About The Film
"Passengers is about two people who were supposed to be on the trip of a
lifetime - the 120-year journey to a new planet - when they get woken up 90
years too early," says Chris Pratt, who stars in Passengers alongside Jennifer
Lawrence. "But it turns out there's a reason they woke up early. They have to
solve the mystery of the malfunction, and fix a ship that is quickly failing, if
they are going to survive and save the lives of the passengers on the greatest
mass migration in human history."
"It's about characters who face extreme situations and have to make extreme
choices, and I always find that fascinating - what would you have done?" says
Morten Tyldum, who directs the film, his first following his Oscar nominated
triumph with the hit The Imitation Game.
Against the story of high stakes action, the filmmakers set a sensitive story of
two passengers who find each other in this moment of peril. It's a story that
has attracted Hollywood for many years; writer Jon Spaihts' script has landed on
the "Black List" of the industry's best unproduced screenplays. "One of the
things that drew me to this script was the way Jon set an intimate story on such
a large stage," says producer Neal H. Moritz. "It's an action film with epic
spectacle, but it all hinges on these two incredible characters brought to life
by Jen and Chris."
Pratt's character, Jim, decides to give up his life on Earth for very practical
reasons. "He's kind of a throwback," says Pratt, "very much a working class guy.
He's considered a desirable trade, as a mechanical engineer, because he'll be
helping to start a civilization. If something breaks, he'll be there to fix it."
When Jim and Aurora wake up 90 years before reaching that destination, those
skills kick into high gear. "He's a problem solver by trade, so he's trying to
figure out how to get back to sleep or contact somebody for help. And then, it
turns out that there's something very wrong with the ship."
"Chris is very different than Jim," says Lawrence, who plays his fellow awakened
passenger, Aurora. "Jim acts like he's never really had a girlfriend, and he
doesn't really know how to behave around women; that's charming and sweet, but
it's not like Chris at all, who's married and funny. It was interesting to watch
him go from Chris Pratt to a shy, insecure, romantic person."
In contrast to Jim's working-class hero, Aurora is part of a different social
circle. She is a New York writer with a great assignment - she is making the
120-year journey to Homestead II, then will make the 120-year journey home. She
will be the first person in human history to make the round trip. "It's such a
huge decision to make," says Lawrence. "It's a 120-year journey - when you
arrive, everyone you know will be dead. You have to start a brand new life on a
brand new planet that you've never been to. I can't imagine saying goodbye to
everybody that I know and love - I understand her thirst for more, but I don't
think I could make that kind of permanent decision."
"When Aurora first wakes up, I think her first reaction is to feel an incredible
empathy for Jim," says Lawrence. "She's only been dealing with this problem for
a few days, and he's been by himself, like a trapped animal, for more than a
year. Seeing him react to a human being makes her feel bad for Jim."
Tyldum says that it was apparent from the beginning that Lawrence and Pratt
would be the perfect actors to bring Aurora and Jim to life. "It's great that
they are the biggest stars in the world, but first of all, I wanted to make sure
that they were the right actors for these roles," he says. "I had to get the
feeling that they were going to click, that they would have chemistry. We sat
for many hours - I had a four-hour dinner with Jen - and I could immediately see
that they would be perfect. They're very smart people who had a clear
understanding of what they wanted the character to do. They really understood
the choices, the motivations, the life these characters have to go through - so
that made me feel that they really got it."
Producer Stephen Hamel was the first to team with writer Jon Spaihts on the
concept. "I'm deeply interested in original content, original voices," he says.
"There was something rather playful in Jon's writing that I loved - he took the
time to allow the characters to be human, to have weaknesses. The originality of
the story seemed really appropriate."
Ori Marmur, who works with Moritz at Original Film, agrees. "The screenplay is
life-affirming and warm; it speaks to the human condition," says Marmur. "And as
a first-generation-born American, the idea of two people leaving Earth and
traveling a great distance for opportunity elsewhere resonated with me
personally; my parents traveled a great distance to come to this country of
opportunity - they didn't know anyone, and it worked out."
Aurora and Jim's different stations in life are thrown into contrast by their
home: the spaceship itself. "The Avalon is part badass spaceship, part luxury
cruise liner," says Pratt. "They wake you up three or four months before you get
to your destination, so you can party, swim in the pool, or rack up a big bill
playing the slots or shopping in the high-end stores."
"The ship is really luxurious, almost like a cruise liner," says Lawrence.
"There's an observation deck, a movie theater and grand concourse and amazing
rooms - well, for my character. It looked very different; everything was
beautiful and interesting. It was a different atmosphere for a movie."
"The sets were huge," says Pratt. "We had to break down a wall in the
soundstages. I was looking around, and it was like looking at a real ship. Guy
Hendrix Dyas's sets made the movie big in scope and as epic as this story needs
to be. We had a great special effects team that built amazing props and toys and
cars and screens everywhere. It was really cool."
Jim and Aurora's companion is Arthur, the bartender on board the ship. An
android with a remarkably human upper half, he moves with efficiency, grace, and
skill, and responds to passengers' worries and anxieties with a kind word and
warm heart - if a little naivete. "Arthur is an important element to their
mental state, because he's the closest thing to a human that they have besides
each other," says Lawrence.
"He's programmed to be the greatest bartender ever," says Michael Sheen, who
plays Arthur. "He's empathetic, he's able to listen, and he mixes a fantastic
martini. But there's a limit to how much he's interacted with people: he's
usually dealt with thousands of people in very short interactions, but he's in
new territory with Jim, interacting with one person for a very long period of
So, because Arthur is not quite human, Sheen and Tyldum discussed just how to
shade the performance subtly. "Bartenders are the ultimate confidants, and when
Jim meets me, I am someone he can talk to," says Sheen. "The challenge was I had
to figure out the balance of how robotic and how human should Arthur be?"
That was an incredible challenge, one that Sheen rose to meet with a creative,
technically difficult, and utterly believable performance, according to Tyldum.
"Michael had to bring humanity to it, and at the same time, you have to
understand that beneath the surface is a machine, without making it a cliche,"
says the director. "There's a naivete and a wisdom to it at the same time. He
becomes their friend, the one they talk to, the one who gives them advice. At
the same time, there was such precision to the performance. He could never look
at his hands while doing things, because a machine wouldn't have to. He was
mixing drinks, very casually and with no effort, and talking with incredible
comedic timing. That's incredibly hard, and he pulled it off so flawlessly."
Part of Sheen's performance came through a physical transformation, with the
help of the on-set special effects team. The team designed a rig to move him
swiftly back and forth behind the bar; with Sheen kneeling on the rig, the
filmmakers could control his movement, like an android's - later painting out
Sheen's legs and the rig with a robotic stand.
But as luxurious as the ship and their surroundings are, Aurora and Jim soon
realize that something has gone terribly wrong.
"The ship is falling apart," Pratt explains. "Robots start to malfunction,
lights flicker on and off. Ultimately, our characters find out that there's a
reason why it's malfunctioning, and we are suddenly in a desperate situation,
trying to fix a problem to save not only our own lives, but the lives of all of
the other passengers on the ship."
But it is not until Laurence Fishburne's character Gus Mancuso wakes up that Jim
and Aurora understand the gravity of the situation. "He's a spacer - a man who
fell in love with the stars and the notion of interplanetary travel at a young
age, and has spent a lifetime traveling in space," Fishburne explains. "Luckily,
he's a crew chief, so he has access to certain things that they wouldn't have
access to as passengers, and he helps them figure out what's wrong with the
One of the problems on board the ship is that the gravity fails. Suddenly, Jim
and Aurora find themselves weightless. "I was pulled up by wires, but I had to
pretend that gravity wasn't pulling down on my hands and feet. To do that,
you're doing a plank in mid-air. It was one of the best ab workouts I've ever
done! It was really difficult, and Morten was very particular - he wanted it to
look perfect. He didn't move on until that angle was perfect for the whole
To create the appearance of Jim being weightless, stunt coordinator Garrett
Warren created a spinning ring with an extension of a speed rail and a counter
balance weight on the back of it. Chris Pratt would be able to move freely and
then Garrett's stunt team would use winches to fly him back and forth.
Aurora is in a swimming pool when the gravity fails. "That was probably the
hardest thing I've ever shot," says the Hunger Games star. "Spending that much
time in a pool, water up my nose, everywhere. But it was amazing - when I saw
the CG example of what it was going to look like, I was really excited. I've
never seen anything like that in a movie."
Even with these incredible action set-pieces, the filmmakers never lost sight of
the movie they were making, says producer Neal H. Moritz. "We tried to keep the
emotional stakes of this movie well-grounded, so it would not be overwhelmed by
the gadgets, sets, and space," he says. "Though obviously these are important
aspects of the story, they are not the heart of the movie. At the heart of the
movie is the relationship between these two characters."
"Passengers is an epic, in that it really has everything in one movie," says
Pratt. "It's adventure, it's romance, it's a thriller, it's scary, but it's
emotionally resonant. There are great moments of humor and spectacle."
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