Imagine if Russia beat the United States of America to the Moon and it was a Russian astronaut and not Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong who first stepped foot on another planet. That alternate reality is the premise of Apple TV+’s new series, For All Mankind. Created by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander) and featuring a talented ensemble that includes Joel Kinnaman, Michael Dorman, Sarah Jones, Shantel VanSanten, Wrenn Schmidt and Jodi Balfour, For All Mankind is set to launch on the brand new subscription service on November 1, 2019.
The altered history put forth in Apple TV+’s For All Mankind will include an interesting shift in the timeline of when women joined NASA as key members of Mission Control and as astronauts. That alternate timeline will play a large part in season one of series, according to Jodi Balfour (“Ellen Wilson”).
During our interview at the New York Comic-Con, Balfour explained the drama poses the question: if Russia put a man on the Moon first, can America put the first woman on the Moon?
Balfour says that’s an important aspect of For All Mankind, but there’s much more going on within the series’ first season. “It’s basically this amazing ensemble story where we get to fall in love and get to know each of the…I think there’s probably 10 or so characters that have wonderful individual storylines,” said Balfour. “Basically, we’re looking at an America that’s been changed by the fact that Russia swooped in and took something from America that America thought was theirs, that they had in the bag – let’s say, anyway. And what the ripple effect is and does that necessarily mean that bad things happen because of that.”
The series posits that Russia beating America to land the first person on the Moon could actually change the American cultural and societal landscape for the better. “The first woman in Mission Control happens. A dystopian future doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with this altered history premise,” teased Balfour.
Wrenn Schmidt plays Margo Madison, an intelligent, hard-working woman we meet as her efforts to advance at NASA are stymied due to gender discrimination. “For Margo, her experience in 1969 probably doesn’t vacillate all that much from any other woman who’s trying to find a place within NASA’s Mission Control,” explained Schmidt. “She very much feels locked out or on the fringes of where she would like to be. When you first meet her, she’s somebody who’s in the backup room who’s supporting flight controllers who are assigned on very specific pieces of the mission. She would very much like to be sitting in one of those chairs. Even though she’s more qualified than some other people, she’s not being given that shot simply because she’s a woman.
I really don’t think that varies all that much from our American history. That was before Title X. That was before people were starting to really understand that women were really kind of being pushed aside. So, I feel like it’s kind of in line with that. There was an article in the New York Times I think last year about women learning to code early on, and it was because men didn’t want to do it so women actually had opportunities to do it. So, yeah, I think there are a lot of parallels. I feel like it’s a while before our story really diverges.”
Schmidt recalled one scene in particular that struck her from reading the first script. “Margo’s in that backup room and she knows the answer to something. Somebody outside is totally dropping the ball, and if it was just okay for her to step in and say, ‘This is what you need,’ then everything would be fine. And she both can’t do it and at the same time can’t keep her mouth shut.”
Balfour describes the series as a lot like a period drama, and both she and Schmidt found the scripts to be refreshingly challenging as actors. “It’s always fun as an actor – I think Wrenn and I have this in common – when you have to take a giant leap to be able to play that character. It demands research; it demands knowledge acquisition. It’s nothing like the world she and I walk in day in and day out. The corny analogy is we talk about walking in someone else’s shoes and so much of that is acting, and when the shoes physically are from 1969 and everything that comes along with that, it’s just such a rich experience to get to time travel in a way.”
Asked about their favorite part of playing around with an alternative timeline, Balfour said, “It’s hard not to love the notion that the fact that Russia gets to the Moon first ends up aiding social progress, specifically in America and then that ripples out into the rest of the world. Specifically, for my character, we as women come into NASA more than a decade before women were actually first invited to join the astronaut program. That’s one symbolic thing that’s rippled out.”
Balfour added, “There are certain totems of social progress that happen sooner in our story because of this supposedly bad thing that happens.”
“I also love the fact that to me our show is a little bit…like, everybody knows Romeo and Juliet, you know what’s happening. I feel like people know enough about the space race to know just enough to not know when the show’s going to surprise them by taking a left turn or a right turn. That familiarity I think actually can create a lot of suspense because at any moment something goes slightly differently. Then the ripple moves out and can affect so much.”
The For All Mankind Season 1 Plot, Courtesy of Apple TV+
“Enter a captivating ‘what if’ take on history from Golden Globe nominee and Emmy Award winner, Ronald D. Moore. Told through the lives of astronauts, engineers and their families, For All Mankind imagines a world in which the global space race never ended and the space program remained the cultural centerpiece of America’s hopes and dreams.”