Watch: Tim Peake reveals what Lightyear gets right about space travel
Astronaut Tim Peake doesn’t tend to worry too much about scientific accuracy in space movies, despite having spent his fair share of time in orbit.
While many experts in their fields are critical of fiction’s desire to embellish and distort, Peake told Yahoo that he is ‘there to be entertained’.
He has now made his own journey into the world of sci-fi movies with a cameo as the voice of mission control in Pixar animation Lightyear, in which Chris Evans plays Toy Story character Buzz.
“I don’t really worry so much about the science fiction. Perhaps part of that is a defence mechanism because I want to relax and enjoy it, but I also think ‘what’s the point in picking them apart?’,” said the 50-year-old.
He added: “Movies are supposed to take you to a place where you enjoy it and can have escapism and immerse yourself in the story.
“It’s nice when the science is correct but, if it’s not quite right, it doesn’t really bug me too much.”
But Peake did have plenty of praise for the space travel in Lightyear, which deploys a variation of the ‘time dilation’ idea previously explored by Christopher Nolan in Interstellar.
He said: “Between the two movies, you’ve pretty much covered Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which is Lightyear, and general relativity, which is Interstellar. Between gravitational time dilation and speed time dilation.
“It’s brilliant that they are able to get that concept across in the space of 15 seconds on a chalk board in Lightyear. It’s hilarious, but brilliant at the same time.”
Peake said that movies play a vital role in inspiring the astronauts of the future and he cited Star Wars and E.T. as films which fuelled his fascination with space as a child.
He explained that this is one of the key reasons he is driven to take part in projects like Lightyear, reflecting the “amazing things” happening around space travel today.
Peake said: “Over the next few years, we’re going back to the moon and we’re going to be on the surface with habitation modules. Crews are gonna live there and work there. We’re going to go to Mars.
“But it’s important to bring everybody along on this journey. It’s humanity’s journey. Movies really help to do that. They always have done. They’ve helped us to think out into the future. They have helped to broaden our horizons and really bring these concepts to a wider audience.
“Buzz Lightyear is a Space Ranger and we’re going to be seeing our own Space Rangers of the future in the next few years, stepping out on to the surface of the moon once again. How cool is that?”
Watch: Tim Peake records cameo role in Lightyear
Read the full interview with Tim Peake, in which he discusses his kids’ joy at Lightyear and whether he might ever head back into space…
Were your children more excited about you going to space or being in a Pixar movie?
Last night [the UK premiere] was high excitement. Being an astronaut and going to space is fairly routine as far as they’re concerned, but getting to watch Lightyear and meet Captain America? It doesn’t get better than that.
Ah, so Chris Evans was the real highlight of the night for them?
He was certainly a big draw. There was so much enthusiasm last night and energy from everybody on the blue carpet. It was brilliant and a real electric atmosphere. I think everybody came out of the cinema in awe of the movie. It’s spectacular.
I wanted to ask how this came about for you. How do you begin to get involved in a Pixar movie?
I had a call from Disney saying “would I like to be involved in a small cameo role for the UK launch?” and I thought “wow fantastic, what an opportunity”. Firstly, Disney-Pixar has been a huge part of my life anyway, growing up watching the movies and then as a parent of two young boys. You know you’re working with the best of the best, and that’s brilliant.
But then, Lightyear obviously has huge associations with the career that I have had as a test pilot and becoming an astronaut. Great messaging as well. It’s a really positive movie. It leaves you really warm and inspired, but also takes you on an emotional journey and doesn’t shy away. As Disney-Pixar movies always do, it takes on difficult concepts and they really embrace it. You get all of that from this movie.
Disney loves to make us cry.
It is emotional, but in a way that also makes you think. It’s a very thought-provoking movie. In the same way, some adult movies have taken the same theme. Interstellar, for example, looks at long journeys away and people aging as you have travelled off into space. Lightyear does it for an audience that can enjoy it from a much younger age, which is great.
I actually wanted to bring up that time dilation idea. As you say, we all saw it in Interstellar and I think that’s the first time I came across it. To see it in a kids’ movie and done in a way that everyone can understand it is really impressive.
It’s unbelievable. You’ve got Interstellar and Lightyear and, between the two movies, you’ve pretty much covered Einstein’s theory of special relativity, which is Lightyear, and general relativity, which is Interstellar. Between gravitational time dilation and speed time dilation. It’s brilliant that they are able to get that concept across in the space of 15 seconds on a chalk board in Lightyear. It’s hilarious, but brilliant at the same time.
It’s really cool. Did you have any role in consulting on the space elements of the story?
Not specifically, but when I went to the studios at Shepperton I was talking to the team there and was saying ‘this is brilliant and absolutely correct’. I was seeing the more mundane things about living in space and the feelings of weightlessness. It’s the little things like always paying attention to whether they’re in a vacuum environment or a pressurised environment, helmets down or helmets up, weightlessness versus gravity. Everything is accurate and correct and it’s that kind of attention to detail that really gives authenticity to the movie.
Generally, can you enjoy space movies or are you looking at them and picking things out that they’ve not done right?
I always go into a movie thinking that it’s a movie and I’m there to be entertained. I don’t really worry so much about the science fiction. Perhaps part of that is a defence mechanism because I want to relax and enjoy it, but I also think “what’s the point in picking them apart?”. Movies are supposed to take you to a place where you enjoy it and can have escapism and immerse yourself in the story. It’s nice when the science is correct but, if it’s not quite right, it doesn’t really bug me too much.
Is there a movie, aside from Lightyear, that you think really gets it right and captures what it’s like to be in space?
Well I think The Martian is brilliant. Andy Weir is a bit of a geek and he focused on the science behind how you would really live on a planet by yourself. So I think The Martian is very true to science. And we’ve already mentioned Interstellar and taking on concepts of wormholes and gravitational time dilation and black holes and event horizons. That was really brave to be able to bring that to an audience as well.
Toy Story is obviously such a big thing for so many of us. What were the importance of those movies to you?
I was in my 20s when they were coming out, but I loved watching them and thought they were absolutely hilarious. At the time, it was great to see what animation could do and how you could really enjoy animated movies like that.
I think what’s so clever about Lightyear is that it really pays homage to the Toy Story movies. There’s that scene in Toy Story where Woody is constantly trying to tell Buzz Lightyear he’s just a toy, so to see that this is the real Lightyear behind the toy makes a good 360 connection. You get to go full circle and appreciate the character behind the toy.
Were you nervous at all? You’ve done things very few people have done, but going into a movie must still have been nerve-wracking.
It was actually. You want to get it right, but you’re out of your comfort zone and it’s not something you do every day. The team are brilliant. They help you relax and, of course, you get to do the recording several times until you get it right. It’s not like it has to be absolutely spot-on and perfect in one take, so that made the situation more relaxed.
I was going to ask: were you a one-take natural at it, or did it take some time?
It took three or four times running through it. It might sound really ridiculous because it’s a very simple role of just doing the countdown, but it’s important to get the mood right and the pitch right. Actually, to begin with, I had a bit too much energy and enthusiasm — probably because I was excited about doing it. What Angus was after was more of the routine, almost mundane, air traffic control type of voice. Everyone else is allowed to get excited, but mission control doesn’t get excited. So it was a case of just getting into that mentality to get the voice pitch right.
We’ve talked about a lot of space movies and this is supposed to be the film that inspired Andy to love space. Did movies play a big part for you in inspiring the things that you’ve done?
They did. I think we all take inspiration from movies, whether you’re actively thinking about it or whether it’s a bit more passive and subconscious that you’re just absorbing these messages. I grew up with Star Wars and Star Trek, though Star Wars was probably a bigger influence in my life. I remember that one of the first movies I went to was E.T. — there was Star Wars and then there was E.T. coming out, and Back to the Future.
As a kid, those were three really influential movies and they’re all exploring the concept of space and the universe and what’s out there. They probably sowed some big seeds in my early childhood that made me want to go into a career that ultimately ended up in working in the space industry.
And then was going to space everything you expected? Was there anything that surprised you?
I think it’s more than you expect it to be. You get trained so well, but the one thing your training cannot do is that it cannot give you that experience of the view of looking down on planet Earth, or the feeling of weightlessness. We can do parabolic flights and it gives us about 30 seconds of weightlessness in each parabola, but you can’t really get that feeling of being in weightlessness for days and weeks or months on end.
Space was way more than I expected it to be in that respect and it changes your perspective forever. It just gives you that very special, highly privileged experience of being able to look back on planet Earth and put things in perspective.
Since you went to space, you’ve done a lot of media work and publicity. Do you think it’s important for people in the space programme to do things like Lightyear and get the inspirational message out?
I think it’s really important. There are amazing things happening in space. Over the next few years, we’re going back to the moon and we’re going to be on the surface with habitation modules. Crews are gonna live there and work there. We’re going to go to Mars. But it’s important to bring everybody along on this journey. It’s humanity’s journey.
Movies really help to do that. They always have done. They’ve helped us to think out into the future. They have helped to broaden our horizons and really bring these concepts to a wider audience. Buzz Lightyear is a Space Ranger and we’re going to be seeing our own Space Rangers of the future in the next few years, stepping out onto the surface of the moon once again. How cool is that?
And will you be among them? Are you going back up or are you staying on Earth now?
I’d love to! A moon mission would be the absolute pinnacle of a career. We’ll see what happens. Who knows?
You’ve got Shatner! He’s much older than you.
Absolutely, yep. ESA [European Space Agency] will fly you until you’re 60 years old, so I’ve got 10 years in me still.
As a final question, have you been bitten by the movie bug? Will we be seeing you again, perhaps even in live-action films?
It was an enormous amount of fun, it really was. I’m not sure I’m going to be taking up a career as an actor, but I’m always willing to grasp opportunities and enjoy new experiences. This has been one to remember and treasure.
Lightyear is in UK cinemas from 17 June.
Watch: Trailer for Lightyear