Men on a Mission: Interview with VOYAGERS Star Tye Sheridan and Writer-Director Neil Burger
VOYAGERS is the excellent new sci-fi movie written and directed by the brilliant Neil Burger (Divergent, The Illusionist, The Upside) that will keep you captivated from the beginning until the end. Starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp and Colin Farrell, Voyagers takes place about forty years in the future and shows how a group of specially-bred young men and women uncover disturbing secrets about each other during their long mission into space to colonize a distant planet for the future of the human race.
From the writing to the cinematography and the overall message, Burger’s thought-provoking movie certainly offers a glimpse of what the future might look like for the next generations and how relationships, power dynamics and the human condition could be impacted by taking part in a multi-generational mission into space. A very relevant sci-fi in today’s world as we continue to make breakthroughs in space exploration and with the recent landing of NASA’s Perseverance Rover.
Georgina Lara Booth interviewed Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One, X-Men: Apocalypse, Mud), the incredibly talented young star with a bright future, and writer-director Neil Burger about Voyagers, space travel, their careers, future plans and more.
Hi Tye, how has it been going for you as a young actor during this pandemic?
“It’s good. I’m currently shooting a film in Boston, which is where we live. Making movies in COVID is a different world, but I’m happy to be back on set and making them of course so that is exciting.”
With the recent breakthroughs in space travel and the landing of the NASA Mars rover, would you ever consider moving to another planet or consider space travel in general?
“I think it will definitely be a real opportunity in the future. I don’t know how long and how expensive it will be, but I think by the end of our lives we will probably have the opportunity to go to space and visit another planet. At least, I hope so…Yeah, it’s definitely something that I would do if it was safe, of course, and if I had the ability of getting back to earth.”
If Elon Musk asked whether you would like to travel to space with him tomorrow, what would you bring with you?
“I don’t know if I would go to space with Elon Musk tomorrow, but hypothetically it would depend on where you were going. I would take some sun block, a mask and just a great collection of music.”
What kind of music are you into?
“Oh my gosh, everything! Everything from alternative rock, soul, reggae and traditional country…I listen to it all!”
Speaking about entrepreneurs like Elon Musk…I was told that you have started a tech startup yourself called Wonder Dynamics. Could you tell me a little bit about it?
“Yes! We are a media tech company and we just announced our advisory board, which includes Steven Spielberg, Joe Russo and Antonio Torralba of MIT. We basically utilise machine learning and AI models and apply them to the film production process and try to reduce costs and streamline certain parts of the production pipeline. We just closed our seed round of investors.”
How did you prepare for the role that you played in Voyagers? Did you learn stage combat, because there were some fight scenes, or did you visit NASA?
“No, unfortunately…I wish! I would love to visit NASA! Most of the preparation, I think, for Voyagers really came about in how to approach the character in the context that they have no societal or cultural influence. They have no resonance with society whatsoever. The only life they have ever known is the one they are living on board this spaceship and with the group of 30 people they are surrounded by. The same environment they have been born and bred into essentially, so I think it defies all of your instincts as an actor sometimes to relate things to something in your environment. We are a product of our environment, our environment is replicated in our nature, in our decisions and behaviours and I think that all went out the window in this film, which was really exciting, but also a challenge because you don’t want the character to be super boring. You know, the characters are in a voyage through space trying to reach a distant planet. It’s going to take them 90 years to get there and the mission mandates they take a certain concoction that suppresses a lot of their emotions and their strongest desires. Once they find that out, because it has been kept a secret, they then start to rebel against it, they stop taking the suppressant and all hell breaks loose basically!”
That special concoction, the blue drink you all drank in the film, what did it taste like…?
“It’s actually a tea. A blue flower tea. Asian pigeon wings, butterfly pea tea, is what we were drinking and it doesn’t taste like much…it doesn’t have a strong flavour to it. It was just like a herbal tea.”
You are an amazing young actor! Do you have a specific dream role in mind that you would like to do in your career in the future…like an action film or would you ever consider acting on stage? Broadway, perhaps?
“Acting on stage is something I don’t know that I would ever do…I love the comfortability that film offers. If you mess up on take one, you still have take two or three or four and no one is ever going to know. On stage it is not the same, so stage is always something that has terrified me. As an actor, I think as far as dream roles go, I think it is important for me to challenge myself with every character I play. Even with every story I am part of telling, I want to make sure there are good themes and good messages and something that resonates with me personally – either from my past or something that I am experiencing now.”
What would you say is the overall message of this film?
“It is difficult to break it down into one thing. I think it is largely about society. About our struggle for control and power and how society is supposed to be governed by a group of people, or one person, and I think this film digs into the depths of those dynamics and also the purpose of our lives in general. I think a lot of us constantly ask ourselves what it is we are meant to be doing. We have this longing for concrete answers that we can take with us and feel at peace with, but I think that sometimes it is not all that simple to figure out your path. I think, with these characters, it is really hyper focussed. In the context of the film, these characters are asking themselves that question. They are on this trip to get to a distant planet that they will never actually reach. Their sole purpose is to have children and that next generation will have children and that will be the generation that colonizes the planet, so they are asking themselves “what is the purpose of my life?”. I think that is something everyone can relate to, so I am sure people will walk out of the theatre thinking about those themes.”
Hi Neil, how did you get the idea to write this film? What inspired you?
“I had a couple of images that just came to me and the first was a group of young people sitting in a confined space. Just sitting on the floor and not saying anything. Sort of zoned out. Then the next one was that same group chasing another person down the hall and then catching them and beating them. I was interested in what that is. What is the story behind that? I felt there was something meaningful in those images and so I sort of created the story from there.”
You are an extremely talented guy as you wrote and directed the film. What do you prefer…writing or directing?
“Each of them have different things. It is nice when you are writing. You can kind of do anything. You are inventing it and that’s very exciting, but then it gets to the point that I want to make this thing and so I guess ultimately the directing I like the most. Especially when you have written it, because suddenly you will be on the set. You can hear the actors reading the words that you’ve created and then they make it better basically…and that’s really exciting to experience.”
Would you ever consider acting in your films as well?
“I am in many of my movies doing very small things. I am in Voyagers. You just have to figure out who I am in that…”
Could you give an indication…?
“I am dressed in white…”
With the recent breakthroughs in space travel and the landing of the NASA Mars rover, do you think a multi-generational space mission involving humans – like the one in Voyagers – could happen in the near future?
“I think it could, actually. The distances are so vast, so that’s why we have this sense of a multi-generational voyage and even the 86 years that we talk about in Voyagers is pretty optimistic. Maybe in 50 years we are sort of speculating on a next generation propulsion system that could get us to a distant planet. Even that many years is fast. There is great difficulty with these great distances.”
If Elon Musk asked whether you would you like to move to another planet with him or consider going on a trip to space…would you consider doing that?
“I would consider going on a trip. It would be incredible to be in space and look down on the earth. That would give you such a different perspective on everything and put everything in perspective. I don’t think I would like to live on another planet though. I don’t think you would want to live on Mars.”
If you went on a trip what would you take with you?
“I would want to take music with me. Music makes your soul human. It is such an incredible art form. It just goes through your soul. It is all in your emotions.”
Which scene was the hardest to film?
“That scene where they chased down Peter’s character, who is played by Viveik Kalra. They chase him down the halls, they tackle him and beat him to death. That was a really intense scene to film – difficult technically to get right and difficult emotionally to do.”
Was it all filmed on location – especially the space scenes?
“The spaceship is all built over a vast set. Three huge sets over three different sound stages, because there are no visual effects in the interior. Those hallways are 200-300 feet long and three feet wide, so we built all that.”
Was it a lot of work getting all of that together?
“Yes, you shoot a film in a house with two people and it is a lot of work, so it was a lot of work and a lot of research, but we had a really great team of people. It was worth it. We had such a great cast.”
Regarding the cast – such as Colin Farrell, Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan – how did you cast those actors? Do you have a specific actor in mind when you are writing?
“I don’t write with a specific actor in mind – that is not the way I work. However, when you are done writing, you are like “who is this person?” and “how does it really work?”. The first person to come on board was Colin Farrell. His character, Richard, is like a really good person who really sacrifices himself for the wellbeing of these young people. Colin has so much empathy as a person and on-screen you can really sense his caring and his intelligence. He is really like that and I think he wanted to play that character because he wanted to play somebody that is truly good – so he was the first person that came aboard. Then with the younger ones, Tye is such a soulful actor and such a pro already at such a young age. You can really feel how he grapples with the moral questions that he is dealing with.”
What would you say I the overall message of the film and how would you interpret the ending? Would you make a second film to show what happens next?
“I don’t think there is a message to the movie. Certainly the movie to me is about human nature in a vacuum. Who are we when you strip away all the cultural context and see us at our essential core? Are we good? Are we animals? Do we have an innate moral sense? I would ask questions about that. I would ask questions like “if we are all gonna die in the end anyway, why should we be good?”. Why cant we do whatever we want? Those questions and that discussion I wanted the audience to take away from the movie.”