Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, 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
George Clooney is an easy-going guy – and so is his collaborative style when it comes to filmmaking. There’s no better proof of this than with THE MIDNIGHT SKY, an adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book, “Good Morning, Midnight.” The actor’s latest directorial effort centers on two groups of characters: a pair in the Arctic trying to make a dangerous, snowy trek to a working communication station and a group of 5 astronauts in space.
Two crew members aboard the spaceship Aether, which is returning to Earth after a long mission to determine if human life can be sustained on Jupiter’s recently-discovered moon K-23, are Mission Specialist Sullivan and Flight Commander Adewole. Both Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo were pleasantly surprised by Clooney’s affable demeanor and creative intentions when it came to their characters – especially Jones, who had some physical limitations imposed upon her due to her pregnancy.
At the film’s recent virtual press conference, Clooney set the scene when they had their first phone call about this.
“We were about three weeks into shooting, in Iceland, and I get a call from Felicity and she says, “There’s some news.” I said, “What is it?” She said, “I’m pregnant.” I said, “Congratulations. We’re very happy, very excited for you.” And there was this long pause, and we go, “So what do you want to do?” And she goes, “I want to do it.” She got a trainer and wanted to work out on the wires. We tried things, like we tried to deny it, we tried to pretend that it didn’t happen. We would shoot around her and shooting things three times and were going to do head replacements.”
“Initially, I was very worried that I would get fired. So it was a great relief when George made it the most encouraging and completely comfortable the whole way through. Initially, when I was trying not to look pregnant, I was denying myself lots of chocolate cake. When he said that I can actually be pregnant in the film, I was relieved.”
After some time was spent pondering how they might shoot around Jones’ pregnancy, Clooney came to the conclusion that they should incorporate this development into their story, in order to make for a richer narrative,
“The best versions of things are when you accept them and don’t see them as problems. Once we decided, suddenly he became – Wilbur, who is her son’s actual name – a character to us. The crew of the ship joined together in protecting her. It became a family. So we could write scenes about naming the kid, or doing the ultrasound, which I think is a stunning scene. They’re waiting for any sound, any sign of life, and the only sound they’re getting is from inside Felicity. That became infinitely more hopeful. There was a real fight for the idea that mankind is worth the struggle. You feel as if, you see that, and it is. It drew everyone together that also made it very hopeful.”
Felicity was happy to let her personal life inform this character.
“It was an instinctive and special process. It was a testament to his modernity to embrace the truth of what was happening, rather than trying to run away from something. We have seen pregnant characters in films. But it’s pretty revolutionary to see a pregnant woman in space.”
For Oyelowo, putting a stamp on the character proved integral. Thinking about the importance of this mission rooted the actor in the story’s sense of place.
“As George and I were talking about with this crew and what they’ve been tasked with, even before we get a sense of how bad things have become on Earth, we still as a group of 5 astronauts have been tasked with finding a planet that humanity can colonize, because we have ruined Earth. In many ways, these 5 people have been sent to go off and save the world.”
Oyelowo felt like he could deeper enrich his character with a name change, not only as a way to celebrate the film’s diversity, but also as a callback to his character’s pioneering virtues.
“Originally, my character’s name is Commander Harper, as written in the book. I was thinking about how this is set some decades in the future and I realized that I’d never seen an African astronaut in a film like this. I loved the fact that, in and amongst us, there’s this sentiment of diversity there. I felt very strongly, being a proud person of African descent, a crew tasked with saving the world should have an African in there. And so I asked George if he was open to changing my name and we did.”
The new name has special meaning.
“We changed it to Adewole, which is a name from the tribe I’m actually from in Nigeria, the Yoruba tribe. It’s going to sound self-important, but the name means, “The king has entered the house.” I told George this and he was like, “Well that’s in the movie!”
THE MIDNIGHT SKY begins streaming on Netflix on Christmas.