Interview: Greg Berlanti on directing Fly Me To The Moon and the importance of story over star power

Starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, Fly Me To The Moon is a sharp, stylish comedy-drama set against the high-stakes backdrop of NASA’s historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Brought in to fix NASA’s public image, sparks fly in all directions as marketing maven Kelly Jones (Johansson) wreaks havoc on launch director Cole Davis’s (Tatum) already difficult task. When the White House deems the mission too important to fail, Jones is directed to stage a fake moon landing as back-up and the countdown truly begins…

As this charming, retro rom-com (that may or may not be based on a true story) flies into Australian theatres on July 11th, Peter Gray spoke with director Greg Berlanti about the personal importance of his filmography and that this movie was more than just about star power.

Before I get to Fly Me To The Moon, I’m just going to briefly say thank you for The Broken Hearts Club.  That movie spoke to me as a 15-year-old queer kid trying to figure out everything.  It meant a lot to me, so thank you for that.

Oh, my pleasure.  We did that movie in like, 13-14 says, and I have to say it’s been almost 25 years, right? And it’s definitely been such a gift.

Watching Love, Simon was a nice full circle moment, to say “It’s all going to be okay!”

(Laughs) Yeah.  I kept thinking about (Broken Hearts Club) when I was making Love, Simon.  They were really connected.

It made me think that between Love, Simon and Fly Me To The Moon, you’ve directed a lot of television work, but what was it about this film that brought you back to theatrical directing?

I would say it’s always the story for me.  The fact that there was an original story of this scale, and that someone of Scarlett’s calibre and talent was going to produce and star in it.  I think those were exciting to me.  But then when I read the story, and I only very much raise my hand to direct if I feel like I’m the person that’s supposed to do this.  And the blend of tones, the celebration of what was achieved back then, but then the fun and the comedy of the difference characters, and opportunity to work with this level of actor across the board.

You brought up Love, Simon, and when I working on that I was really trying to put a film out there that wasn’t there when I was a kid.  I’m trying to put back more original movies like I had when I was a kid.  Every time you went to the movies on the weekend, you didn’t know what was going to happen.  You knew there were going to be big stars, you were going to have fun, hopefully be entertaining…you just didn’t know.  It didn’t feel like it was a third or fourth or fifth (movie), no offense to sequels, but it wasn’t based on anything else.

I just found myself caught up in the whole narrative, and I felt like there’s so many elements about this (film) that would be super challenging.  I don’t know if I could do it, but let me try.  I’d love to try.  Because it would be an event to see if I could pull it off.

It’s probably not the worst thing in the world also to work with Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.

Exactly.  But if you do it just for that reason…it kind of has to be, for me, a story that I want to wake up with every day.  The fact is, you’re going to work morning, noon and night for two years, at least, on this (film), and you have to believe in the reason it’s existing and what it’s trying to say.

And one of the characters I really loved was Jim (Rash) as the director.  I was wondering, is based on anybody?

(Laughs) He may be somewhat reminiscent of certain people I’ve known in the business, some might say. There was a time where everybody started calling my assistant on the movie Joseph, because (Jim’s character) calls his assistant on the movie Joseph, and I think they were making a little fun,  But, look, it’s Jim, and he embodied and created that character before our eyes.  But I knew there was such an opportunity (there).

If you remember the film Wag The Dog, the Dustin Hoffman part of that? Like, (we) knew there needed to be some element that was going to come in halfway through (this) movie and be larger than life.  Enough to give this movie its own vibrancy.  And Jim had all those qualities.  There’s like half an hour of Jim that’s on the cutting room for that I couldn’t even use in the (final) cut.  One of the harder things about directing (this) was actually what not to use of all the great comedy he delivered.

He had one of the greatest lines in the movie, saying that everything is a compliment if you stop listening.  This was such a wonderful treat, and it’s so great to see you back behind the big screen, so thank you so much.

Thank you so much for everything, and thanks for the Broken Hearts Club shout-out.

Fly Me To The Moon is screening in Australian theatres from July 11th, 2024.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.