On the heels of their six-time Academy Award-winning La La Land, Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling re-team for Universal Pictures’ First Man, the riveting story behind the first manned mission to the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the decade leading to the historic Apollo 11 flight. The story is based on the book by James R. Hansen, “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.”
First Man reveals intimate insights into the global hero’s private life and previously unknown character-defining moments. After receiving a PhD in the history of science and technology from Ohio State and spending more than 20 years writing and teaching about space and history, Hansen set out to write his first biography.
It was in the year 2000 that the author first reached out to Armstrong and requested to tell the hero’s tale. After two months, Armstrong—who rarely agreed to interviews, much less entertained the idea of a lifelong documentation—politely declined.
It would be some time after Hansen’s initial request before the pilot gave the go-ahead to pen his biography. “It took about two years for me to finally get the greenlight from him,” reflects the author. “Neil’s family encouraged him to do it. The crucial moment came when he invited me up to his home in suburban Cincinnati—where he had lived for about 20 years—and we spent the afternoon in his study talking for hours.
“I felt very positive, but even after this meeting it took some time for him to fully get on board.” Hansen saw the duality of his subject as a fascinating one. “Neil could be in a cockpit making instantaneous decisions but when it came to other things about his life, he was amazingly cautious and deliberate.”
Long prior to his in-person introduction to Armstrong, Hansen had conducted hundreds of interviews for other subjects; it was that experience taking oral histories that aided in gaining Armstrong’s confidence. “One thing that became important with him was his developing trust in you,” Hansen explains. “Not only did we grow up 50 miles from one another—he grew up in Ohio and I grew up in Indiana, and went to school at Ohio State—but both our families had also grown up on farms. In a lot of ways, we spoke the same language, in terms of regional dialect. What we know of Neil is as this one dimensional, iconic symbol…but he was a living, breathing, three-dimensional human being.”
Armstrong developed a close kinship to the author of his biography, who serves as a co-producer on the film, and that indeed allowed the production to move forward. “Neil had a great relationship with Jim Hansen, and he felt very comfortable with the idea that Jim had captured in his book—and what he had hoped to convey,” says First Man producer Wyck Godfrey. “Neil thought that as long as we followed the blueprint that Jim provided, he was comfortable with us moving forward with making this film.”
Gosling delivers the intense focus and quiet ferocity required of the first man to set foot on the moon, while Claire Foy of Netlix’s The Queen, portrays the passionate, indomitable, unsung hero Janet Armstrong – Neil’s wife and the woman who helped make these times monumental.
First Man opens in theaters October 12th.