Bound by a shared destiny, former boy-genius Frank (Clooney), jaded by disillusionment, and Casey (Britt Robertson), a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity, embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space known only as “Tomorrowland.” What they must do there changes the world—and them—forever.
We joined the cast of Tomorrowland recently during the Tomorrowland Press Conference for a Q&A to learn more about the latest film from two-time Oscar® winner Brad Bird, a riveting, mystery adventure starring Academy Award® winner George Clooney.
The cast including George Clooney (“Frank Walker”), Britt Robertson (“Casey Newton”), Tim McGraw (“Ed Newton”), Raffey Cassidy (“Athena”), Brad Bird (Director / Producer / Writer), Damon Lindelof (Producer / Writer), and Jeff Jensen (Story By), spoke candidly about their vision for the future, and the ultimate Imagineer Walt Disney.
“Tomorrowland” opens in U.S. theaters on May 22, 2015.
Tomorrowland Press Conference
Q: Damon and Jeff, I want to start with you. Damon, my understanding is that this film really originates from a series of discussions you had with the people at Disney. I’m curious as to what those discussions were, and how this film came about, and also how the television critic from Entertainment Weekly, Mr. Jeff Jensen, became involved in the film.
Damon Lindelof: I was having a meeting with Sean Bailey, who is the president of production at Disney. We were talking about the Marvel movies, of which we’re both fans. He said they had a number of fantasy princess movies in the pipeline at Disney, but wondered what another Disney movie should be. I said to him, “I don’t know what it’s about, but I would see a movie called Tomorrowland.” And that was the beginning of this whole adventure.
I think that, for me, I’ve always been really interested in the future and I kind of feel like all the movies that I’ve been exposed to over the course of the last 20-30 years have shown me a future that I don’t really want to be living in. It’s cool to watch, but teenagers trying to kill other teenagers, or robots eradicating mankind, or you know, apocalyptic wastelands, albeit populated by Charlize Theron, are all great.
I was really interested in the history of Disney, the Imagineers, and the theme parks, particularly as it related to the World’s Fairs. Jeff Jensen, who wrote about Lost extensively and had crazy theories that were much more imaginative than anything we as writers were coming up with, I just felt like tactically speaking, you should just hire critics and turn them over to your side. So if any of you guys have any ideas, I’d love to hear them after the press conference.
Q: Jeff, did it blow your mind when Damon called and said he wanted you to join this project?
Jeff Jensen: Yes. It was definitely a little crazy and humbling too. I mean, it was a lot of fun to work with someone whose storytelling you really admire, and to be in a room with them. The idea that he pitched to me was just really engaging. We groove on the same stuff, but the whole idea of a movie that kind of riffed on and looked at the different ways that we looked at the future then and now, to research the history of futurism and science fiction, and let that inform a story, that was super-fun. I thought I knew a lot about how movies are made and TV shows are made, and this was a real learning experience in how much I didn’t know.
Q: Brad, what was most important for you to add to the whole project, once you came on board?
Brad Bird: I was just happy to be asked to join, you know? I was inspired by the idea and I was an admirer of Damon’s work. He did a little uncredited work at the very end of Mission. It was a very tight series of things and you had to be very surgical. Damon is really smart, and I asked what he was doing next. He mentioned this idea and I was immediately hooked.
Q: Tim, it’s quite a different role for you, compared to some of the other dads that you’ve played. I’m thinking specifically of Friday Night Lights. You’re much more nurturing and supportive here, which is great.
Tim McGraw: That was much more true to life.
Q: You, yourself, have three daughters. It must have felt oddly comfortable to play this part.
Tim McGraw: It did. In fact, I was thinking of the scene where we were shooting in the car, Britt and I. We had a long conversation in the car. We were talking about life and talking about guys. It was pretty reminiscent of some of the conversations that I’ve had with my daughters.
Q: Britt and Raffey, the dynamics between the two of you in the film are definitely not what you’d expect. The person who looks younger might not be. How would you two describe the relationship between the two characters?
Britt Robertson: Well, I think Raffey played Mom a lot, especially with George and I. She was constantly trying to keep us focused and funny enough, that’s how she is in life too. I mean, not intentionally, but she’s so professional and so focused herself.
I oftentimes would look over and be like, ‘Yeah, okay, right, this is what we’re doing. This is what we’re doing.' But we had such fun together and we had such a great time. We spent a lot of time together, just between stunt training and then obviously filming the movie. So I think our dynamic off-screen probably helped a lot of our chemistry on-screen as well.
Raffey Cassidy: I think the relationship between Casey and Athena is quite friendly, because Athena just wants to get Casey and Frank together, to try and save the world.
Q: And George, at the heart of this movie is a really big idea, which I think is powerful. You’ve made a lot of bold films in your career, particularly the more political ones. But I think this one is right up there, as far as being quite bold. Do you see it that way?
George Clooney: Putting me in a summer movie is a very bold thought. [Laughter]
First and foremost, I think it is a really bold thing for Disney to be willing to do a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a comic book, to really invest in a summer film of this sort of ilk. The fun part of it, to me, was when you read the screenplay, although I have to say, just so we’re clear, when Damon and Brad showed up at my house, they said, ‘We’ve got a part that we’ve written for you.' Then I opened up the description of the character and it’s a 55-year-old has-been, and I’m kind of going, ‘Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?'
Jeff Jensen: It said genius, by the way. It said genius.
George Clooney: It said former genius, boy genius, who has gotten bitter in his old age. I just loved the idea. We live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there, and it’s not fun. It can really wear on you after a period of time. We see generations now feeling as if it’s sort of hopeless, in a way, and what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference and I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that there’s still so much that we can all do to make things better. I liked it. I thought it was great.
Q: For George Clooney, the story picks up somewhat on what you were just talking about. First of all, this is the summer movie with a serious subtext, and you get to be the gruff, grumpy cynic. Yet at the same time you’re searching for hope, and I’m curious if that arc reflects the struggle that you personally have, and whether you relate to that in this particular context of this movie.
George Clooney: We have time for one more question. [Laughter]
I actually grew up during the Cold War period. And I always found that although we always thought that the world would end in a nuclear holocaust at some point, everybody was pretty hopeful. There were an awful lot of things going on that you felt you could change. I grew up in an era where the voice, the power of the one, really did feel as if it mattered. We had the riots that are reminiscent of the things we are looking at today, but we had the Civil Rights Movement and we had Vietnam. We had the Women’s Rights Movements and all those things that you felt you could actually have some part of changing. If you look at the things that changed in the 1960s and early 1970s, individual voices did make a huge difference. It wasn’t governments doing it, necessarily.
I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind. I always felt like it was going to work out in the end, and I still feel that way. So what I loved about the film was that it reminds you that young people don’t wake up, they’re not born and start out their lives cynical, or angry, or bigoted. You have to be taught all of those things. And I watch the world now and think I see really good signs from young people out there. I feel as if the world will get better.
I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve been a realist, but I’ve been an optimist about it. I really related to the film because I thought, you know, Brad and Damon want to tell a story that’s an entertainment, because first and foremost, it has to be an entertainment. But it is hopeful, and I’ve always felt that way myself.
Q: This question is for Britt and for Brad. Can you talk a bit, from each of your perspectives, about how NASA played a role in the production, and how that symbolizes the hope of optimism, and how right now, things aren’t as optimistic as necessary? It’s a creative question, not a space travel question.
Brad Bird: I remember the moon landing. I remember how that felt. I was actually in the air when they were about to get out on the surface. We were flying in from Denver, and I was like, ‘I’m going to miss it!' Fortunately, there were some kinds of technical errors and we landed in the airport. We ran to the nearest TV monitor and there were, like, 400 people just packed in, watching when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Everybody just went, ‘Whoo!' That feeling has never left me.
When we were first planning the movie, Damon and I were at Disney and the space shuttle took its last sort of circle over LA. Everybody came out and watched it, and there was this weird feeling of pride mixed with great sadness, like we’re not doing that anymore, and why aren’t we? So a chance to shoot at NASA was fantastic. To be on this launchpad where so many really noble journeys started, and we got to watch a launch from the launchpad, which was one of the coolest moments on the film. It was great to be at NASA, and if this, in any way, encourages NASA people to do more, then I think that would be a great thing.
Britt Robertson: For me, I think NASA also sort of represents a very specific hope, and it sort of ties in with the movie in a symbolic way. NASA represents this unknown, and the human race’s being able to explore the universe and other things that are out there. I think that’s sort of in line with the movie, in terms of theme. We’re talking about a movie that’s saying, ‘We don’t know what our future is. It’s not determined for us, and maybe if we go out there and explore the world, maybe if NASA wants to go and see what else is out there, then maybe that will have some helpful part in making our future something to be excited about.'
Q: So this is a question primarily for Brad, Damon, and Jeff, but if any of you want to answer that would be great. Disney’s great at creating synergy and often we’ve seen how some of their movies tie into attractions in the theme parks. Is there an attraction for Tomorrowland in development, and if there is or isn’t, what kind of attraction would you guys hope that would be, and what elements would it include from the movie?
Britt Robertson: I think they should just update the Carousel of Progress a little bit. You know what I mean? [Laughter]
Brad Bird: Yeah, we had an idea for that. They’re suddenly, in the last act, all the guys are presented with this horrible, ‘This is what happened! This is what could happen!' The animatronics get horrified.
George is pitching jetpacks. He wants everyone issued one. They can just fly around the park. Now that they serve alcohol in the park, I think that would be a great deal of fun. [Laughter]
Brad Bird: We initially wrote George in a sequence with paparazzi robots that attached his house, but we cut that scene.
George Clooney: It was nice.
Q: This question is for Brad and Damon and Jeff, if you want to weigh in too. Although he’s never directly referenced in the film, it’s obvious that Walt Disney had a great deal of influence on this, the look of the film and some of the themes, because he was a great futurist. Can you talk about the influence of him, and if maybe he was a member of Plus Ultra, anything that you can speak to as far as Walt Disney directly?
Damon Lindelof: I’ll say that I think Brad can probably speak most articulately about the kind of person Walt was, and what an inspirational figure he was, in terms of a lot of the things that everybody up here is talking about. The way that you look at the future and using imagination as a catalyst, pushing against a machinery that says, ‘That’s naive, or corny, or idealistic,' and saying, ‘No, it’s not.'
But specific to the question you asked for the movie, there is a much longer version of this movie, not necessarily a better one, that is much more explicit about Walt’s involvement. The idea is that it was very explicit about the idea that he was a member of Plus Ultra, and that Disneyland, particularly Tomorrowland and Disneyland, were covers for the actual Tomorrowland. Our feeling was that aside from trying to find that line in any movie when it gets bogged down by exposition and no longer becomes enjoyable to watch, the feeling was that by directly referencing Disney and Disneyland in a movie that is a Disney movie, it just suddenly felt like, ‘Oh, are we trying to sell tickets to go to the theme park,' when the theme park should be selling tickets to go and see Tomorrowland.
If that part of the story is interesting to you, Jeff actually wrote a book, a piece of fiction, that is out now called Before –
Jeff Jensen: Before Tomorrowland. Part of the work that we did in the story brainstorming process was conceiving this huge backstory for the film, and there’s lots of stories within stories. A lot of that informed the book and Walt makes a little cameo in there too. A lot of Disney really inspired and informed the movie, especially Epcot, the whole idea and original idea behind Epcot, and how that evolved as a sort of laboratory for the future. That was a huge inspiration for the story.
Damon Lindelof: Some of the very last things that Walt Disney filmed were about this experimental prototype community of tomorrow. He filmed this thing. He thought he was healthy. And like within days, he went into the doctor and learned that he had terminal lung cancer. One of the last things he shot, he was talking about Florida and he called it our Florida Project. He was talking about the park and he said, ‘Yeah, there will be an amusement park kind of like Disneyland, but the whole reason to do it, the main attraction, is this!' And he pointed to the city and said, ‘It’s going to be an actual place that you can try ideas and we’ll take corporations and we’ll collaborate with them on new ideas, and sell the ideas to the world, and try them out.'
His face lit up when he talked about. The amusement park of it was just like, that’s over on the side, one of those, but the main reason to do it – Which part of it do you think wasn’t done? It’s that part. It’s understandable because you needed somebody like Disney as a catalyst to make it happen, but on his deathbed he was looking up at the ceiling and pointing out how the city would be laid out, and the fact that he was, to his last moments, dreaming about this future and making crazy ideas happen, and be real, and accelerate the pace of that, was very moving to me. If the movie caught even a little bit of that, I think we will have succeeded.
Q: It was a really fun set to be on, and George, one of your cast members told me specifically that you were doing a little bit of rapping, kind of in between takes. So can you tell me a little bit about your secret rapping skills, and just some of the fun that you guys had on the set?
Jeff Jensen: Oh, they’re not secret. His rapping skills are well known.
George Clooney: They’re well known. In fact, many of the great rappers today have fashioned their stylings from me.
Jeff Jensen: Grand Master G. [Laughter]
George Clooney: Exactly. I grew up and was 18 when the Sugar Hill Gang hit the scene. You know, it’s funny because I’m literally at the actual oldest age of anybody who knows those songs, but I do still sing them every once in a while, to entertain the troops when they think, ‘Gosh, we’re in the water. It’s cold. We’re shooting 14 hours. We’ve been out all night. It’s terrible. What could be worse?' And then I rap. [Laughter]
And of course it wouldn't be an interview with George Clooney without the one question everyone wants to know, and it went a little like this….
Q: Question for George. You asked in the movie, would you like to know your future? Since this coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, do you see yourself as a father in the future?
Britt Robertson: Wow. [Laughter]
George Clooney: I knew you were going to get to it somehow. I didn’t think you’d go the Mother’s Day route to get there. I thought you’d do, ‘There’s a little kids who’s you as a young boy, does it make you feel like you should have a little boy like that boy, that looks like you sort of, like having a child?' [Laughter]
George Clooney: But no, you went, ‘You know, you have a mother, and most of us have mothers, and wouldn’t you like to be a father somehow?' [Laughter]
George Clooney: You can go back and tell everyone you asked the question. But thank you for asking. [Laughter]
Britt Robertson: Yes.
Jeff Jensen: Well played.
Britt Robertson: I love it.[Applause and Background Noise]
New Tomorrowland Featurettes
And to get you even more excited about this pioneering film, check out these latest Tomorrowland featurettes, ‘What is Tomorrowland' and ‘Citizen's of Tomorrowland.'
Featuring a screenplay by “Lost” writer and co-creator Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird, from a story by Lindelof & Bird & Jeff Jensen, “Tomorrowland” promises to take audiences on a thrill ride of nonstop adventures through new dimensions that have only been dreamed of.
The film also stars Hugh Laurie as brilliant scientist David Nix, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Robinson.
“Tomorrowland” is produced by Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird and Jeffrey Chernov and directed by Brad Bird, with John Walker, Bernard Bellew, Jeff Jensen and Brigham Taylor serving as executive producers. “Tomorrowland” opens in U.S. theaters on May 22, 2015.
Portions of the material has been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios, all opinions are my own.