Imagine trying to think, move, and behave as though you’re in a zero gravity environment, without ever having actually felt zero gravity. That was the task laid out before the cast of Life, the new sci-fi thriller from director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) that is set entirely in zero gravity, in the confines of the International Space Station.
This version of the ISS is staffed by six astronauts from around the world: Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), Katerina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada). These lucky (or, more likely, very unlucky) explorers discover the first evidence of extraterrestrial life when studying a sample from a returning Mars probe, but things take a dark turn when the organism begins adapting to its new environment.
Alien famously captured the terror of being trapped in the confines of a spaceship with a killer creature back in 1979, but at least Ripley had artificial gravity on her side. Life takes that claustrophobic concept and adds in the disorienting factor of zero gravity: an environment where up and down are not certain, and the wrong move may leave you stranded with no momentum. Speaking to the cast on the set of Life last year, Screen Rant learned that even simply pretending to be in zero gravity is a dangerous game.
“I’m suspended from my good testicle,” Reynolds jokes, when asked about the extensive wirework involved in making the film. “They wrecked the other one.”
When asked if he can give a demonstration of his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal’s zero gravity performance, he obliges. “I’ll tell you what Jake does. It usually involves this…” He falls over onto the table with a loud crash.
Yes, apparently Gyllenhaal is not the most graceful of astronauts at first. Life‘s set is based heavily on the real-life version of the International Space Station, and since straying too far from a wall carries the risk of leaving an astronaut stuck in mid-air, the ISS has plenty of handholds and – unfortunately – plenty of things for Gyllenhaal to crash into.
Reynolds: What’s awesome, it’s actually not in his control because we’re being puppeteered by wire cables. For whatever reason, the first few days Jake’s guys were just like, “Let’s throw him right into the wall.” In the middle of a scene, “What the hell?”
Gyllenhaal: Every other take I just hit the edge of something and I go f–king spinning and I hit a wall.
Reynolds: You’re in the middle of a scene and you hear a car accident behind you and you’re like, “Do I look? If the camera didn’t see it maybe I can just keep going.”
Collisions aside, Reynolds explained that moving as though you’re in zero gravity “forces you to be very mindful about everything that you’re doing,” since it’s so easy to break the illusion of zero gravity.
“At one point I started doing something like this… [He rests his head in his hand] And I realized you can’t do that. That’s gravity. If I were to lean on my hand it would just be like that. You constantly have to re-evaluate how you just sit.”