Ridley Scott on Why He Landed on 'The Martian'

By Kay, Jeremy | Screen International, December 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Ridley Scott on Why He Landed on 'The Martian'


Kay, Jeremy, Screen International


Ridley Scott is creating worlds again. As he talks on the telephone he is drawing ideas for Prometheus 2. "I do telephone doodles, but actually they're pretty good," he says. "I doodle everything and it becomes the actual blueprint for the movie."

Now 78 years old, the UK director remains as vital as ever and appears, grudgingly at least, to be enjoying the hoopla surrounding his latest film The Martian. Not only is it generating serious awards heat but the stirring slice of planetary escapology from the director of Blade Runner and Alien has become the biggest box-office hit of Scott's career: it is closing in on $550m worldwide for 20th Century Fox, his long-time studio partner.

Matt Damon stars as Mark Watney, an astronaut stranded after a storm on the Red Planet, who combines limited resources with seemingly infinite resourcefulness in his bid to get back to Earth. It sounds familiar territory for Scott though he says it was anything but. "The story in this one is, in a funny way, not my kind of thing," he admits. "It's - to use that phrase which I don't really like - it feels good at the end of it."

Discovery mission

Scott loved Drew Goddard's script based on Andy Weir's book of the same name, which started out as a cult e-book. Goddard had initially been in line to direct the film himself before departing for the ill-fated The Sinister Six, which is when Scott became involved.

He liked how Goddard weaved together pure survival adventure with a wry, existential commentary courtesy of the protagonist's daily feedback to the mission's GoPro cameras. This device enabled Scott to translate the book's first-person narrative in a way that was believable, based on the notion astronauts need to document everything they do for the sake of posterity. Crucially, it allowed Damon to talk. After all, in the cinema no-one can hear you think.

In one of the film's most memorable utterances, Damon, playing a world-class botanist, explains he is going to have to "science the shit" out of his situation. The director recalls how Goddard described his script as a "love letter to science". Scott cheerfully confirms that, while he may not be able to science the shit out of anything, he can use his visual flair to portray someone else doing just that. He also worked with NASA during pre-production to advise on various details (NASA suggested the scale of the storm Scott wanted to create as a way to sever Watney from his mission was unrealistic, but poetic licence won the day).

Scott knew within 20 minutes of meeting Damon they understood each other. "He's one of the most user-friendly actors," says the director. "He's a great guy. He's a great team player. He's a very, very talented actor as well as having a great sense of humour, which isn't used often enough."

As a writer and producer himself, Damon brought problem-solving skills and a directness to the production without ego or drama. …

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