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Published Date: 28/09/2018
We are really looking forward to Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling's visceral and intimate First Man. Told from Armstrong’s perspective, based on the book by James R. Hansen, the film explores the triumphs and the cost - on Armstrong, his family, his colleagues and the nation itself - of one of the most dangerous missions in history.
Hansen's 'First Man: Uncovering a Private Life' is a book that we have long enjoyed. It reveals intimate insights into the global hero’s private life and previously unknown character-defining moments. We were fascinated to learn more about the book from which Chazelle's film has been adapted.
After receiving a PhD in the history of science and technology from Ohio State and spending more than 20 years writing and teaching about space and history, Hansen set out to write his first biography. It was in the year 2000 that the author first reached out to Armstrong and requested to tell the hero’s tale. After two months, Armstrong - who rarely agreed to interviews, much less entertained the idea of a lifelong documentation - politely declined.
It would be some time after Hansen’s initial request before the pilot gave the go-ahead to pen his biography. “It took about two years for me to finally get the greenlight from him,” reflects the author. “Neil’s family encouraged him to do it. The crucial moment came when he invited me up to his home in suburban Cincinnati - where he had lived for about 20 years - and we spent the afternoon in his study talking for hours. I felt very positive, but even after this meeting it took some time for him to fully get on board.” Hansen saw the duality of his subject as a fascinating one. “Neil could be in a cockpit making instantaneous decisions but when it came to other things about his life, he was amazingly cautious and deliberate.”
Long prior to his in-person introduction to Armstrong, Hansen had conducted hundreds of interviews for other subjects; it was that experience taking oral histories that aided in gaining Armstrong’s confidence. “One thing that became important with him was his developing trust in you,” Hansen explains. “Not only did we grow up 50 miles from one another - he grew up in Ohio and I grew up in Indiana, and went to school at Ohio State - but both our families had also grown up on farms. In a lot of ways, we spoke the same language, in terms of regional dialect. What we know of Neil is as this one dimensional, iconic symbol...but he was a living, breathing, three- dimensional human being.”
It was crucial to the production team not simply to tell a story about a hero of whom we’ve seen many pictures and interviews, but to explore what drove him, his family and colleagues at NASA to accomplish the unthinkable. “This is a story about how hard it was, how much of a risk it was, how dangerous it was to all of those men,” says First Man executive producer Adam Merims. “Neil started out in the Korean War as a pilot and then became a test pilot for the Air Force, then ultimately for NASA. At that time test pilots would die with alarming frequency, so many people in the early part of the story in his life were killed; yet Neil stayed true to his path and achieved what was previously considered unachievable.”
Armstrong developed a close kinship to the author of his biography, who serves as a co-producer on the film, and that indeed allowed the production to move forward. “Neil had a great relationship with Jim Hansen, and he felt very comfortable with the idea that Jim had captured in his book - and what he had hoped to convey,” says First Man producer Wyck Godfrey. “Neil thought that as long as we followed the blueprint that Jim provided, he was comfortable with us moving forward with making this film.”
Although known for being a very private person, after meeting the filmmakers, Armstrong agreed to a movie adaptation of his life. Fortunate to have been introduced to Armstrong before he passed away on August 25, 2012, Godfrey explains that there was no way to make this film without his blessing. “It was a gratifying experience to be able to meet him,” states the producer. “Neil was very open to the idea of making a movie about his life. If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here.”
From all that we have seen First Man is a fitting tribute to a true icon.