Could a human be born on a distant planet and later survive on earth?
It’s not only a premise that the upcoming science fiction tale The Space Between Us asks, but a real question and concern that people at NASA have considered as well.
Inspired by his son’s obsession with Mars, and the kernel of an idea from another writer he works with, film producer Richard Lewis picked up the phone and posed the question to members of NASA.
He never would’ve guessed what was going to happen when he spoke to them.
“I called a group of NASA scientists and said, ‘So what would happen if an astronaut turned out to be pregnant on a flight to Mars?’ and there was just silence on the other end of the call. And they said, ‘Are you listening to our phone calls?’ I said, ‘No, I’ve never spoken to you in my life.’ And they said, ‘It’s going to happen, and we don’t know what to do.'”
That was when he teamed up with screenwriter Allan Loeb and started fleshing out an answer. “I thought, wow, that’s the beginning of an interesting story.” Lewis even worked with his father, a heart specialist, to examine how that muscle would develop differently on Mars, and aspects of this research became a big part of the story.
The Space Between Us is an interplanetary adventure following a human boy named Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) born on the distant red planet. His mother, an astronaut, only realized she was pregnant with Gardner after leaving on her mission to colonize Mars.
Once Gardner reaches his teenage years he becomes interested in leaving East Texas (yep, on Mars) and returning to the home of his species. Not only is he curious about Earth, but Gardner has also fallen for a girl named Tulsa who’s literally tens of millions of miles away in the state of Colorado. The two met online and can relate over their outsider perspectives.
There’s just one problem: Tulsa doesn’t realize that Gardner is literally living on Mars.
Hypable visited the Albuquerque, New Mexico set of The Space Between Us starring Butterfield, Robertson, and Gary Oldman in late October 2015. On the day we visited, Asa, Britt, and crew were at the tail end of their 37-day shooting schedule which took them through New Mexico, Las Vegas, and Malibu.
It was Day 31, and indoor and outdoor shoots were taking place at Highland High School located in the southeast quadrant of Albuquerque. Since it was a weekday, real classes were in session as Asa and Britt shot outdoor scenes.
The real students who walked by the production had mixed reactions. Some watched and Snapchatted the excitement, while others passed by as if a Hollywood production wasn’t filming right before their eyes. Later in the day, after the real students went home, production moved inside the school to shoot a scene where Gardner and Tulsa meet in person for the first time. It’s one of the more touching moments in the movie.
Earlier, Asa walked into our press tent carrying a drone in tow. He had recently purchased it to try and capture aerial footage for fun, and was learning how to operate it in between filming his scenes.
Both the aerial device and Gardner struggle to deal with Earth’s gravity.
When asked how he handles playing a character who has never been on Earth before, Asa describes it as a very unique experience. “It’s hard to put yourself in that kind of position because we [as humans] are so experienced in the world, and to completely strip all that back and be absolutely in awe at everything you see — a tree, a doorman — everything’s interesting,” he says.
Living on Mars your whole life doesn’t mean you’re missing hormones, so girls are also of interest in Gardner. On the relationship between his character and Tulsa, Asa tells us, “They both have this longing desire for being somewhere. Belonging somewhere. Tulsa’s been jumping around through various foster homes, she’s never really settled anywhere. Gardner spends his life on Mars. No one knows he exists. They’re kind of united by this experience.”
“He’s an alien, and she’s an alien, and this is the journey of the story,” Lewis tells us. “Watching these two characters connect, and the disconnects, the misunderstandings, and then ultimately they have a connection.”
Those good and bad connections were present in the scene we observed, which finds Gardner surprising Tulsa in her school hallway. As someone who is tough and reserved, Tulsa is understandably frustrated by Gardner’s sudden appearance. The two still haven’t communicated well with one another — Adorably, Tulsa is unaware that when he says he’s from “East Texas” he means the establishment on Mars.
With Gardner now on earth, the two begin to form a close bond as the Mars-born boy tries to discover his roots.
Co-starring in the movie is Gary Oldman, whose character originally organized the trip to Mars. He wasn’t on set the day we visited, but the actor has a very important role in the movie.
The Space Between Us opens in theaters February 3, 2017.