A stellar cast fuels this remake of The Man Who Fell to Earth, the classic sci-fi story about survival and humanity originally penned by American author Walter Tevis in 1963 and elevated to cult status by the 1976 David Bowie film of the same name.
The 10-part series has already aired on Paramount Plus in the US, and now it is available for the first time in the UK, bringing us 12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor as Faraday, an alien from the Planet Anthea. Faraday lands in New Mexico and seeks out poverty-stricken scientist Justin Falls (Moonlight’s Naomie Harris) to help him with his mission to save his dying homeland.
Joining Oscar-nominees Chiwetel and Naomie on this astral adventure are Bill Nighy (Ordeal by Innocence) as Thomas Newton, the first alien to arrive on earth over 40 years previously — played by Bowie in 1976 — and driving Faraday to complete his original mission; Clarke Peters (The Wire) as gifted engineer Josiah Falls, Justin’s ill father; Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is the New Black) as Drew Finch, a CIA operative and keeper of secrets; and Rob Delaney (Catastrophe) as Hatch Flood, a dodgy member of a tech dynasty.
Here, Chiwetel Ejiofor talks us through the premise, cast and filming of The Man Who Fell to Earth…
Chiwetel Ejiofor on the premise of The Man Who Fell to Earth — and David Bowie’s cult classic
“The Man Who Fell to Earth is the story of Faraday, an alien from Planet Anthea, who comes to Earth on a mission in order to save his planet,” Chiwetel explained in an interview with What To Watch.
“Bowie in the film is iconic and incredible to watch — you can’t rip your eyes away from him. It's a beautiful launchpad for what we're trying to do with this
“I was excited by this right off the bat, to extend the story from the book and film 40-something years later and to see where some of these characters have ended up and circumstances they’ve moved into. [Showrunners] Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet’s scripts blew me away with their scope and depth of the story.”
The importance of Justin Falls, played by Naomie Harris
The series opens with Faraday giving an eloquent talk to a captivated audience as he prepares to unveil a revolutionary piece of technology.
It then jumps back to when he first landed on Earth and took on human form.
Picked up by the police (naked and guzzling from a water hose!) Faraday names Justin Falls as his contact. Justin is perplexed by this strange ingénue, who can recite her scientific work verbatim.
But, as a single mum to Molly (Annelle Olaleye) and carer for Josiah, she has no interest in getting involved. Yet Justin soon finds her fate tied to the space oddity and understands why they need to work together…
“Justin Falls is an important scientist and a key component of Faraday’s mission to save Anthea and perhaps Earth itself,” explains Chiwetel. “I found it profound, the themes of humanity, connection, love, and our relationships with each other and the planet. It's a great vantage point to look at humanity from, through the eyes of an alien.
“I’m a big fan of sci-fi. It always ends up talking about the world we’re in now and the way we live now. There’s something really special about that as a medium; to look at how we exist and how we relate to each other.”
The humour in The Man Who Fell to Earth
Chiwetel Ejiofor may not be someone immediately associated with comedy but as Faraday, there are plenty of laughs amongst the gravity, as the alien experiences baffling close encounters with humans.
Fans of Martha Plimpton are in for a treat, as The Goonies star makes a winning guest appearance as Officer K Faraday — from whom the alien takes his name — in the first episode. There are also memorable scenes where Chiwetel, as Faraday — who has an unquenchable thirst due to his numerous stomachs, guzzles water at any given opportunity.
“The humour really lifted off the page. As I was reading it — it made me laugh, so I was excited by that layer of it. It’s inherently comic because Faraday is such a fish-out-of-water. It’s funny, but it feels like he can take you into a serious story at any point,” reveals Chiwetel, adding: “There was a lot of water drinking. At one point I did Google whether it's harmful to drink this amount of water in one sitting!”
During the series viewers will see Faraday in his true alien form and on his homeland — which naturally meant a lot of behind-the-scenes getting physically into character for Chiwetel…
“It was quite extensive; just the amount of prosthetics. I've done some prosthetic work before but it took several hours to create that side of Faraday, which was challenging in its own way. It’s definitely uncomfortable, hours in the makeup chair, and hours to get out of, as well!
“But it was great at the end to see Faraday in his alien form on Anthea and to really understand our Faraday as an Anthean, while concurrently understanding him as a being trying to understand how to be human!
“Faraday is not a child. He's an adult being from another planet. So he's had all of these experiences and all of this life before.”
Filming locations and star cast
With a large proportion of the cast being British, it's fair to wonder where The Man Who Fell to Earth was filmed.
“We shot a lot of it in the UK, and we shot a lot of it in Spain as well,” says Chiwetel, who’s worked with many of the cast before. “I’ve known Bill for decades now. We worked on a show in the West End 20-something years ago, and we were crossing ships in Love Actually. And I’ve known Naomie and Clarke for a long time as well. It’s fantastic to work with people that you know, trust and engage with. They’re dedicated, talented and fun to be around.
“And then to meet new actors and young actors like Annella, who was only eight years old, terrific in the show and is brilliant to work with. It was a great mixture of people."
And finally, could there be a second series?
While the 10-part series is complete within itself, we had to ask, is there scope to take the story further?
“Well, we'll see. It’s not one of those stories where there's an ellipsis and you've to wait a few years before you find out. What we were trying to do, and hopefully succeeded in, was tell a story that was complete in its own right. But yes, I'm sure there's scope to continue if we can.”
When and where can I watch The Man Who Fell to Earth?
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 10-part sci-fi drama that started in the UK on Paramount Plus on Wednesday, June 22. A new episode of the show will be shown each week. All episodes are available on Paramount Plus in the US.
Get the What to Watch Newsletter
The latest updates, reviews and unmissable series to watch and more!
With twenty years of experience as an entertainment journalist, Elaine writes for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week and www.whattowatch.com covering a variety of programs from gardening and wildlife to documentaries and drama.
As well as active involvement in the WTW family’s social media accounts, she has been known to get chatty on the red carpet and wander into the odd podcast.
After a day of previewing TV, writing about TV and interviewing TV stars, Elaine likes nothing than to relax… by watching TV.