There was no telling quite how relevant the themes of Away would be when the mission-to-Mars series began production. The Netflix series that stars Hilary Swank as Emma Green, the commander of a years-long global mission to the Red Planet, offers plenty of nail-biting spacewalks, but it's also grounded in themes of isolation and hope that are particularly resonant since life effectively changed last March.
The series revolves around an international effort to land a crew on the moon that is then rocketed to Mars in a tightrope of timing and launches. Swank's team is made up of Vivian Wu’s Lu, a chemist from China who’s keeping an important secret; Mark Ivanir as a Russian cosmonaut; Ray Panthaki as a navigator representing Iran; and Ato Essandoh as a British botanist on his first space mission.
Meanwhile, Emma's husband, Matt (Josh Charles), is not only keeping the home fires burning, but he's also one of the heads at mission control. Talitha Bateman plays their daughter, Alexis, a teen who grapples with accepting the perils of her mother’s dangerous mission with the more relatable story of going through high school without her mom there.
As with any great space story, as the crew of Atlas 1 sets off on the mission (spurred in part by environmental factors and the waning sustainability of life on earth) they face daunting rescues as things fail to function while alternately coping with the boredom and paranoia that accompanies isolation. On top of that, there's an LGBTQ+ storyline that is revealed a few episodes into the series.
The Advocate chats with several of Away's cast members, including two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, who discusses the extraordinary time at which the show is being released and how having hope is a thread throughout the series that is relatable to so many now.
Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't seen Away's third episode.
“In the end, it is really hope that we hold on to to get us through to the other side. Hope is the connective tissue of the whole story, kind of like the superglue, if you will, is hope in everything,” Swank says. “Globally, we’re all having to hope right now and having to really work together to get through this time.”
Away also takes on issues around race and gender. Swank addresses those aspects of the series as well.
“It breaks through stereotypes of race and gender. It reminds us of how dangerous stereotypes are and that at the core of everything as we work on this mission to Mars, that we have to work together and support each other’s strengths and that the commonality after we break down stereotypes is the connective tissue of being a human,” she says.
“Emma Green is this female commander of this mission, and that’s not the drama of the show, whereas five years ago that would have been,” she says about how the series tackles gender. “Instead, it’s just this woman who is best qualified and has to earn everyone’s trust like anyone else in that position would.”
In the series, her character delivers a monologue about love and embracing sexual and gender identities that is deeply moving. An ally to LGBTQ+ people, Swank addresses queer rights as well in her talk with The Advocate.
“As we all know, and the message that we continue to put out there, is that love is love. We have to continue to talk about it, and we have to continue to be inclusive of whatever shape and form that takes. Love feels like love no matter what package it’s in. I think we’re making leaps and bounds in that area. I still think we have a long way to go,” she says.
“Being silenced is a type of violence. I think the more we continue to talk about it, the more we break down, again … going back to a stereotypical way of looking at anything, how dangerous that is," Swank adds. "I’m so excited that this show touches on it as well and that we can continue that conversation within it.”
Vivian Wu and Mark Ivanir
During the mission, Wu's seemingly impenetrable character Lu is forced to confront a secret she's been keeping that has been discovered at the same time she's coping with heartbreak from being forcefully removed from her true loved one.
“I personally think these kinds of stories deserve to be seen, to be represented on-screen. That’s why I was very humbled to have this opportunity to play her," Wu says. "First of all, she is, which is hard to do, completely not stereotyped. [Lu] is against a stereotyped Asian, Chinese woman and so multilayered with depth."
"On this mission, she started to discover new self and authentic self. I think the whole journey is a beautiful self-discovery journey,” Wu says of how her character’s story fits in with the larger themes of the show."
Also, watch Ato Essandoh and Ray Panthaki below.
Watch Talitha Bateman below.