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Movie Interview:  The Astronaut Farmer

As children, most of us allow ourselves to dream of accomplishing great feats or becoming something that adults often dismiss as fantasy and unrealistic. On February 23, The Farmer Astronaut will open at theaters around the country and the award-winning twins Michael (director/writer) and Mark Polish (writer) (Twin Falls Idaho) seek to rekindle in us the desire to chase after our dreams as we live vicariously through the central character Charles Farmer. 
 
Recently the two brothers took time to speak to The Phantom Tollbooth about the film. ""I believe it (the film) is both (fantasy and rekindling the dream) to several different types of audiences but what seems to be fantasy to some is reality to us. What I mean by that is putting your dreams in front of you and being tenacious enough to fulfill those dreams that (at times) look fantastical to others. You may not want to put your family in financial strife and (ask yourself) would you do that.  When you are going after your dream you might not have a choice in those matters,” said Michael Polish.  
 
Charles Farmer, portrayed by actor Billy Bob Thornton, had a lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut and was well on his way to achieving that goal when a family situation cut short his aspirations. Not to be denied Farmer spends the better part of a decade and every cent he has to build a rocket on his farm in Story, Texas. He hopes one day to launch his rocket into space with him aboard.  
 
Thornton brings authenticity to the role born out of his own personal convictions, “Once you get something stuck in your craw, you gotta do it. What else can you do? Do you sacrifice everything to achieve that dream or do you crawl in a hole and give up? One way or another, the people who try are the ones we care about.” 
 
Farmer encounters, as you would expect, interference from several government and law enforcement agencies but will not be deterred realizing that this is his chance not only to realize a dream but to instill in his children the courage to pursue their own ideals. 
 
In listening to Michael Polish describe why Billy Bob Thornton was chosen for the role of Charles Farmer it reminds one of the demeanor Thornton brought to the screen in his role as Davy Crocket in the movie The Alamo. “He brings a nice silent quality to this role,” Polish said and added, “Billy is a guy that we knew could carry both facets of Charles Farmer. He could be a rancher and he could also be an astronaut. He had the plausibility to do both and when we spoke to him he had the intellect of really trying to figure out what this guy is all about.”
 
Their own father inspired the Polish brothers and much of the character of Charles Farmer draws upon that inspiration. “My father led by example, was very active with us and he always incorporated us into what he was doing. He taught us what to do in every situation. He was a pilot by trade so he made sure we were educated in how to fly and what it took to be in aeronautics,” said Michael.  
 
Mark Polish said that the parallels do not end with their father, “We have both been sons at the table of Charles Farmer and we have both been fathers at that table. We have (also) been Shepard and Charles Farmer. We drew from those experiences to make the movie as real as possible. Yes, some of it is fantasy but the reality, the family issues are what ground him (Farmer), and those are the things that we really wanted to portray. Luckily, we could pull from our own experiences and know the reality of putting your family in financial jeopardy. What you risk is what your reward is going to be and we were lucky enough that our reward has paid off.”
 
Virginia Madsen plays Farmer’s wife Audie and there are moments in the movie that were drawn from Mark’s wife Wendy. In referring to Audie Farmer while thinking of his own wife Mark described the need to have, “A strong wife in your life that supports you and questions you but ultimately will be that strong foundation that you fall back on in a time of need.”  
 
Mark talked about what Virginia Madsen delivered to the role of Audie Farmer, “She is very confident with her appearance and the way she acts. She has very good instincts as a performer and that was one of the things that we responded to when we talked to her about the role. Mainly it was that she is a mother who could respond to having kids as well as understanding the risk of a having a dream, failure of a dream and success of a dream. We wanted that to come to the role and she had those qualities. We thought she would do what she did. We were very fortunate to have her be a part of it.”  
 
Although the movie is set in the 1960’s an interesting dialogue takes place between Charles Farmer and the government agencies seeking to put an end to his astronaut dreams. He is asked, How do we know you are not building a weapon of mass destruction," to which Farmer replies, ‘If I was, you wouldn’t be able to find it.’ The scene comes off as more humorous than heavy handed and yet it is still successful in making a subtle political statement. 
 
When asked whether the movie crew encountered any interesting government visitors to the set location just outside Santa Fe New Mexico where they erected a mock rocket the brothers replied in unison, “They might have been out there but they wouldn’t have been able to find it!” 
 
Michael said, “There is an element to the one liner, ‘A man builds a rocket,’ and you could live on that if you wanted to go down that path. It was (however) important to us to pick a time in American history where the Mercury Atlas rocket captured the nation’s imagination and the seven astronauts that were going to orbit the earth. That to us was exciting and not being of that generation, we really went into the details of how that was going to happen. What was it going to take, what vessel and what fuel. We used as many resources as we could to make this believable. We dived into it. What gets me inspired is learning about the subject matter that we want to explore.”
 
While some may argue that parts of this film may constitute fantasy, the brothers did their homework and the technical aspects of Charles Farmer’s endeavor have been well researched. “We wrote the initial draft with enough information to know where the launch and the re-entry would be. When we went into the second draft and really started sculpting the story, we started listening to a lot of the archival transcripts of the astronauts and that was fascinating. It was probably some of the most inspirational stuff to listen to astronauts talk back to mission control,” said Michael. 
 
“You could really see through their communication what they were viewing as astronauts and we really wanted to convey that in the movie,” added Mark.  
 
The movie also contains a symbolic nod to Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the first American launched into space on May 5, 1961. The name of Charles Farmer’s fifteen-year-old son is Shepard (Max Thieriot). The symbolism was intentional said Mark, “We wanted the first born to be one of the first men to orbit.”
 
Shepard is equally involved in his father’s enterprise acting as mission control and a budding engineer. Just as the Polish brothers’ father involved them in his endeavors so the theme continues in the movie.  
 
Bruce Dern was cast in the role of Audie Farmer’s father, while Michael Polish’s seven-year-old daughter Jasper plays the Farmers’ middle child (Stanley). Stanley derives her name from Stanley Kubrick (2001:A Space Oddessy). Mark Polish’s four-year-old daughter Logan makes her film debut as the youngest Farmer child, Sunshine. 
 

Moviegoers can view a trailer for The Astronaut Farmer at http://theastronautfarmermovie.warnerbros.com
 
 By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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