Vital Thrills got a chance to attend the press conference for the upcoming sci-fi action film The Tomorrow War, starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski and J.K. Simmons. The movie will launch exclusively on Prime Video in over 240 countries and territories on July 2, 2021.
In The Tomorrow War, the world is stunned when a group of time travelers arrive from the year 2051 to deliver an urgent message: Thirty years in the future mankind is losing a global war against a deadly alien species. The only hope for survival is for soldiers and civilians from the present to be transported to the future and join the fight.
Among those recruited is high school teacher and family man Dan Forester (Chris Pratt). Determined to save the world for his young daughter, Dan teams up with a brilliant scientist (Yvonne Strahovski) and his estranged father (J.K. Simmons) in a desperate quest to rewrite the fate of the planet.
The film also stars Betty Gilpin, Edwin Hodge, Sam Richardson, Jasmine Mathews and Keith Powers. It was directed by Chris McKay and written by Zach Dean. The press conference was split into two halves, one in the present and one with the characters from the future. Chris Pratt joined for both!
The Tomorrow War is an action-heavy film, and Chris Pratt talked about some of the hardest moments in what he said was, “a really physical film.” He said, “There’s a really great sequence and I know that we’re focusing on the people of present day 2021, but when we do make that jump to 2051, there’s this transition and we fall from the sky in Miami and land in a pool.
“There was some serious water work that we got to do and that is a lot of fun. We got to jump off of this high dive that we built out of a fork lift and jump off into the water. The camera followed us down and then you had stunt people jumping down and landing on top of you forcing you under water.
“That whole sequence probably took two or three days, was really cool, really fun, really physical. There’s a camera down there, you’re trying to get smashed into the ground and come up, and struggle into a close up underwater. It was a lot of fun. That’s something that stands out.”
J.K. Simmons plays his father and said, “I didn’t get to work in the water but I work in the frozen water which was a different exhilaration, and fun, and challenge, and coldness. It was great. I’m still a little miffed that McKay let them drag my traumatic slide down the glacier, but that will be in the sequel, I guess.”
Edwin Hodge, who plays drafted soldier Dorian, added, “I mean everything was exhilarating. This entire film was just action packed non-stop. There’s the sequence when running around. I’m not going to tell you exactly what it is, but running around after the drop from the sky there. I feel that scene itself took a month to shoot alone. We were trying to film on the weekends buying that time here and there. Yes, it was just amazing to run through Atlanta, shooting guns, blowing things up. What more could you ask for?”
Betty Gilpin, who plays Emmy, psychologist and the wife of Chris Pratt’s character, joked that she didn’t really have an action scene… sort of. “Not as much action for my character. I play the frowning therapist wife. I mostly sob in a cardigan, which is action emotionally.
“There was a day where Chris had a ton of action stuff and was training really hard. There was a day where I had a bagel and I thought, ‘I want a second bagel.’ They announced there are almost no more bagels and my adrenaline was sky high. We were rolling and luckily I ran outside, got a second bagel and came back just in time for action.”
Writer Zach Dean spoke about that scene — a jump into the swimming pool — and its creation, saying, “There was high jeopardy, the water scene had a lot of different incarnations, but it was always that sort of horrific idea of you leap into the future and you end up in an environment that you didn’t expect at all. This submersive idea that suddenly you’re struggling through your life, the second – you’re already taking this leap into whether or not I’ll even know what I am in the future, and then you land in the space that’s high jeopardy. There were a lot of different versions of that horrific scene and the one that I ended up with was fantastic. I love it.”
In the film, people from the present are part of a worldwide draft to help fight the threat in the future. Zach Dean said, “I would say that in its conception, I wanted to do something with the idea of conscription / the draft for a long time. The idea of not having it be about necessarily an ideology or patriotism or loyalty to produce your country, but being about literally your desire to save your own kids.
“Who doesn’t sign up for that? It’s a different thing. We’re not asking for an abstract idea. It’s about parenting. That’s what it’s about.”
Chris Pratt had some thoughts on that as well. “It’s interesting. In terms of our history of conscription, if it’s World War II or Vietnam, we’ve seen these movies where it is 18, 19-year-old kids getting thrown into the throws, you’re getting thrown into battle. They’re just kids forced to become men. It is a different relationship when it is an adult.
“Everyone who goes forward into the future is over the age of 30 and everyone who’s come back to train us is under the age of 30 because you realize that you can’t live in both timelines at the same time. They’re really just drafting a crop of people who are going to be dead in 2051.”
He continued, “You are dealing with people who are making life decisions based not on the life that they could lead, but rather the world that they’re leaving for their children. My character, Dan is doing this because if he doesn’t go, they’re going to take his wife in his place.
“This is something he has to do to protect his family and to protect his daughter and leave her with a home life of having her mother there. It’s a different theme to think about someone being drafted away from their children rather than children being drafted away from their parents.”
Betty Gilpin spoke about how Chris Pratt’s character, Dan, is at a point in his life where he doesn’t know where to go next. She said, “I think it’s the blessing and curse of being in love with the right person, that I, his wife, see that there’s something in him that he wishes he could channel into something and maybe felt that as a veteran, when he was at war, he could use that internal passion and purpose to funnel into something. Now as a suburban dad is like, ‘Where do I put this energy?’ and can’t really find the right outlet.
“It’s this strange thing that this burst of soldiers from the future announcing that humanity is going to be wiped out if we don’t try to save the world, is the outlet that Dan was looking for, and the very outlet to funnel that sense of purpose into. I think that as big and action-y of a concept that is, that’s a very familiar thing, especially with what’s going on in the world now.”
Dan and his father have a difficult relationship. J.K. Simmons said, “It’s all there on the page, and then the beauty of working in this scenario and with a guy like Chris is that we can take the page, we can incorporate all that. Then we also have the freedom to kind of, whether it’s goofing around, being funny, or finding other angles into the drama and the conflict and the emotion of it.
“We felt free to make it our own too, so you end up doing six or seven takes of a given scene and really then the director has six or seven significantly different versions of the emotion, and the passion, and the drama, and the comedy to choose from.”
Sam Richardson plays soldier Charlie and talked about not having a broad comedy base for his character. He said, “I feel that everybody is in defense mode when they are in this thing, and so truly people do rely on comedy or humor as a defense mechanism.
“That’s very real, so I wasn’t trying to play very broad wackadoo comedy, you also need that release valve of all the action and so much happening in these high stakes, and so it was fun to get to play that release valve. I was also trying to at least ground that with emotion. With Charlie, he’s a bunch of emotions and emotions that people typically would hide. Like he’s very fearful, he’s afraid. I think the emotion of fear is what I was playing with.”
Edwin Hodge’s character is on his third tour in the future. Hodge said, “Well, just to simply channel Dorian, I can look at the men and women in service. I’ve spent many years with wounded warriors talking to vets who suffer from PTSD, things of that nature, just to understand a different perspective of how we deal with war and the consequences that reflect on us physically, emotionally, mentally. We find Dorian, we think he is just [chuckles] man, amongst men, he’s done three tours, but also we understand and find out that he has cancer.
“He feels like there is no hope for him either way, whether the aliens were going to take him out or whether this disease was going to take him out. He was going to go. There wasn’t a hope for him.
“Then he meets Dan, who has this huge weight on his shoulders and simply everything to live and fight for. I think it’s that turn, that meeting that sets in, this sets this precedent for Dorian, that though his future is bleak though, there is no positive outcome that in 2021, something positive could happen with the defeat of the aliens in 2051.
“It’s a mix of different emotions wanting to be courageous, but also be vulnerable, not showing that vulnerability, but he’s– once again, I think he’s an everyday man to just like Charlie’s character, he’s tormented. He’s seen death, he’s taken lives and it’s not hard or not easy to come back from that, should I say.”
Director Chris McKay spoke about what our generation owes to the next ones. He said, “What was really important about the scripts to me was the idea of what do you owe the future? What do you owe the world? How do you leave the world in a better place? Do you count your blessings that you have in front of you?
“All that kind of stuff was really important. That was the stuff that made me want to – I love genre movies, science fiction, action movies, and horror movies. That’s the stuff that the little kid in me that wanted to make movies, that’s the thing that I responded to, but also I’m caught somewhere between John Carpenter and John Cassavetes.
“There’s always a little bit of the human story and the drama, I want any movie that I do – to have an original sci-fi movie that can have as a big epic scope of this and amazing performances with a beautiful cast, but also can have a little bit of heart and a little bit of something to think about, that was why I wanted to do this since it was real. The script in this cast and crew was a real gift.”
Keith Powers, who plays future soldier Major Greenwood, talked about family dynamics and the environmental themes in the story. “I always think it’s super cool when a film like this does have all those elements. It always reminds me of underground music being on a radio type of thing. It’s like underground music meets that radio song. It’s like a radio song with great lyrics. It’s like you’re getting all of it. You can listen to it every day, but you’re getting some game every single time you listen to it. That’s how I feel about this.
“The funny thing, when I first read it, a lot of that stuff didn’t even hit me and as I kept reading the script and as we were shooting, I was like, ‘Whoa, that whole environmental aspect and then just–‘ I mean, after the crazy year we had, just the parallels between the pandemic and us fighting a war tomorrow in the present, all of it just hit me like, ‘Oh, wow, it’s crazy. God’s timing is crazy, the timing of this coming out and where we are in the world,’ and it’s much needed. It’s definitely needed. People need something like this, and it’s dope that it gets to be this way, that summer blockbuster, fun, action packed sci-fi, all that.”
Jasmine Matthews, who plays future soldier Lt. Hart, said, “I think what was also cool for me is that it gave me a sense of hope. I think I would love for people to be able to take that message of – we have this idea of everyday regular people coming together dedicated to one mission, and everyone has their purpose. Everyone has something that they can do to help save the world.
“You need a Norah [Mary Lynn Rajskub], you need a Cowan [Mike Mitchell] to do what they did in order for the world to be saved as well. It’s this idea that it’s going to take all of us together, focused, and dedicated to save the world and make this a better place. I just love that idea, that unity aspect to it.”
Yvonne Strahovski plays scientist Romeo Command and said, “I echo that last sentiment too. It’s something I’ve been talking about. The unity factor, I think, is really interesting coming out of the pandemic and how we’ve all been unified during this time of isolation, and how this maybe comes at a really good time where it echoes we’ve been, and hopefully, where we should go to really focus on the environmental aspects that we face all together as a people and the reality that we live in now.”
Chris McKay spoke about doing a live-action film after a history of animation. “There’s a lot of things you do in animation that help set the table for the stuff that we needed to do for The Tomorrow War. Yes, it starts with animatics. It starts with previews, starts with storyboards. We storyboarded in animatic almost everything that we did to prepare for that… whether that was acting performance stuff or in a world where Chris and the team, everybody’s running around in the streets in Miami, I wanted it to feel a little loose sometimes, so the animatics and previews were there to set the table and give us a solid foundation, but there were times to where I just wanted the camera to feel like… If Chris was running down the street being chased by aliens and that sort of thing, I wanted it to feel like the movie was a little bit out of control, so there was a push and pull with some of that stuff at all times.
“I think that was the case with the visual effects, that was the case with performances and things like that, with Chris and Yvonne, and the beach. We went in with one plan, but I also wanted Chris and Yvonne to be able to just move wherever they wanted to, I didn’t want them to have to stay in one place, so the camera crew can adapt to that to allow for just stuff that felt right. I wanted people to feel like they could own that space, wherever, whatever scene it was, and just build stuff together.
“That’s more interesting to me. At the end of the day, like I said, have a solid foundation and know what you need to do and all this stuff that comes from good filmmaking practices, good animation building practices, but also be really open to what everyone’s going to provide because we had such a really beautiful, unique cast, people who brought a lot of their own stuff to the table, and it was important to me to have that texture in the movie.”