Racing to Change: 1on1 with Jim Rash (FLY ME TO THE MOON)

Even when you’re racing to the moon, you can’t forget the problems here on earth.

Hilarious and genuinely charming, Fly Me to the Moon is a fantastic example of Hollywood summer fun. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, the film sets the viewer in the midst of the tensions of the space race of the 1960s. As NASA prepares to launch the history Apollo 11, the organization is also falling under public scrutiny during a time of political tension. Enter Kelly Jones (Johansson), a marketing maven who is tasked with reviving NASA’s public image. As she begins to bring in sponsorships and PR campaigns, she wreaks havoc on launch director Cole Davis’ (Tatum) preparations. However, when the US Government fears the impact of another potential failure, they pivot to create a ‘back up’ in the form of a pre-filmed fake moon landing… just in case…

But every fake lunar landing needs a director and NASA finds theirs in the form of Lance Vespertine (Jim Rash), a director who believes they’re the next Kubrick but remains relegated to making commercials. In Lance, Rash knew that he had found a special character that was as playful as he was delusional.

“On the page, Lance was pretty much, you could see it,” Rash points out. “You could feel… his sort of ‘my way or the highway’ [attitude], [his] fun ranting… and all that energy… I think 2001 came out the year before… So, it was fun to think that, in Lance’s head, 2001 was still a very big success out there which fuels the whole Kubrick-hack vibe. And then the clothes did the rest of the work. Anything, [from] 1969 was all glorious. Once you put it on, you’re like, ‘yep. Got it’… It was such a playground of a movie to make.”

But surprisingly, Fly Me is about far more than reaching the moon. Set in the heat of the Space Race of 1969, the film also acknowledges the tension between the government’s passion to reach the stars against the backdrop of America’s very real social problems at the time. 

“Obviously, the movie hits–and I think that part is probably very true as far as the feeling around NASA–was we’re spending a lot of money to go to space, and you have these very much more weightier problems at the time, war and not dissimilar to the fact that what we have going on,” Rash states. “For some reason, I think the power of both the can-do spirit of, in this particular case, America can be a very unifying thing that blurs the lines of everything you might have as far as divisiveness or difference or feelings about [things]. So, I think that that’s why we get kind of emotional when it comes to the idea of moments like this in history.”

“[There’s] talk about Nixon and Anna Garcia’s Ruby is representing a younger generation at the time, who’s going to want—much like any younger generation—wants my world, my planet, my America to be safe and to change for the better. So, it’s kind of cyclical in the way history works and the way we all work. [We all] desire better. History repeats itself.”

In this way, one of the things that appealed to Rash about the role was the way that his character is portrayed as an outwardly gay man in the late 60s. Set during a time of change, there’s a confidence within Lance that he found appealing.

“Yeah, I liked it for a couple reasons,” Rash explains. “One, [for] this good relationship he has with Kelly and her saying, ‘Go, buy your boyfriend something nice’ when I’m going off on life. And, for me, I think it’s lovely that he is unapologetic both for who he is, but also, in the movie, he just exists in this world. There’s nothing coming at him… In his professional life, say for his disrespect as far as being stuck in commercials in his mind, but it might just be because he’s also difficult to work with. That has nothing to do with anything else. But it was just lovely to play someone who [acts upon] ‘This is who I am’ and make no apologies. You can’t ask for a more interesting person to play than that, you know?”

Although the film has a genuine bounce to its tone, Fly Me also explores the way that the ’sad stories’ in our lives can affect us. For some, sad stories force them into survival mode, scratching and clawing to survive. However, for others, it provides an opportunity to bring about genuine change. Asked what he believed about the power of sad moments in our lives, Rash agrees that our perspective on them can change with time.

“I think the spirit of things that bring us down in the moments and then desire to get back up, I would interpret that as sort of a mentality that we all take on,” Rash believes. “I’ve often thought, especially on a writer’s side, you look back at things that defined you as a child. Everyone’s got their coming of age. And then, the more distance we get from it, the story starts to change. It is not that it’s not emotional but it takes on a whole other chapter. Whether it’s, ‘oh, I’m so glad I went through that in hindsight. You know, I’m here because of that. Or it can be something that becomes almost comedic. It’s a story that becomes a completely different story you tell many years later. The tone is changed, the outlook has changed. The approach to it has changed. So, I think the spirit I mean of that is that, yes, our sad stories can often define us to want to be better and probably are part of the reasons we did better.”

In this spirit, both Tatum and Johansson’s characters are dealing with events in their reflective pasts. As he reflects on their motivations and relationship, Rash believes that their ‘sad stories’ have changed them in different ways.

“You’re grappling with two things,” he begins. “[First, there’s] Scarlett’s character, Kelly, just realizing how that her choices, much like her past (not giving anything away), but it’s just sort of the implications of the idea that you could just live this lie. Or for, Channing’s character to say ‘everything you put into it isn’t just, obviously not failure to the level of lives lost, but we tried and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t’. As opposed to guess what, we did it even though we didn’t, you know? So, I think, I think that speaks a lot to both what the two characters are grappling, but also, you could apply it to ourselves, you know?”

With that being said, Rash was most excited to step into an original project that would get people back into the theatres together.

“Honestly, the bigger picture to me is to have an original story with a kernel of a true story, being told in a different way and to be in theaters because there is nothing better,” he exclaims. “There still is nothing better. You cannot replicate what it feels like to watch a movie with a group of strangers. You can’t. A packed audience is a completely different experience. And so, if anything, I hope that this is a calling to all creatives, everywhere, studios, streamers, whatever, that the opportunity to make original stories is viable and powerful. And people react to it and lean in because we’re so used to other things. I hope they have an experience in the theater with people and remember what it feels like to experience something at the same time with people that you may not even speak to or know in your life, but you’ve shared this experience. So that’s obviously a weighty thing for movies in general. But I think there’s plenty here. The romance, the action, the comedy, all of it. It was a beautiful blend of an old school studio picture.”

To hear our full interview with Jim Rash, click here.

Fly Me to the Moon is available in theatres on Friday, July 12th, 2024. 

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