How Netflix’s Away filmed its zero gravity scenes
The cast had to go to a special “astronaut school” to learn how to work in three dimensions – though the practicalities were a little more basic than you’d actually get on a spaceship.
New Netflix space travel drama Away seems to strive for accuracy, with the team behind the Hilary Swank-starring drama working with NASA, former astronauts and even a few current residents of the International Space Station to make sure their mission-to-Mars story fell on the right side of plausible.
A particular challenge, though, was the need to work with zero gravity. Achieved in the series by having the actors hanging from wires that were later digitally erased, the nature of these scenes (which see the astronauts floating around their ship as they travel to Mars) were cited by members of the cast as some of their toughest moments on set, as well as an unusual factor to try and work into their performances.
“The aspect of being an astronaut, learning how to be in Zero G, when you're not in Zero G, and how to make that look effortless...that was all really a challenge,” series lead Hilary Swank said.
“Let me speak for everyone in the cast - we're all really good actors I think,” Ato Essandoh, who plays Kwesi in the series, added to RadioTimes.com.
“But the challenge of acting naturally while you're hanging upside down, for example, 30 feet up in the air, is an extra level of difficulty that I think we all got to really quickly and were able to pull off.”
“So for me, any time we got to set we would talk about the scene just standing there, but then we'd have to figure out how does space and how does Zero G work with this?
“I think that was my favourite part of trying to figure out the magic of space and acting under those circumstances.”
However, it wasn’t as simple as turning up on the day, strapping themselves into some wires and running the scenes, with the entire cast sent to a special “astronaut boot camp” to help them learn how to move like they were weightless.
“It's not a NASA training, because when we have the zero gravity in the show it's cable work,” explained Mark Ivanir, who plays Cosmonaut Misha in the series. “We are hanging by cables and we have to learn to make it seem like there is no cable, and we are just in zero gravity.
“So there was a sort of astronaut boot camp, and we did two weeks of that every day. And then while shooting we kept on doing that.”
In other words, the key wasn’t to learn what it was like to be a real astronaut, as hanging from a wire feels very different to being weightless. Instead, the cast had to learn how to move their bodies so that it looked authentic, which was rather more of a strain.
“Astronauts don't do that,” Ivanir told RadioTimes.com. “I think a lot of what they do is underwater to make that same kind of feeling of weightlessness. For us, that was the thing, and it was pretty vigorous. We had a lot of work that was done with that.”
“Nice tight buns...we've all got them,” Essandoh joked.
“Yep, and abs,” agreed co-star Ray Panthaki, who plays Ram. “I think what the creators of the show really wanted to do was create a sense of authenticity to this space show, basically.
“I think the first port of call when you're talking about space is getting the zero gravity right, and making it look authentic.
“It's really looking at it from the point of view of like, what will real astronauts think when they watch this show? And so the zero gravity thing was a big thing. We did it through wire work, which was incredibly intense to start with.
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“But the more you go on and the more you practice you get better and better, and by the end we were all showing off a little bit with our flips and turns...and you know, I think Cirque du Soleil beckons for us all I think.”
Hopefully, if there’s a season two the cast will get to put all the training and hard work to use again. And if not, well, there’s always live theatre.
Away is on streaming on Netflix now.