Warning: This The Expanse article contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 5, Episode 3.
While most of The Expanse Season 5 will be dropped on a weekly basis, we got the first three episodes of the all new season all in one go—and what a three episodes they are. The last of the three installments, “Mother,” ends with one of the stealth asteroids Marco Inaros launched at Earth at the end of Season 4 finally hitting the planet. We talked to the director of the episode—none other than Thomas Jane (aka Miller) himself—about how the climactic scene came together, as well as, generally, what it was like to step behind the camera for an episode of The Expanse.
Den of Geek: I am curious how this all came about? What made you want to direct an episode of The Expanse? This feels like the sort of thing that maybe you talked about for a while and it’s finally happening?
Thomas Jane: I started a production company called Renegade with my producing partner, Courtney Lauren Penn, and we hit the ground running. We have already got three films in the can, and we’re working on a television show that I’m going to shoot in Australia with a huge streamer attached. This has always been part of my master plan, which was to move into producing and directing. Of course, I love acting and will continue to do it. But after 25 years in the business, I’ve got something to offer. I’ve got something to offer actors and the storytellers. For me, this was a great way to pop my cherry in television, because I’ve been with this crew as a family for five years. I was the first actor they brought on board and because they got me on board, they were able to kick the show off.
It’s always been close to my heart. Science fiction is something that I have grown up with and loved my entire life. The show is unique and showed essentially, if you remember the movie Alien and you remember Parker and Brett, they were the coal miners, they were just work-a-day mechanics. That sensibility where space becomes so internalized into Earth’s society, and it’s literally like being a coal miner or an electrician. It’s a job. I loved that world and I’ve always wanted to move into directing.
I directed a film about 10 years ago called Dark Country. Of course, I learned so much on that film, but it also solidified the fact that I am a director and I’m good at it. If you’re good at it, you got something to offer, well, it’s my duty to do it. Go ahead. I’m sure you have another question. I could just ramble on for days.
I think every episode of The Expanse is an ambitious one, but there’s so many storylines for you to work with in this episode. Did you have one that ended up being your favorite to shoot?
Well, we’ve been talking about meeting Naomi’s kid forever. That was a big deal. When the writers sat me down, producers sat me down and said, “Listen, this episode’s about one thing. People have been waiting for this moment for a long time.” So that was the focus creatively. I knew that everything had to revolve around that.
The other storyline that I found fascinating was with Drummer, because she gets to expose herself in ways that you would not expect. Coming from such a hard-ass bitch. I love the character of Drummer. I have a soft spot for her. We worked hard to bring everything we could. It was such a great opportunity. The writers did such a fantastic job with those scenes, I just wanted to honor them and honor the actors who I’ve known for years.
The transition was actually surprisingly easy. They took to accepting me as a director right away. I speak their language, and as an actor, the most important thing is that you’ve got a director who watches you, knows when it’s good, sees your best stuff, uses it, and knows when it’s bad and knows that you’re going to get another take because it wasn’t there. When an actor feels that, they feel like somebody’s got their back. Man, that creates a freedom to mess it up. Actors, they live with the fear of doing a terrible performance and having some director use it in the show. To tell you the truth, I had something to offer. I knew that I was going to get the best that I could out of these actors and use it. And I did. I’m very proud of the work that they all did. It was exceptional, if I do say so.
You get a few of these scenes in this episode where the actors are asked to do a lot. I think of the Philip, Naomi scene, I think of a few of the Drummer scenes, and also you have the Chrisjen scene where she’s calling her husband.
Oh my, that was fun.
In terms of which episode you would direct, was it more of a scheduling thing or were there elements like that where they thought that that would be a good fit for you?
They absolutely are strategic in who they assign. Breck Eisner, who I shadowed for a month, is our director. He’s our star director. He directs the first and the last episodes, and he has for a long time. Because he really brings it to the party. He’s great with actors, he’s great with directing, he’s great with getting it done, and people love him. I got to shadow him. He’s our star director. They assigned me 503 specifically because of the dramatic challenges that we were asking the actors to do. They chose right. That was my strong suit and we got an episode where I really got to shine with all the actors, the actors got to really shine and that’s really what I wanted.
When I would go into Alcon and sit down with everybody, that was my pitch. I was like, “I can take these actors and get the best out of them and really have some fun doing it.” I think they were maybe a little more nervous about the action stuff or the special effects type stuff. Those were the challenges for me, so I storyboarded everything and worked closely with our stunt coordinators and our camera crew. I’m proud of everything we did.
You have these very important, dramatic scenes with characters we’ve known for a long time, but this episode also ends with that big moment with the first asteroid hitting earth. Which is a huge cliffhanger. These first three episodes are dropping all together. It’s going to be the end of this three-hour premiere. Can you talk about what you wanted to do with that scene and if it came out the way you imagined?
Well, originally we had that scene take place on the end of a small pier, like a fishing pier, a tiny little thing. We had this lone man standing at the end of the pier, and originally he was fishing. This thing evolved that maybe he’s not a fishermen, maybe he’s feeding the fish. But how that evolved was because the water was so rough on the morning that we were going out there, and I had the whole thing storyboarded, I had a shot from under the water with the guy feeding the fish, and I had the fish under there. I had all these wonderful storyboards and we had to throw them all out because the Coast Guard wouldn’t let us out on the pier because the water was too rough.
This is the job of the director, “You got 15 minutes, where are we going to put the camera? Can’t go out on the pier. All those storyboards, throw them in the trash.” And thinking on your feet, deciding how we were going to tell that story, and then somebody came up with the idea of flying fish. It was like, “Well, we can have the fish and they jump out of the ocean so we see which way they’re going, and then they all suddenly turn and rush off the other way. Then that’s right before the asteroid hits.”
I’m proud of the way that that climax turned out. I also thought, “We end the episode with this giant meteor crashing into the earth,” so I decided to begin the episode with a tub of ice cubes, and someone’s smashing their ice scooper into these ice cubes, and you see all the ice cubes dance in one-third moon gravity, first scene takes place on the moon, and I thought that would be a fun bookend. A way to begin the episode with a crash and end the episode with a crash.
It’s very effective because it also just reminds the viewer of that thing that’s hanging over the whole episode, and has been hanging over the whole season.
We do get a Miller mention in this episode as well. I don’t know, just what was that like for you to direct a scene where your character from this other role you’ve played on this production is being mentioned?
I’m standing three feet away as they’re talking about Miller. It’s just a little bit surreal. There was a little wink in there. I wore my fedora every day. I figured if they’re looking for the director, just look around for the guy in the hat.
The first three episode of The Expanse Season 5 are now available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. Episode 4 will drop next Wednesday, December 23rd.