on that Saturday afternoon when it opened and it blew me away. There was this universal gasp  coming from the audience because it was such a powerful image and you’ll hear a thousand interpretations of that moment and they are all meaningful and that’s what’s beautiful.

RCS: This is a science fiction story but it is also a love story. How do you find the balance in telling science fiction and romance?

PC: Gosh, I literally don’t put that thought in my mind. I just try to make truthful filmmaking. Do you know what I mean? I think you just…here’s what you don’t do with a story like that. You don’t have a, ‘house style.’ You don’t have a mode that you can’t get out of. I think you have to be very, very careful not point to yourself as the director and just go for the truth in all of it. Be it the size of an explosion of the stillness between two people in front of a campfire, you just have to go for the truth in all that and I think, it’s a lot to do with the performances.

They need to have conviction and when I work on most films, very often actors come on board and they think because I have done comedies they think have to be on a comedy mode and I always have to adjust all the dialogue and say, ‘No, no. Start with something really truthful.’ The byproduct is that it’s really funny or the other thing I say is, ‘I want real characters in absurd situations. I don’t want absurd characters in absurd situations,’ then you lost me, thus the contact with the audience.

The Space Between Us arrives on Blu-Ray Combo Pack, Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

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