Sons of iconic NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong explain why accuracy was so critical to them
For Mark and Rick Armstrong, the sons of NASA astronaut and first man on the moon Neil Armstrong, the most important issue for them about the making of “First Man,” a film on their father’s accomplishments in the space program, was getting the story accurate.
“The first thing we did was talk with [director] Damien [Chazelle] and the screenwriter, Josh Singer, to learn about what was their intent,” Mark said during a stop at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas earlier this month. “Because they wanted to tell the story the way it really happened, it drew us in.”
Although films featuring space exploration have been produced in the past, none had covered Armstrong’s Apollo 11 mission in 1969 on such a grand scale. With Oscar-nominated Singer (“Spotlight”) adapting the script for “First Man” from author and aerospace history expert James R. Hansen’s 2005 authorized biography of the same name, Mark and Rick felt a cinematic version of their father’s monumental space journey would be a good one.
“It’s a difficult story to tell unless you’ve got a good source,” Mark said. “Once the book was written, I think it was just a matter of time before someone made a movie about it.”
Both Mark and Rick agree that their father would’ve liked what Oscar-winning filmmaker Chazelle (“La La Land”) and two-time Oscar-nominated actor Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) did with the film. Their father, they said, was a big movie fan.
“We watched a lot of space films with him,” Rick said. “The first thing he would always lock onto was the accuracy – the technical correctness. I think that’s why he thought 2001: A Space Odyssey was such a wonderful movie. He said it was the most realistic depiction of what life in space was like. I think if he watched [‘First Man’], he would be very appreciative ofthe hard work that went into trying to get the details right.”
Aside from the accuracy of the technical elements of the film, Mark and Rick were pleased with the way Chazelle and Singer confronted the family aspects of the story. In one of the most heartfelt scenes, Neil (Gosling) tells his young sons (actors Connor Blodgett and Luke Winters portrayed the brothers as kids) that the Apollo 11 mission came with a possibility of failure.
“We gave [the filmmakers] that scene,” Rick explained. “The lines that Ryan has are pretty much exactly what I remember [my father] saying. It felt like they were coming back, but he did say there is some risk in this mission. We understood that, but we felt like whatever happened, they would figure it out and they would get home.”