Science fiction has always played a vital role in pushing us forward and making our dreams a reality. The genre can tell us stories about the future while bringing truths about present day to light. National Geographic Channel’s Mars, based on the book How We’ll Live on Mars by Stephen Petranek, is a docudrama miniseries event about human colonization on Mars in the not-too-distant future. The six-part Season One aired in fall 2016, and production of Season Two is currently underway. Mars is executive produced by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
Season Two of Mars will premiere in the not-too-distant future of spring 2018, and Parade recently visited the set at the sprawling Korda Studios on the outstretches of Budapest, Hungary for a behind-the scenes first look. The stunning location has hosted several high-profile film shoots including Denis Villeneuve‘s blockbuster Blade Runner 2049 and Guillermo del Toro‘s Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
While at Korda, we spoke with many of the cast and creators of Mars about what we can expect from Season Two. We also explored the sets, costumes, art department and more for an in-depth look at National Geographic’s futuristic vision.
Here are five things we learned about National Geographic’s Mars Season Two from our time on set:
1. This is science future.
Mars utilizes a unique docudrama format, intercutting a scripted drama set in the future with real-life interviews from present day Earth with scientists, engineers and big thinkers like Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Andy Weir, Robert Zubrin and Petranek. These interviews give us up-to-date information about developments in space travel and the possibilities of Mars colonization, rooting the scripted portion of Mars in realistic scientific projections of the near future. Though Mars is science fiction, its firm roots in contemporary reality have inspired its creators to christen it “science future.”
“This is something that should be very possible in the near future,” says Sammi Robiti (Once Upon a Time in Venice), who plays Nigerian robotics Ph.D. Robert Focault on Mars. “I do believe this is going to come to fruition, and I want to be a part of it.”
“We have to work within the parameters of plausible reality,” saysMars Season Two director Ashley Way (Doctor Who, Homeland).
Though their work on the show strongly adheres to realistic scientific projections, the cast and crew of Mars told us that they feel they’ve been given creative freedom. “Science fiction is where your imagination can run wild,” says Way. “There are a lot of things you know, and a lot of things you don’t know; that’s what I love about it. It’s a world you recognize, but you can take a leap of faith.”
2. There is an international melting pot on and off screen on Mars.
One of the first impressions right off the bat when visiting Korda is the remarkable diversity behind the scenes. Art imitates life, as the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF) of Mars is an assembly of nations pioneering the Mars frontier together.
“Mars is sort of the United Nations of television,” says Way. “On screen and off, you have so many different nationalities, so many different accents. It’s very collaborative.”
The cast and crew agree that the show’s depiction of people from different backgrounds coming together for a common objective is an essential and timely message.
“We have a very diverse cast here, and this is the future we want to paint,” says Akbar Kurtha (24, Syriana) who plays Dr. Ajay Johar in Season Two.“These are highly specialized people in their fields regardless of where they come from. I think history and science is colorblind.”
3. Mars has a strong and complicated female protagonist.
One of many reasons last year’s Hidden Figures struck a chord with audiences was its inspiring depiction of [real-life] women of science, something we don’t see enough of in film and television. In Season Two of Mars, South Korea-born Jihae (Mortal Engines) reprises dual roles as Hanna Seung, mission pilot and twin sister Joon Seung, capsule communicator of mission control.
“It’s more in sci-fi than in any other genre that you see women in powerful positions,” says Jihae. “What I think makes Mars a really special show is that it celebrates knowledge. It celebrates science. It celebrates things that we’re at risk of losing in culture. 100% of me feels honored that I can play a role model.”
It’s also worth noting that Season Two’s show runner is a woman, TV veteran Dee Johnson (Nashville, ER).
“We have a female show runner, and our commander this season is female,” says Robiti. “I think that tells you the direction of the future, because why not? I think it’s rad. Dee Johnson is an amazing leader and an amazing writer.”
4. Exploration vs. Exploitation
Season One of Mars began in 2033 as a crew of six astronauts launched aboard the spacecraft Daedalus on a journey to be the first people to set foot on Mars. Season Two jumps years into the future after the Daedalus astronauts have built and developed a colony — Olympus Town. Season Two also introduces the Lukrum Corporation and their mining colony, raising questions about our impact on the Red Planet and its effect on the human race.
This battle for the soul of Mars in many ways reflects our history on Earth: will we learn from our past mistakes, or are we doomed to make similar mistakes on another planet? To heighten the drama and conflict, this all takes place in an uncharted territory with no laws or government, not entirely dissimilar from the Old American West.
“This isn’t about good guys vs. bad guys,” says Kurtha. “This is about big themes: utopia, capitalism, the progress of man, evolution. Dee is great because she’s found interesting problems for us to face, and they are bigproblems.” How does this colony self-govern and possibly benefit the future of Earth? And that’s the capitalist side, the business side.”
“It creates quite an interesting tension to have someone who is there for a profit motive vs. someone who is there for a do-gooder motive,” says Petranek. “It’s exploring vs. exploiting.”
“Mars has an ecological message– a message about Earth,” says Way. “It may be set on Mars, but we can learn a hell of a lot about Earth, too.”
5. Mars presents a provocative (and hopeful) vision of the future.
After Season One set up the story and characters, Season Two of Mars will jump directly into the themes and ideas its creators want to explore. Though the show will retain the docudrama format, this season will lean more heavily on the narrative.
“Last season was like a pilot,” says Robiti. “Now we’re really diving into these characters. How do these humans get along with one another and work together on this job? There are obstacles, egos, relationships, politics–there’s a lot going on this season.”
“What I like about this season is that you start to see tribes form,” says Evan Hall (Orange is the New Black) who plays Lukrum wildcard Shep Master on Season Two. “It’s this idea of creating your own society, because there is nothing. There is no police force that’s going to stop us from doing anything. It’s just people relating to each other, having to solve issues and problems together.”
While the frontier-like setting and provocative science fiction ideas provide Mars with plenty of room for drama and conflict, its premise is, at its core, hopeful.
“What’s really interesting is that there’s no weapon on Mars,” says Petranek. “No one has the power of enforcement, really. Everything has to be done with words.”
“Progress is by its very nature optimism,” says Way. “All good art or cinema reflects how we’re feeling at the current moment. That’s why science fiction exists: to illuminate our lives here and now.”
To learn more about National Geographic’s Mars click here. Season One is now available on DVD.
The future is soon. Mars Season Two will premiere in spring of 2018. Explore the set in 360° along with the cast and creators below.