Filmmaker James Gray has been expanding in scope over the last few years, from the brilliant and haunting period story The Immigrant to the adventure-tinged drama of The Lost City of Z, but back in February word came that Gray was gearing up to expand his horizons considerably by going full sci-fi. Gray co-wrote a film called Ad Astra with Ethan Ross that revolves around a slightly autistic engineer whose father left 20 years ago on a one-way mission to Neptune in order to find signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence. As an adult, he now sets out to travel the solar system to find his father and discover why his mission failed.
With Lost City of Z now hitting theaters, word came that Gray was eyeing Ad Astra—which has been in the works for a year—as his next film, with Brad Pitt potentially starring no less. So when Collider’s own Steve Weintraub spoke with Gray at the press day for Lost City of Z, he asked if Ad Astra is indeed his next project with Pitt in the starring role:
“Yes, yes, and yes. I’m terrified by it. The science-fiction genre is so tricky because there are elements of fantasy usually involved, and there are also fantastical elements. What I’m trying to do is the most realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie and to basically say, ‘Space is awfully hostile to us.’ It’s kind of a Heart of Darkness story about traveling to the outer edge of our solar system. I have a lot of hopes for it but it is certainly ambitious… It starts shooting July 17th, so not too far away. I’m filled with terror, but that’s fine (laughs).”
Those are bold words, especially as Christopher Nolan just took a very “realistic” approach to sci-fi with 2014’s Interstellar, but Gray’s work is truly singular so there’s no worry he’ll be treading familiar territory here. And assuming he reunites with cinematographer Darius Khondji on the project as he has on his last two films to stunning results, that adds yet another layer of excitement for Ad Astra.
As for Pitt’s involvement, it’s certainly curious and all but confirms this is his next movie. The actor has been trying to get World War Z 2 off the ground with David Fincher possibly directing, but with Paramount just having set a new studio head, it’s possible Pitt will continue work on developing World War Z 2 (and hopefully securing Fincher) as he sets out to begin principal photography on Ad Astra in July. He most recently starred in Robert Zemeckis’ romantic WWII drama Allied and leads the satirical film War Machine for director David Michod, hitting Netflix next month, but venturing into the sci-fi realm would be a serious change of pace for the impeccably talented performer.
Ad Astra also culminates years of courtship between Pitt and Gray, as the two have been trying to work together for quite a while now. Pitt was intending to star in Lost City of Z but had to drop out, although he was still intimately involved in the film as a producer. He and Gray have also been developing The Grey Man as a potential project together, but Ad Astra will be the first time Pitt works with Grey in front of the camera.
With a glut of same-y blockbusters hitting theaters year round, the prospect of Pitt working with auteur directors like Gray and Fincher on large-scale movies is mighty exciting, not to mention refreshing. Here’s hoping Ad Astra makes it into theaters by next year.