Before Hilary Swank caught the acting bug, she had her sights set on a different type of stardom.
“I wanted to be an astronaut,” the two-time Oscar winner said. “It’s the whole idea of space exploration, something bigger than all of us, looking back down at Earth and how beautiful it is and how we’re all connected. How there’s no borders.”
Swank gets to live out her childhood fantasies in “Away,” now streaming on Netflix. She plays Emma Green, the commander of a ship on a three-year mission to Mars. Along the way, her team faces myriad challenges, including a perilous spacewalk, a shortage of water and a life-threatening virus.
Then there’s the guilt trips over leaving loved ones behind when they’re needed the most.
For Green, it means being apart from a husband facing a disabling disease and a 15-year-old daughter dealing with her first crush.
“These people who are on this journey working towards a goal together also have this gravitational pull to Earth,” Swank said last month during a virtual edition of the TV Critics Association’s summer conference. “All of us having these families made it a love story.”
It’s also a “This Is Us”-type tear-jerker.
You don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to get caught up in the personal crises. The team’s most veteran member is riddled with regret over never patching up differences with his estranged daughter. His Chinese colleague faces backlash from her government after it discovers she was having a prelaunch affair with someone in the control room.
Even Chuck Yeager would choke up watching the scenes in which one of the astronauts shares his story about how he lost his beloved brother.
Emotional puppetmasters dominated behind the scenes.
The first episode was directed by Edward Zwick, co-creator of “thirtysomething.” Principal writer Andrew Hinderaker, who grew up in Green Bay, Wis., is best known for gut-wrenching plays, including “Colossal,” which ran at Mixed Blood Theatre in 2014. “Parenthood” showrunner Jason Katims is on board as an executive producer.
“In one way, it’s sort of epic with all the grandeur and gravitas of space,” said Katims, who wrote the 10-part series’ Christmas episode that will have you bawling like a baby. “But it’s also deeply intimate and personal. It’s about the nuances of your relationships.”
Katims, who got the idea for the TV show after reading an Esquire article about the strains on astronauts’ personal lives, couldn’t have known a pandemic was on the horizon when filming started last year.
But during postproduction tasks, which had to be done largely through Zoom, it dawned on him that the series would have an unexpected relevance to today’s crisis.
“As writers of this show we all more deeply understand now what it is to be isolated,” said showrunner Jessica Goldberg.
Ato Essandoh, who plays the mission’s botanist, said he can now relate to his character more than ever.
“Getting a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop is now an endeavor that I can’t take for granted,” said the actor, who had to table plans to travel to Ghana to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. “It’s just making me really, really hold onto the things that I have.”
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 •
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin