Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to ‘Ad Astra,’ particularly for those spacewalk scenes. Having grown up in the height of the USA’s space exploration, the notion of being “up there” and hovering above the earth with nothing but a tether and a suit to keep me alive has always been thrilling. I know I’ll never do that in my lifetime, due to being a little over 20 and maybe a just a bit over the Air Force’s max weight for astronauts, but it’s fun to watch the cinematic portrayals of other people doing it.
In addition to the expected sci-fi fun that is a gimme with this kind of film, James Gray, the director of ‘Ad Astra’, decided to throw in a little spice. He invited Natasha Lyonne to join the cast in a cameo opposite Pitt. Lyonne is best known for her Netflix characters Nicky in ‘Orange is the New Black’ and Nadia in ‘Russian Doll‘ (think ‘Groundhog Day’ meets ‘Trainspotting’ but without as many drugs).
Gray recalls exclusively to EW of courting his ex-neighbor (both have since moved out of the building) for a cameo as a perky administrator who greets Pitt’s weary space traveler, Roy McBride, upon his arrival to a Martian outpost.
“I’d met [Natasha] a few times and liked her enormously. She’s great. She’s also incredibly talented, and I begged her to do this part for a day. She’s a great neighbor, it’s like having this exploding, vital ball of life right near you…. She moved out before I did, but we maintained the friendship and kept up through emails after she left.”
Like caramel without that blissful dash of sea salt, Gray worried that the darkness of ‘Ad Astra’ might become a bit too cloying, so he wanted to throw in some humor to offset it and Lyonne was the person he thought could do it best.
[**MINOR SPOILER INCOMING**]
He explained that she will be playing a character that looks like an old-timey stenographer who Pitt’s character meets in the unlikeliest of places:
“The movie is pretty heavy and dark, so it was a flash of humor. All of a sudden on Mars, you’re hooking up with a 1950s New York secretary! It’s never mentioned in the movie, but we had stationery [on her desk] made up with her name: Tanya Pincus. We wanted to conjure a 1950s New York secretary, like a clichéd, Hollywood-movie secretary in old movies.”
‘Ad Astra’ is now in theaters — don’t miss it!