In true TIFF style, the red carpet is always on fire. Although festival galas may be the epitome of glamour, the smaller TIFF Bell Lightbox photo calls that precede press conferences—though slightly more corral-like—are equally hot.
“Matt, Matt, over here—Jessica!” At the Toronto conference for Ridley Scott’s The Martian, which is reportedly the biggest film to have a world premiere in Toronto, photographers cried out for winning smiles and piercing eye contact from Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, along with Scott himself and co-stars Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover, and five more cast and crew members. When the talent disappears from the step-and-repeat walls, the camera flashes fall silent and the din extinguishes as quickly as it began.
Scott’s latest cinematic mission to space, based on the novel by American author Andy Weir, finds astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) left aloft in zero gravity on a distant planet having been forgotten by his crew. Watney must make contact with Earth in order for officials at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to plot a rescue attempt; his crewmates help, too. Naturally, this director’s golden touch has all the right science-fiction ingredients. The Martian is then richened with a heavy dose of wit that can largely be credited to Weir’s original words. (“All the humour was in the book,” Damon enthused. “You don’t need to bronze a gold medal.”)
A fine balance is forged between earthly screen time and outer space, with the star-studded cast weaving together the plot seamlessly despite the fact that Damon’s solitary role meant that the majority of his scenes were filmed completely alone. The director had no doubt that this would be the end result. “I take a good deal of care casting because once I cast, they take care of me,” said Scott, speaking to the magical unpredictability that occurs on every film set. “There’s a natural intuition [with each actor]: a little bit of chemistry, a little bit of fear. Basically I cast great, then I turn them loose.”
NASA advisors worked with the actors to find authenticity in their characters, but Damon gave a nod to Acting 101 for the sheer physicality of spacewalking. “We did it on Interstellar also—two of my favourite directors, Ridley and Chris Nolan—when you’re ‘in space’ and you act like you’re standing on one foot moving slowly, totally ridiculous, but within the confines of that one frame, it works,” said Damon. “It’s that stuff they teach you in acting school. Finally, 20 years into making movies, I’m using one of those exercises.”
If only the mad rush of photography had happened post-conversation; calling out for Matt Damon to freeze-frame in a spacewalk could well have been the winning shot.