In the Showtime series “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Faraday, an alien who arrives on our planet and gets wrapped up in the lives of an ordinary family. According to Ejiofor, when taking on the task of playing someone from space, he tapped into the times in his life when he was an outsider.
“He has this kind of great arc to go on,” Ejiofor told Variety. “I just think you can only play your own alien. You can only really reference the times when you felt on the outside looking in, when you felt those sort of triggers of isolation and difference, you know, and so you rely on going back and excavating and plagiarizing your own life and history in order to bring out the genuine feelings you might have encountered in your experiences.”
Ejiofor was joined by co-star Naomie Harris and series creators Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman for a Variety virtual streaming room panel for “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which is a continuation of the iconic 1976 sci-fi film. In a conversation moderated by deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley, the group discussed following up the original film, their own personal relationship with the source material and the themes of isolation at the heart of the story.
The original “The Man Who Fell to Earth” film was based on a Walter Tevis novel, and memorably featured David Bowie in his first on-screen role. According to Lumet, while the film made a huge impression on her as a child, she didn’t read the source material until many years later.
“I saw the movie when I was but a girl and was deeply in love with David Bowie, like so many of us,” Lumet said “I didn’t read the novel until much later. And then when [producer] Sarah Timberman brought the property to Alex and I, I thought this is a way to talk about absolutely everything. This is a way to talk about this moment… I thought it was a way to talk about some really personal stuff that I was going through at the time. And it was timeless and it was cool and it was funny and it was about the human condition, which is something that I always think is worth a look and a laugh.”
The core of the series is the relationship between Harris’ character, Justin, and Faraday. According to Harris, she and Ejiofor have almost completely different styles of acting. Harris doesn’t like to rehearse, and focuses on seeing what happens in the moment on set, while Ejiofor practices a lot beforehand. In spite of those differences, the two ended up meshing well on set, and their different styles emphasized the differences of the mismatched pair.
“I think it works incredibly well, actually, because Chiwetel and I are supposed to be from completely different planets and we are coming from completely different points of views,” Harris said. “Chiwetel’s character is all entirely in his head and just focused on the mission, whereas Justin is all heart and all emotion. She really used her head. She would never have gone on the journey to begin with, with Faraday, so I think our different approaches really helped the characters and helped the kind of awkwardness we had in the beginning.”
“The Man Who Fell to Earth” airs Sundays on Showtime. Watch the full video above.