The Man Who Fell To Earth, based on the Walter Tevis 1963 novel and Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 cult classic film starring David Bowie, will follow a new alien character (Faraday), played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who arrives on Earth at a turning point in human evolution and must confront his own past to determine our future.
Bill Nighy will play the brilliant Thomas Newton, the first alien to arrive on earth over 40 years ago, in the role originally played by Bowie in the film. Alone and desperate, Newton summons Faraday to complete his original mission. But Newton’s time marooned among human beings has cost him everything, possibly even his sanity.
The Man Who Fell to Earth will be a reunion of sorts as Nighy and Ejiofor worked together on Richard Curtis’ Love Actually. He also worked with Naomie Harris, who plays scientist Justin Falls, on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End.
Full disclosure, when I found out about this series, my immediate thought was why on Earth mess with perfection. The 1976 film starred Bowie as Thomas Newton, an alien in search of water to help his drought-stricken home world, Buck Henry, Candy Clark and Rip Torn and is still widely recognized as a iconic bit of science fiction cinema with a cult following that has lasted for almost five decades.
Thankfully, the Showtime series co-creator, Alex Kurtzman, immediately calmed my fears by first recognizing the greatness of Bowie’s first starring film role and then how they planned on building on Roeg’s work of art.
“You can’t think of the film without thinking of David Bowie,” Kurtzman told Entertainment Weekly ahead of the show’s premiere. “And it was a radically daunting prospect to stand in his shadow. His legacy is very meaningful to people, and that was not something to play around with lightly. The hubris of even choosing to do that could take you down.”
In the minds of Kurtzman and co-creators Jenny Lumet and John Hlavin, the series was to be a continuation of the 1976 film. Realizing that they needed Thomas Newton to advance the story, Kurtzman explained, “We thought, who would that character be 45 years later based on what happened in the film? Suddenly, we realized, we’re not writing David Bowie, or even that old version of Thomas Newton anymore. We’re writing an entirely new character. And that’s what made it something worth doing for us.”
Echoing Kurtzman’s sentiments, Jenny Lumet added, “You cannot chase, you cannot replicate the magic of David Bowie. You can’t hope to.”
For my money, the casting of Nighy as Thomas Newton is nothing short of brilliant as it’s totally public knowledge that I would happily pay to hear Nighy simply read the phone book. Thankfully, the producers felt the same way. “You need to cast somebody who in and of himself is a legend, but also is not going to be doing a David Bowie impression.” Enter the legend that is Bill Nighy.
The Man Who Fell to Earth continues Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.