Does Charlie Farmer get to live out his dream and go into space?
It's one of the most inspirational movies I've seen in a long time - probably not since Rudy have I felt this strongly attached to a film about living out your dreams.
The Astronaut Farmer is one of those flicks you'll be talking about for a long time. Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen star in the family film from the minds of Mike and Mark Polish (Northfork, Twin Falls Idaho). Billy plays Charlie Farmer, an ordinary guy, who used to be an engineer at NASA; when his father died, he couldn't take the pressure and was unable to continue working there. But his life long dream was to become an astronaut and orbit in space. Years later, he built a rocket on his farm in Texas; his mission was to fly the space craft - whether the government let him or not.
Billy's part was written based off Mark and Michael Polish's father; they never told Billy until the end of the shoot. But Billy just was inspired by the story. "It was everything; the script was amazing, I love the Polish brothers. It was the kind of film I wanted to do; I thought that's what I'd do next. This is the kind of role I've wanted to do my whole life; this is why you become an actor - this was the Field of Dreams, Hoosiers, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington that I've always wanted to do, and it just worked out. And the fact that it had an edge, it had a subversive nature, that didn't hurt. It's a family film without a parent who rides a motorcycle; it's the kind of film where adults can go and never think, 'Oh, this is a kids movie.' But a kid can watch it, and there's no sex or violence and they can watch it and see the rocket, and see the little girls in the movie and never think it's an adult movie."
For Virginia, this was such a simple role playing Billy's wife, yet it was extremely complex; reading the script really inspired her to do the film. "It was all in there, really solid; I just felt like she was so real and they were so close, and it was really about the family as a whole that really spoke to me.
Virginia made one of the best analogies as an actor comparing her life to Charlie Farmer's. "Everyone has their rocket, mine was Hollywood. It seemed crazy to other people, but this was going to be my career. That's how strongly I felt about it."
What's interesting about the Polish brothers is they write together, and Michael directs first unit, while Mark heads up the second unit. Both Virginia and Billy talked about working with the twins on The Astronaut Farmer. "It's kind of the same talking to either one," noted Billy. "Since they created it, they've done it very well. Michael was there more in a technical sense, so we probably talked to him more in the moment. But in the whole scope of the movie, Mark, I talked to him just as much as Michael about what to do. It's very easy; they have the same visions, so it's very easy. It's very similar working with the Coen brothers, who aren't twins but they seem like it."
The connection Billy and Virginia had on screen was obviously evident; Billy said how much they related. "I don't know if I've ever watched myself on screen before with another person who's supposed to be my wife/girlfriend/whatever it is, with that natural ease. We seemed married to me even, and we pick ourselves apart, but there wasn't anything like that; it was a very natural thing. Virginia and I had never met; we met each other a day before the movie started, but we just naturally had that thing."
As a kid, Virginia really admired the space program, and found inspiration from NASA. "Yeah, I think because back then, it seemed like space exploration was really going to happen, and it was happening - all things were possible."
The Astronaut Farmer is all about living out your dreams; Billy's dream is going on right now. "I'm living out my dreams; I'm sort of in the midst of it, and I have a lot of dreams within the dreams. I have a lot of dreams, and there are a lot of movies I want to make, and actually really make for myself. But the dreams I have right now are for my kids; I want to see them, and I get excited through them. It's there show now for me."
Does Charlie Farmer get to live out his dream and go into space? You'll have to check out The Astronaut Farmer in theaters now; it's rated PG.