“It just felt right,” producer Scarlett Johansson on playing the “strong woman character” lead in “Fly Me to the Moon,” in cinemas July 10

Scarlett Johansson, who developed the idea for Fly Me to the Moon with fellow creatives in her production company These Pictures, was originally going to just be a producer, not an actor, in the film. 

But because of how well the script was written, Johansson eventually became a leader not only behind the camera as a producer, but also in front of the camera as marketing genius Kelly. 

Set on the brink of the greatest triumph of the Space Age, Johansson’s Madison Avenue marketing virtuoso Kelly rockets slam-bang into Channing Tatum’s Apollo 11 launch director Cole – and if America is going to get to the moon, they’re going to have to start by looking at each other differently. “All of these people were working so hard to do the impossible; for Cole, who’s really an optimist, that should be enough,” says Johansson. “Kelly, who’s a pessimist, realizes people are more cynical than that. The world is a very complicated place. So, Cole’s reluctance is met by her determination to do whatever is necessary. Kelly is very much all about the ends justify the means, while for Cole, the means matters. And therein lies the conflict.”

But, continues Scarlett, even though Kelly and Cole clash, they may have more in common than they think. “They’re both very passionate people, and when they get behind something, it’s a winner,” she says. “They find the common ground there and reach for the stars – or the moon, I guess, in this case.”

The original idea for the film began with These Pictures’ Head of Film Keenan Flynn: what if everything that millions of people heard on July 20, 1969, was the true audio of people walking on the moon – but the images they saw had been faked, Hollywood-style? Johansson liked the idea enough to develop it, with Flynn and writer Bill Kirstein working on the story before turning it over to screenwriter Rose Gilroy. 

At the time, Johansson was strictly intending to produce the film and was not developing it as “a Scarlett Johansson vehicle” – but all that changed when Gilroy turned in her draft. “I never intended on playing Kelly,” says Johansson, “but when the script came in, it was so great. Johansson knew she had to play the role.

To direct, Johansson chose, pursued, and ultimately convinced Greg Berlanti (Love, Simon; TV’s YouRiverdale [as a producer for the latter]) to take the helm. One of television’s most prolific writer-producers, Berlanti rarely chooses to direct, especially feature films, even though his 2018 film Love, Simon received rave reviews and became a fan favorite. In reaching out, the production team realized that Berlanti is incredibly busy and that his most recent feature film came six years earlier. Would he be available, and even if he were, would any feature film be something he’d want to do?

“Greg very rarely raises his hand for a project,” says Johansson’s producing partner Jonathan Lia, “but he understood this script from the first moment he read it and felt strongly that he knew how to tell this story. And he was right. He had a great vision for this film that elevated all the work that we did, from the page to the set design to working with the actors – and he’s as big of a space nerd as we are.”

Will they make it or fake it? Find out when Fly Me to the Moon, also starring Woody Harrelson, Ray Romano and Jim Rash, opens in cinemas July 10.

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