The Cast & Crew of ‘Tomorrowland’ Discuss NASA, Optimism, and George Clooney’s Rapping

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A few weeks ago, the assorted film press from various outlets all over the world assembled at a posh Beverly Hills hotel for the Tomorrowland press day. The new science fiction epic directed by Brad Bird and starring George Clooney, Tomorrowland is science-fiction spectacle that balances its thrills with a message of optimism and wonder. Before any of the cast and crew participating in the press conference entered the room, many of the eager journalists snapped multiple picture of each participant’s marker, basically a piece of paper with George Clooney’s name printed on it.

With time to kill before the start of the press conference, I glanced about at the assorted displays while sipping on a cup of complimentary coffee. The enthusiastic representative for Shazam teased me with the app’s latest update, a cross-promotion with Disney. It was some cool stuff, but I don’t use Shazaam so it was pretty much lost on me. Then there were the people at XPrize, who have a competition for kids with bold ideas to enter, with a couple of their contest winners. Meanwhile, a 3D printer was churning out plastic buttons with the film’s logo on it. Finally, there was the area where we could stand in front of a green screen and have ourselves transported to Tomorrowland. Yeah, I sure look silly.

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Once the participants of the press conference made their way to the table, the room swarmed to place any available recording device on the front end of the table, hoping to capture every minor exhale. After the introductions, the press conference was underway with co-writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen explaining the origins of the film. Lindelof, who was the showrunner on Lost for years, was taken by Jensen’s various theories about the show while Jensen was working as a critic for Entertainment Weekly.

Lindelof explained the inspiration behind Tomorrowland, “I’ve always been really interested in the future and I kind of feel like all the movies that I’ve been exposed to over the course of the last 20-30 years have shown me a future that I don’t really want to be living in. It’s cool to watch, but teenagers trying to kill other teenagers, or robots eradicating mankind, or you know, apocalyptic wastelands, albeit populated by Charlize Theron, are all great.” He continued, “I was really interested in the history of Disney, the Imagineers, and the theme parks, particularly as it related to the World’s Fairs,” all of which are noticeably visible in the film.

The writer also confessed that is a longer cut of the movie, “there is a much longer version of this movie, not necessarily a better one, that is much more explicit about Walt [Disney]’s involvement. But the idea is that it was very explicit about the idea that he was a member of Plus Ultra, and that Disneyland, particularly Tomorrowland and Disneyland, were covers for the actual Tomorrowland.” However, much of this was cut from the film because, as Lindelof elaborated, “the feeling was that by directly referencing Disney and Disneyland in a movie that is a Disney movie, it just suddenly felt like, ‘Oh, are we trying to sell tickets to go to the theme park,’ when the theme park should be selling tickets to go and see Tomorrowland.”

Though the filmmakers shied away from including more of theme park in the film, Brad Bird explained Clooney’s plan to incorporate elements of the film in the theme park: “George is pitching jetpacks. He wants everyone issued one. They can just fly around the park. And now that they serve alcohol in the park, I think that would be a great deal of fun.”

“I also am not thrilled of the idea of people in jetpacks flying over my house,” Clooney quipped.

Brad Bird, Raffey Cassidy, and some other guy.

A photo posted by Sean Mulvihill (@messenscene) on

When asked what NASA means to his own sense of wonder, Bird recounted his own recollection of the Moon landing: “I remember how that felt. I was actually in the air when they were about to get out on the surface. We were flying in from Denver, and I was like, ‘I’m going to miss it!’ Fortunately, there were some kinds of technical errors and we landed in the airport. We ran to the nearest TV monitor and there were, like, 400 people just packed in, watching when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. And everybody just went, ‘Whoo!’ That feeling has never left me.”

Bird continued talking about NASA’s role in the film: “So a chance to shoot at NASA was fantastic, and to be on this launchpad were so many really noble journeys started. And we got to watch a launch from the launchpad, which was one of the coolest moments on the film. So it was great to be at NASA. And if this, in any way, encourages NASA people to do more, then I think that would be a great thing.”

Speaking from the perspective of a younger generation, Britt Robertson, one of the young stars of the film who plays Casey, explained her thoughts about NASA’s importance to the real world and Tomorrowland: “I think NASA also sort of represents a very specific hope, you know, and it sort of ties in with the movie in a sort of symbolic way, you know? NASA represents this unknown, and the human race’s being able to explore the universe and other things that are out there. And I think that’s sort of in line with the movie, in terms of theme.”

One of the biggest movie stars in the world, George Clooney is just how you’d expect. The guy is just cool. He confidently answers his questions, alternating between serious, engaging responses to quick-witted barbs at the blink of an eye. The superstar actor isn’t afraid to mock his past ventures into blockbuster filmmaking, having avoided massive spectacles since the legendary fiasco known as Batman & Robin. “Putting me in a summer movie is a very bold thought,” the actor said self-deprecatingly in relation to a question about the film’s bold vision of scientific wonder. But Clooney switches over to serious and explains what drew him to the project: “What I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference and I believe in that.”

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Clooney expanded his point about the film’s theme about optimism: “I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind. I always felt like it was going to work out in the end. And I still feel that way. And so what I loved about the film was that it reminds you that, you know, young people don’t wake up, they’re not born and start out their lives cynical, or angry, or bigoted. You have to be taught all of those things. And I watch the world now and think I see really good signs from young people out there. And I feel as if the world will get better. And I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve been a realist, but I’ve been an optimist about it.”

But since this is George Clooney, the press conference wasn’t free from absurd questions about the actor’s personal life. One particular yahoo asked, “Since this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, do you see yourself as a father in the future?”

Amid a chorus of groans and facepalms, the actor quickly turned the tables: “I thought you’d do, ‘There’s a little kids who’s you as a young boy, does it make you feel like you should have a little boy like that boy, that looks like you sort of, like having a child?’ But no, you went, ‘You know, you have a mother, and most of us have mothers, and wouldn’t you like to be a father somehow?’”

And just before time ran out on the proceedings, the superstar actor made a startling confession. Later on, the movie icon shared a shocking a revelation. “In fact, many of the great rappers today have fashioned their stylings from me,” Clooney said.

The press conference covered many of the varied themes of Tomorrowland – there was discussion of big ideas, some humor, and an overwhelming sense of optimism.

Tomorrowland opens on May 22

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