Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Noah Hawley makes his feature film directorial debut with LUCY IN THE SKY, a story about a prominent woman struggling existential crisis. It’s “inspired by” the true-life tale of accomplished astronaut Lisa Nowak, who, after achieving countless career commendations, started to lose her mind when a torrid affair with a colleague disintegrated. The “astronaut love triangle” as the media called it, provides the base for a cinematic breakdown of the events leading up to the titular protagonist’s break from reality.
At the film’s recent press day, we learned a few things about the behind the scenes making of the indie drama.
It was written in a Del Taco in Silver Lake. Florida natives, screenwriters (and childhood best friends) Brian C. Brown and Elliot DiGuiseppi needed a place to write. And with Starbucks’ being overrun during the day, Southern Californian tacos-and-burgers fast food joint Del Taco was the next best thing. DiGuiseppi joked, “It’s its own unique place. When we first started writing together in Los Angeles, we thought a coffee shop was a little too nice for us. We like to know our place.”
It was originally going to star Reese Witherspoon. Though she now is credited as a producer, Reese Witherspoon had thought about playing Lucy. Jon Hamm, who plays Lucy’s bad boy astronaut paramour Mark Goodwin, says, “When I first heard about it, Reese was attached to it and had to fall out because of BIG LITTLE LIES 2.” DiGuiseppi recalls their first meeting with Witherspoon. “We had written this spec and passed it along to our agents. It had gotten to her and was a really quick read. We heard from her agents, “She would like to meet with you for drinks at the Polo Lounge [in The Beverly Hills Hotel].” We had lost the capacity to laugh. We’ll try our best not to look nervous, run a comb through our hair. Brian had said, “The name’s under Witherspoon,” and we expected to be laughed out. She had gotten there early and had finished her salad. I ordered the first thing on the menu, which was a Moscow Mule – not food. We talked about what really excites us about this story. Later that night, she reached out to her people and said she was in. It really changed our lives.”
The writers wanted to “unlock the humanity” behind the splashy headlines and salacious story. DiGuiseppi says, “We had tremendous respect for the people who did this. In researching that specific crime, the things that spoke to us were little details. The story as initially reported was very sensational. It felt too broad. For us, the thing that unlocked it was the list of items that were found at the arrest – tubing, specific amounts of rope, the BB gun, the pepper spray and the diaper. When you take the assumption that NASA has the best of the best there and you see the specificity of these items, you see this is somebody who is falling apart in an extremely structured way.”
The key to understanding Lucy’s for Natalie Portman was her existential crisis. She explains, “What happens when you have this experience that makes you feel more alive than ever, and more meaning than ever, but part of that experience is realizing how small we are and how meaningless perhaps everything we care about in the universe is. She’s fighting for meaning – it does matter, I do care, I am feeling something big, and even though all signs point to nothing matters, I want it to matter. It’s the most human thing we can all relate to even though we haven’t been to space.”
Noah Hawley and Natalie Portman collaborated on script tweaks during filming. He elucidates, “It was interesting. The character on paper is theoretical. When Natalie and I started working together, there were moments that clearly needed to be changed. There’s a moment in the pickup truck where [Lucy and Mark] kiss and she says, “Sorry, I don’t know why I did that.” But, once I got to know Lucy, I thought, “She wouldn’t apologize for anything.” She sees the moment. That was fascinating to see the character come alive and adjust the script accordingly.”
LUCY IN THE SKY opens on October 4.