Writer Josh Singer and director Damien Chazelle were interested in “telling the story that’s never been told before” about Neil Armstrong in their biopic “First Man.” In reading James R. Hansen‘s book detailing the astronaut’s trip to the moon, Singer was “struck by how much loss and pain there had been” in his life. “I really wanted to pay tribute to that because I think in some ways it is incredibly informative to us as we face great challenges.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Singer above.
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Singer, who won an Oscar for 2015’s “Spotlight” (Best Original Screenplay with co-writer Tom McCarthy), hoped to sift through “all of the technical stuff” and get into “the meat of Neil’s life, and what his human experience had been.” Armstrong (played in the film by Ryan Gosling) was an “emotionally tightly-packaged guy,” but he had to endure the deaths of his young daughter and his colleagues Elliot See and Ed White. “You see loss after loss,” Singer explains, “and what is one to do if one wants to stay the course? It’s push it down and compartmentalize, and as a result become more distant.”
After premiering at the Venice Film Festival the film faced some early controversy for its perceived lack of patriotism. “We’ve now been hit by the right and the left,” says Singer. “The right are upset we don’t have the planting of the American flag, and the left are upset” because this is yet another “great white man of history story. Oddly, I think the answer to both is the same,” which is that “we’re doing a history, and we’re trying to look very specifically at the history, and not color it one way or the other.”
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For Singer, “there are things you learn by looking back at a history like this” that can “teach us about our own time … There’s been talk in recent years about how to make America great again. I don’t tend to buy into the rhetoric that is being espoused by the people who talk about it. I think this is the way to make America great again, which is to realize it wasn’t easy,” that “it’s not about the country giving to you.” People like Armstrong “worked hard, they sacrificed, they gave of themselves, and they dealt with loss.” To do all of that in the face of grave danger, Singer believes, is what makes a hero.
“Spotlight” won Singer additional prizes at the WGA, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice Awards. His work on “The Post” (2017) with co-writer Liz Hannah brought him Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations.
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