Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Noah Hawley, director of the film Lucy in the Sky, at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, on Sept. 12, 2019, in Toronto.


Premiering a film at the Toronto International Film Festival is not entirely dissimilar to taking a voyage to outer space. There are the limitless possibilities, the thrill of momentarily being in the world’s (or a certain part of the world’s) spotlight and the crushing disappointment of coming back down to Earth. Perhaps Noah Hawley anticipated such an analogy while presenting his directorial debut, the NASA-set drama Lucy in the Sky, to TIFF audiences last month.

Just before the Natalie Portman-starring film made its world premiere at the Winter Garden Theatre on Sept. 11, Hawley told the Toronto audience, rather resignedly, that “we work just as hard on the bad ones as we work on the good ones. And we don’t know, until they come out, like, which one is it?” Unfortunately, the answer was not what Hawley, or any filmmaker, might’ve wanted to hear, with a tepid audience response and critics immediately flooding Twitter with slams, singling out the love-triangle-gone-wrong drama for its thin characters, uneven tone and arbitrary visuals (Hawley switches the aspect ratio of the film – that is, the size of the image audiences see on the screen – about half a dozen times).

The morning after Lucy in the Sky’s debut, though, Hawley seemed more confident in his vision – or at least honest about the challenges he faced while making his feature debut at the same time he was overseeing two small-screen productions, FX’s Legion and Fargo. Here, the filmmaker talks with The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz about NASA and nerves.

Story continues below advertisement

You sounded fairly nervous in your opening remarks. Were you worried about the reaction the film might receive?

Whenever you do anything for the first time, there’s going to be a healthy amount of exhilaration that comes with it. Any time you share something that you made for you with other people, you never know, maybe they’ll hate it? But it was exhilarating to sit in that theatre and feel the audience be with [Natalie’s character] that whole time, and to listen to the Q&A afterward, and hear that they connected with her. For a movie about a character who makes choices that you don’t want her to make, it’s critical that they don’t give up on her. We’ve all watched movies where you check out – like, don’t go in that basement! You went there, so I’m out of this movie now. We can’t afford that in this film. I don’t need you to agree with her choices, but if I do my job right, then you’ll understand why she’s making them. Does that make sense?

I think so, though the choices Lucy makes is something I want to talk about. There’s a feminist-first message here – about how women have to work a million times harder than men for respect in the workplace – but there’s also that very fine balance of making sure it’s not just a “women are crazy" movie.

The last thing that I was interested in was making a movie about a woman who falls apart because she’s too emotional over a man. That’s not what this story is – the affair that Lucy has with [Jon Hamm’s character] is a symptom of her larger search for meaning, and to recapture a feeling that she had up there in space. Ultimately, her drive across the country and the violence that comes out of it is fuelled more by his undermining her than any romantic relationship that they had. For a woman who has never met a problem she can’t solve, she has now been put in a position where she can’t solve it. When you take someone who’s never failed before and introduce this huge dramatic failure, people are going to go a little crazy. She’s a problem-solver, and now she’s on a mission to solve that problem. It’s not rational, but it’s her plan and she’s going to solve it.

At the beginning of the film, Lucy has been to outer space and experienced something that few other people ever will, and now she has to come back down to Earth. Making a film is a new and relatively privileged experience, too – do you feel like you’re just now coming back down to reality from it?

It’s a new experience dressed as an old experience. The logistics of, “there’s a camera, there’s an actor,” those are familiar to me. But I’ve never made anything that you could watch in one sitting before, so that’s a unique experience. With a 10-hour story, if there are pieces that don’t fit, you can move them around with more leeway and you have more space to explore things thematically and explore more points of view. There were more scenes that featured Jon and [Zazie Beetz’s] characters that ultimately detoured the film in a way that we couldn’t afford to do, and that was a lesson for me. And just the calibration of this journey that Lucy goes on, making sure that the audience goes with her and comes out the other side with her … I always walk on set and tell myself, this can only go well. Because the worst thing that happens is you fail horribly. And that’s exciting, too.

There’s that visual balance as well. What was the idea behind using so many different aspect ratios?

Story continues below advertisement

What’s exciting to me about the film is that there’s a cinematic element to its thematic element. I get to tell a lot of stories for the small screen, so if I’m going to tell a story for the movie theatre, what is it about the movie theatre experience that I can explore? It’s communal, that’s one thing. But it has this giant rectangle on it, and everybody takes the rectangle for granted. To recreate the experience of coming back to Earth, what it feels like for Lucy, we can shrink the screen so it feels for her as it does for us. It’s more playful than that, too, but it became part of my way of putting you into her shoes.

How many ratios did you end up using?

I don't know the number, it's five or six probably. It's all a way of putting you into her head.

Lucy in the Sky opens Oct. 11

Story continues below advertisement

This interview has been condensed and edited

Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies