Fionn Whitehead made his screen debut in Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed war drama, Dunkirk, back in 2017. Following that huge success, Whitehead rose to further fame with his leading role in Netflix’s interactive Black Mirror episode ‘Bandersnatch’ – a unique achievement that shook the streaming world with its mass popularity. Within just a short period of time, more and more people got to recognize Whitehead for the exciting talent he is.
Now several years into his career, he stars alongside Tye Sheridan and Lily-Rose Depp in the new sci-fi thriller Voyagers, directed by Divergent‘s Neil Burger. Set in cold space, a group of artificially conceived children are sent on an expedition to reach a new habitable planet. However, it is their great grandchildren who are destined to be the settlers on this new found world, leaving these humans to grow up and pass on in the exact same place. Whitehead’s character, Zac, goes through a sinister arc, seeing him grow as the absolute threat of this voyage while still displaying his signature vulnerability .
Fionn Whitehead’s performance undoubtedly “stands out and visibly shows the lengths of his range.” A multifaceted villain such as Zac comes with its fair share of preparation and processes, and we were lucky enough to get all the details form the man himself. We chat about what attracted him to Neil Burger’s story and how he managed to balance the chaotic psyche of his first role in space; surely it won’t be the last.
How did you first get involved with Voyagers?
Fionn Whitehead: I got sent the script and when I read it, I just really loved Zac as a character. I thought it would be a really interesting role to play. So I said to my agent, “Please get me in the room.” After that I Skyped with Neil [Burger] to do an audition and then I went to LA to do a chemistry test with Tye Sheridan. From that I managed to land the job and was really happy.
You mentioned your director Neil Burger there, what was it like working with him?
Fionn Whitehead: He’s amazing. He’s such a talented director and writer, it was really great working with him. He’s very meticulous and has got a great eye for detail. He sees everything that’s going on and he’s able to just tweak little bits about a performance to fit with his vision.
What drew you to the kind of story he had written?
Fionn Whitehead: One of the big draws for me was how the characters were written and, particularly, when they get off ‘The Blue’. There is this sort of animalistic quality to a lot of the characters and particularly my character, Zac. There’s this raw, wild nature to him, which I found really interesting. So I thought he would be really fun and challenging to play.
Your character Zac is really quite scary and feels different from some of your other roles. How did you approach crafting this character?
Fionn Whitehead: I’m quite a firm believer in the idea that all kinds of anger and violence come from a place of fear and pain. So it was really kind of me going into Zac’s psyche and figuring out what it is that has gotten him to this point during the film, and what’s made him go other certain ways throughout. The big thing for me, I felt quite strongly that he felt scared a lot of the time – in the way that he was abandoned, lonely, and really what he wants is to connect with people. He just wants connection, but doesn’t quite know how to put that across.
You spoke very briefly about ‘The Blue’, which effectively suppresses your character’s personality at the beginning of the film, and then once he comes off it, he’s more manic and charismatic. What is it like shifting between those two performances and getting into those mindsets?
Fionn Whitehead: It was a challenge for sure, but a welcome one. When [the characters] are sedated, they’re all very easy to navigate, very docile and numb which was the big word that everyone used. They’e all sort of zombified. But then when they’re off it, it’s almost like all of the emotions have been suppressed come crashing back all at once. You get this big eruption of feelings, but also because they haven’t experienced any emotions like this before, they’re so excited and stimulated by the fact that they’re having feelings which is what makes them even more overwhelmed to where they reach this state of mania.
This is your first dive into sci-fi. What was it like working on those really elaborate spaceship sets?
Fionn Whitehead: It was amazing, really incredible. At times, it was very claustrophobic, because it was designed to be very tight and close with the sort of sterile white backdrop, which gave everything quite an eerie feel.
You worked with a really amazing ensemble including Tye Sheridan, Colin Farrell, and Lily-Rose Depp. What was it like working with them every day?
Fionn Whitehead: Amazing, we got really, really lucky with our cast. We all got on so well and they’re all incredible actors. The crew as well, were incredible. We filmed in Romania, so there was a mix of American, Romanian, and other European crew. Everyone was really a joy to work with.
We’ve touched upon this a little bit, but the film has a really interesting dynamic between the characters, especially when they’re off ‘The Blue’. Do you think the story conveys a commentary on the way we behave as humans?
Fionn Whitehead: I guess it’s about the question of morality. We ask ourselves all the time, why should we be good and why should we do certain things. It’s commentary on that idea and also the sense of community as well. The fact that they all rely on each other and need each other to survive is quite a relevant social stance.
Stories of space travel conventionally involve a fair amount of scientific research. Did you personally do any research about space travel prior to going on set?
Fionn Whitehead: Yeah, I did a bit. Neil pointed us in the right direction. But being set in space, it wasn’t the thing that I focused on in terms of preparation. I was more focused on getting the character right and his physicality was a big thing for me, how he carries himself while he is on and off ‘The Blue’. So it was more about getting into the character’s headspace and then also doing some research into space travel.
To wrap up, why do you think audiences should see this film?
Fionn Whitehead: I think audiences should see this film because it’s fun. It’s like a roller coaster, but also very relevant at the moment. It’s a healthy balance of being very escapist, and you can really be drawn into their world for a little while, but it’s also got some pretty relevant commentary within it.