When we first met Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, he was just a deluded action figure. But now, the new Pixar movie Lightyear has made Buzz’s dream come true. He’s finally a real Space Ranger, but he’s not the only one in the film with some experience in going to space.
Tim Peake, the first British ESA astronaut and the sixth UK born-person to go up the International Space Station, plays a small but vital role in the animated movie. Peake plays Tim (I wonder where they got the name?), Buzz’s mission control, who helps the Space Ranger and his rag-tag crew blast off into the stars on new and exciting adventures.
Earlier this week, we sat down with Peake to talk about Lightyear. During our chat, we spoke about how he felt as a parent to be cast in the science fiction movie, which Toy Story characters he thought had the bearings of an astronaut, and got pretty deep about space and the hold it has on storytellers.
The Digital Fix: How did you feel when Pixar first approached you to be in Lightyear?
Tim Peake: I was really excited. I mean, what’s not to like? It’s Disney, Pixar, they’re the best of the best. They’ve been a huge part of my life growing up with all the movies.
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As a parent, my boys have enjoyed watching them on Saturday night movie nights. So yeah, it’s been fantastic.
TDF: Have you boys seen Lightyear yet?
TP: Yeah, they came to the premiere last night. They had a brilliant time. They loved it. We got to watch it on the IMAX, which was the best place to watch it because you really get that immersive sense of being in space in some of the shots. So it was wonderful.
TDF: What qualities do you think Buzz Lightyear has that make him a good Space Ranger?
TP: Well, he’s got some great qualities to begin with, and he’s got even better qualities to end with. I think so. You know, when he starts out, he’s, he’s determined and passionate. He’s driven and motivated, hard-working and resilient. He’s all about getting the mission done, and he realises the mission is bigger than himself.
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But sometimes, his way of going about things is a bit too focused, and he doesn’t like opening up or asking for help. He doesn’t like to admit that he might need help. Towards the end, we see a Buzz who embraces teamwork and cooperation. He turns to the rookies for advice, and I think that’s he’s really getting to the stage of astronauts of today. It’s all about the mission, but it’s all about working as a team to get the mission done.
TDF: Which Toy Story characters, other than Buzz, do you could make it as astronauts?
TP: Woody would make a good astronaut. I think he’s got clear leadership skills. He’s very clear and concise. You can imagine him taking command of a situation, being resourceful and getting the job done.
I think that’s really important as well. When you go on a mission, you just have to work with what you’ve got. And in Toy Story, it’s been so funny, [the toys] go on their various missions, and they end up getting the job done.
TDF: Pixar prides itself on the accuracy of its films. How realistic a depiction of space do we see in Lightyear?
TP: I think very realistic in terms of the main topic of the film, which is Buzz travelling at close to lightspeed, and his clock running more slowly than the clocks of the people who he left behind. That is very, very accurate. That’s Einstein’s theory of special relativity. The movie deals with it brilliantly and explains it clearly in 15 seconds on a chalkboard to school kids.
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I also think about the subtleties of the spacesuits of the pressurised environment when the helmets are down or out, whether they’re in a vacuum or not, how it feels in weightlessness and the movements of the body. That’s really good as well. Also, the space food. It’s funny, how mundane and boring it is. So there are lots of little details that really give massive authenticity to the movie.
TDF: Do you watch movies on the International Space Station?
TP: We do. Yeah! We have a hard drive up there with a terabyte of movies and TV shows that’s always refreshed. So if we have the time, we can go and watch a movie.
When I was on board. One of the first things that Scott Kelly, our NASA commander, got the Force Awakens sent up, it was just newly released, you know, just prior to Christmas in 2015. So we got to watch that onboard the space station.
TDF: Let’s imagine a world where there’s a Tim Peak biopic. Who would you like to play you?
TP: I haven’t given that any thought. So I have no idea.
TDF: Tom Hanks has some experience playing real-life astronauts, or maybe even Chris Evans?
TP: Well, I’d be flattered if either of them were to play me. But yeah, it’s funny. I made it make a joke about this while doing the live tour around the UK, that my life seemed to have followed a series of Tom Cruise movies.
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I started off as a cocktail barman, and just when Cocktail came out. Then obviously, I wanted to be a pilot when Tom Top Gun was coming out. And that was the direction that my life took. But I always wanted to race cars, and Days of Thunder was there. Now I hear that Tom Cruise is making a movie about going into space!
TDF: Yeah, that’s true. How do you feel about the ISS being used for shooting movies?
TP: I think it sounds great. If you’re going to film something in space, you need to show that it’s authentic and it really is in space. You need to be doing those, those wide-angle shots panning around so the audience can see there is absolutely no way this is in a studio.
TDF: Is there not a worry about interrupting the astronaut’s work?
TP: Yeah, well, that’s a challenge. But it’s one that the space agency has space agencies have to embrace because the space station probably only has a life up until 2030.
Beyond that, it will be a commercial space station, to scientific research centres, but also open to the entertainment industry, open to space tourism, and this is the direction we’re going. So yes, I think we’re going to just have to find that balanced working environment on the ISS. Well, everybody can get everything done.
TDF: Why do you think space has fascinated storytellers for so long?
TP: I think we’ve always looked to the stars for thousands and thousands of years to tell us about ourselves. We’ve learned so much from the universe, but some of the biggest questions still need answering. ‘Why are we here? Where did we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?’
The stars tell us about the formation of the universe, the history of the universe, and how all the elements were forged. These elements then formed our own bodies. We borrow the atoms of the universe for a tiny fraction of time, and then there’ll be dispersed, and someone else will get those atoms.
When you’re out on a spacewalk, one of the things that you’re quite aware of is how unusual your situation is. You are the universe. The universe has created you. And so you are the consciousness of the universe, looking back on the Cradle of Life, and that’s quite a big concept to take on. [Laughs] That’s a bit of a big deep thought for a Tuesday afternoon?
TDF: If they made a Lightyear 2, would you be back in Mission Control helping Buzz’s teams blast off again?
TP: I’d love to. Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to
Lightyear is in theatres now. If you want to know more, check out our interview with the film’s director and producer.