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Warning: spoilers for The Martian below
For a movie about a man stranded alone on the desolate surface of Mars, Ridley Scott’s The Martian managed to maintain an incredible sense of humor. Matt Damon brought an offbeat sensibility to Mark Watney that made the botanist/astronaut endlessly watchable, allowing us to laugh with the character even in his darkest moments. In the end it all felt more like Robinson Crusoe in space than Interstellar. That being said, the film does take some very serious turns at times, which required Damon to go to a darker and more somber place. According to Damon, Scott very much helped him achieve those moments.
Variety reports that during a recent screening of the film at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Damon opened up regarding Ridley Scott’s somewhat unorthodox way of filming the film’s climactic scene in which Mark Watney launches himself back into space:
The rest of the cast had already wrapped and it was just Ridley and I. He got the sound from their side of the scene and he piped it into my helmet, but didn’t tell me he was going to do it. So suddenly I heard the voices of my friends and it struck me I hadn’t heard another voice for years. I’d been communicating by email. These people were coming to save me, these people who had sacrificed a year of their lives for me. And I just wept. It wasn’t planned or forced, it was about him creating an environment.
Talk about method acting. Damon had gotten himself so into the mindset of an astronaut stranded alone on another planet that the raw emotion of the scene allowed him to cry without forcing it. By surprising the actor with the voices of his co-stars, Scott was able to get Damon off guard and ellicit a powerful emotional response. The entire movie really is a build up to this moment; while the action shifts back to Earth throughout the course of the film’s running time, we never get a chance to see Watney communicate with other people aside from text-based messages. When he finally gets to hear his friends voices again – something he was not sure would ever even happen – we as the audience can feel the same level of relief he experiences in that moment.
All of this effort seems to have paid off in the end, as both Scott and Damon have been widely recognized and praised for their work on the film. Notably, the two have recently received Golden Globe nominations for Best Director and Best Actor, respectively. Now it’s just a matter of time to see if they can home the win. We’re also going to try and avoid any comparisons to Robert Downey Jr.’s character of Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder, whose method acting after playing astronaut Neil Armstrong led him to try and reenter the earth’s atmosphere in a refrigerator box.