In many ways, the new thriller Life feels ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel. After all, it's about what happens when a Martian life-form studied by astronauts on the International Space System (ISS) grows dangerously huge, threatening not only its captors, but all of humanity if it manages to make it back to Earth. Yet while the events of the movie are, thankfully, totally fictional, its themes often feel all too real, according to Life star Rebecca Ferguson.
"Taking something out of its natural habitat and putting it on board our spaceship, and provoking it, trying to get a reaction from this thing that probably was quite happy where it was, and gradually creating our own disaster — I think it’s a lovely mirroring to how we humans react in everyday life situations," says Ferguson, speaking via phone a few days before the Life premiere.
Although Ferguson is no scary movie lover herself ("I’m just not a fan of things jumping out and screaming," she says with a laugh), she was drawn to Life's philosophical themes and thought-provoking situations. And the fact that Life features a diverse ensemble cast, in race, ethnicity, and gender, definitely didn't hurt.
"What I think was absolutely wonderful in this situation is that it’s a mirror of what it’s like at the ISS," says Ferguson, who plays microbiologist Dr. Miranda North in the film. "There is no hierarchy, there’s gender equality. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman if you’re the best person for the job... and it’s a bit of a mash of culture. We have Europeans up there, Canadians, Americans, Russians… the potpourri of culture and race and sex is basically what I believe Earth should look like."
Hear, hear. It's a thrill to see a major Hollywood movie feature such a diverse cast, and to have female characters playing necessary, prominent roles. In the film, Ferguson's Miranda is one of several astronauts on board the ISS when the tiny Martian life-form they've captured to study suddenly experiences terrifying growth. Working with her team to control the creature and stop it from killing them all, Miranda has to deal with the crew's fear and confusion — plus the knowledge that she, as the person in charge of setting up the ship's firewalls, is primarily responsible for keeping the astronauts out of harm's way.
"Her job is basically to protect what we find from us, or from Earth, but also to protect Earth from it," explains Ferguson. And when the firewalls don't work, the actor adds, that's where things get complicated. Says Ferguson, "I think what’s interesting is what happens to a person, what is their real persona, when you take away all the comfort zones, all these safety nets."
According to Life, at least, what happens is something heart-poundingly scary, and an absolute thrill to watch — even if its plot feels a bit too close to home for most viewers' comfort.