Meet the cast of Channel 4’s Mars mission drama The First

Sean Penn leads the cast of House of Cards creator Beau Willimon's new drama about the first manned mission to Mars

Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone in The First (Channel 4, EH)

Film star Sean Penn has made one “giant leap” into TV with new show The First, in which he plays an astronaut who is determined to set foot on Mars.

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Written by House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, the Channel 4 drama is a co-production with US broadcaster Hulu and also stars Natascha McElhone as the space CEO behind the first manned mission to the red planet.

Here are all the characters you need to meet – and the actors who play them.


Sean Penn plays Tom Hagerty

Sean Penn plays Tom Hagerty in The First

Who is Tom Hagerty? A senior astronaut who was originally meant to lead the first mission to Mars. He is a widower and is utterly focused on space exploration – although he is also deeply concerned about his daughter Denise, who struggles with addiction.

Where have I seen Sean Penn before? The Oscar-winning actor is more commonly seen on the big screen, with credits including Milk, Mystic River, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown, and State of Grace. He has also made guessed appearances in the sitcom Friends as Ursula’s fiancé Eric, and played himself in Two and a Half Men.


Natascha McElhone plays Laz Ingram

Natascha McElhone plays Laz Ingram in The First

Who is Laz Ingram? The CEO of commercial space exploration company Vista. Her closest real-life equivalents are figures like Richard Branson and Elon Musk. Laz is hugely successful and intelligent, decisive and unapologetic – and she has set her heart on launching the first manned mission to Mars.

Where have I seen Natascha McElhone before? British actress Natascha McElhone is perhaps best known for her roles as First Lady Alex Kirkman in Designated Survivor and Karen in the TV series Californication. You may also remember her from 1998 movie The Truman Show.


Anna Jacoby-Heron plays Denise Hagerty

Anna Jacoby-Heron plays Denise Hagerty in The First

Who is Denise Hagerty? Tom’s daughter. She is still devastated by the death of her mother, and her father’s risky career as an astronaut had a profound effect on her as she grew up. She’s an artist, but her biggest struggle is against drug addiction.

Where have I seen Anna Jacoby-Heron before? The actress made an appearance as Dottie in Stranger Things episode The Lost Sister, which saw Eleven go in search of “sister” Kali. She’s also appeared in Relationship Status, Grey’s Anatomy, Contagion, and Finding Carter.

Denise’s younger self is played by the child actress Eden Grace Redfield.


LisaGay Hamilton plays Kayla Price

LisaGay Hamilton plays Kayla Price in The First

Who is Kayla Price? An astronaut. She has a military background, but became fascinated by the idea of space travel and is determined to realise that vision – despite the events of episode one.

Where have I seen LisaGay Hamilton before? The actress starred as attorney Rebecca Washington in The Practice, and played Celia Jones in House of Cards. Her other screen credits include Chance, Grey’s Anatomy and Sorry for Your Loss.


James Ransone plays Nick Fletcher

James Ransone plays Nick Fletcher in The First

Who is Nick Fletcher? An experienced astronaut, and part of the crew for Providence II.

Where have I seen James Ransone before? The American actor played Ziggy Sobotka in the second season of The Wire, and has also appeared in Generation Kill, Sinister, and Sinister 2.


Hannah Ware plays Sadie Hewitt

Hannah Ware plays Sadie Hewitt in The First

Who is Sadie Hewitt? Sadie was recruited by Kayla to be the science expert aboard Providence II. She moved with her husband to the US to train as an astronaut and prepare to join the crew.

Where have I seen Hannah Ware before? The English actress is perhaps best known for playing Emma Kane in US series Boss, and Sara Hanley in Betrayal.


Rey Lucas plays Matteo Vega

Rey Lucas plays Matteo Vega in The First

Who is Matteo Vega? One of the astronauts selected for Providence II.

Where have I seen Rey Lucas before? He made a recent appearance in Luke Cage as Detective Tomas Ciancio, and has also had small roles in Orange is the New Black, The Path, and Odyssey.


Annie Parisse plays Ellen Dawes

Annie Parisse plays Ellen Dawes in The First

Who is Ellen Dawes? Wife of astronaut Matthew Dawes, a close friend of Tom’s.

Where have I seen Annie Parisse before? The American actress played Alexandra Borgia in Law & Order. She’s also starred as Julia Snyder in As the World Turns, and played FBI special agent Debra Parker in The Following.

Ellen’s daughter Charlotte is played by Fallon Katz.


Tracie Thoms plays Nancy

Nancy (Tracie Thoms) and Kayla Price (LisaGay Hamilton) in The First

Who is Nancy? Kayla’s wife. She is supportive of her ambitions as an astronaut, but sometimes frustrated by Kayla’s reluctance to push back at work.

Where have I seen Tracie Thoms before? The actress’s roles include Lily in The Devil Wears Prada, Kat Miller in Cold Case, Susan Cheryl in Love, FBI Agent Maya Kennedy in Gone, Fiona Berlin in UnREAL, and – most recently – Karen Wilson in 9-1-1.


Who are the astronauts of Providence I?

The First: Cathleen Spencer (Rebecca Henderson), Kwame Boateng (Kofi Boakye), and Luis Castillo (Franco Gonzalez)

Who are the astronauts heading to Mars? 

  • Rebecca Henderson plays Cathleen Spencer
  • Kofi Boakye plays Kwame Boateng
  • Franco Gonzalez plays Luis Castillo
  • Norbert Leo Butz plays Matthew Dawes

Where have I seen Rebecca Henderson before? The actress played Goldberg in the latest series of Westworld. Her other credits include Manhunt: Unabomber, Orange is the New Black, and The Impossibilities.

Where have I seen Kofi Boakye before? Kofi Boakye has made a handful of appearances in Transparent, Sneaky Pete, and 2009 Tyler Perry film I Can Do Bad All By Myself. If his voice sounds familiar, that’s because he’s also Darwin in The Amazing World of Gumball.

Where have I seen Franco Gonzalez before? You may remember him as Tito from the TV series Billions. He’s also appeared in The Good Wife, She’s Gotta Have It, and Person of Interest. (Luis’ parents, Mrs Lupe Castillo and Mr Guillermo Castillo, are played by Sol Miranda and Miguel Najera.)

Where have I seen Norbert Leo Butz before? Recently, Norbert Leo Butz has appeared as Gordon Getty in the TV series Trust. Previous projects include Bloodline, Mercy Street, and Dan in Real Life.


Jeannie Berlin plays the President

Jeannie Berlin plays President Cecily Burke in The First

Who is President Cecily Burke? The President of the United States, where Laz Ingram’s space exploration company Vista is based.

Where have I seen Jeannie Berlin before? The Oscar-nominated actress rose to fame in the 70s with films including Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York, The Heartbreak Kid and Portnoy’s Complaint. She has returned to the acting world over the last few years, appeared in The Night Of, Café Society, and Inherent Vice.

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The First will air on Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4


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