Exclusive: Darren Aronofsky on New Show 'One Strange Rock,' Negative Reaction to 'mother!' and Jennifer Lawrence Backlash

Darren Aronofsky's last film, mother!, starring Jennifer Lawrence, was one of 2017's most divisive releases. But the filmmaker is bouncing back from a rare box office misfire by bringing his cinematic sensibilities to an ambitious new project for the small screen.

Aronofsky teamed up with National Geographic and veteran TV producer Jane Root for a new event series, One Strange Rock, which explores planet Earth and all its perplexing wonders. For example, how did our little rock become the first habitable planet that we know of?

The 10-part show, hosted by Suicide Squad star Will Smith, will tell the story of our Earth from both on Earth and off of it. Eight astronauts share their own perspective of experiencing the planet from space. The show also boasts footage filmed on the International Space Station, as well as 45 countries across the globe.

Ahead of One Strange Rock's series premiere Monday, Newsweek spoke to Aronofsky and producing partner Ari Handel about the series, as well as the reaction to mother! and the public backlash against its Oscar-winning star.

Darren Aronofsky
Darren Aronofsky Niko Tavernise

Darren, as a filmmaker, what was the lure of doing something for television?

Aronofsky: I'm a big fan of National Geographic. I've been getting the magazine since I was a little boy and it opened my eyes to a world outside of Brooklyn, New York, where I grew up. It got me out of the concrete jungle and into the world. When Nat Geo approached me with this huge project, it was a bit daunting but it was very exciting—the idea of making a beautiful celebration of planet Earth.

What do you feel makes One Strange Rock different from other nature or science programs?

Handel: It's not just natural history, or earth science, or astronomy, or astrophysics. It's a portrait of the planet that's using all of these different sciences together. There's challenges there, certainly. The visual challenge is to make sure everything we're showing is coherent.

What is the most fascinating thing you learned about Earth during the process of making One Strange Rock?

Aronofsky: Every single show, there was something that blew my mind. From Episode 1, learning that all the oxygen produced in the Amazon is actually consumed by all the animals in the Amazon, and that most of our oxygen comes from an organism that I've never heard of, to the idea that the International Space Station is one of the greatest engineering marvels of all the international community and that all the windows on the Space Station actually point down to Earth, not out to space. From that to the idea that astronauts went to discover the moon and they discovered the earth, they discovered this one home.

Handel: I've always thought of the Earth being a planet like in Star Trek, like, "This looks like a good planet, we can land there and we can breathe." But, in reality, life was so instrumental in forming it into the form we know. Without lichen and other plant leaves, we'd have one-seventh of the land mass that we have. And that parrotfish eating coral reefs are building entire island chains. I'm sure we are touching only a small percentage of the mind-blowing things about this planet that are out there yet to be discovered.

It's pretty fascinating that Earth is the only habitable planet, at least that we know of. Has this process made you a believer that there is life on other planets?

Aronofsky: We do have an episode that deals with that and a couple of episodes touch on that. I think there is life out there. There's a lot of really smart people trying to figure it out, including Stephen Hawking. [Editor's note: Hawking died just hours before this interview was conducted.] It's an exciting time and something might happen soon.

How much of an impact did Hawking have on our understanding of the topics in this show, like the idea of black holes and life on other planets?

Aronofsky: There's a couple of ways to answer that question. You can answer that as a scientist and neither of us are scientists, except to say that he had a tremendous impact on our understanding of black holes and other aspects of astrophysics.

But, as human beings on the planet, he had another impact. He became an ambassador and the face of what science is, and what science can be, and the joy of discovery, and the joy of understanding and looking at the world and why we do that. He was an ambassador for that pure, beautiful aspect of science and we can all recognize central he was and how irreplaceable he was, because there's no one else to fill that role.

One Strange Rock on National Geographic
'One Strange Rock' on National Geographic NASA

Handel: There's also very few faces on the planet that are trusted and come from a place of truth and don't have other motives. To lose a voice like that is a great loss for humanity. Because we have very few.

There is some similarity in theme between One Strange Rock and mother!, which touches upon the idea of Mother Earth and not wasting the resources we have. How did one project inform the other, if at all?

Aronofsky: Both mother! and One Strange Rock are talking about our home, yet they talk about it in two completely different ways. I'm kind of touched myself that they're both coming out near each other. It just shows there's lots of ways to tell a story. And where mother! was a cautionary tale, this is a complete celebration of Mother Earth and nature.

Poster for 'mother!' starring Jennifer Lawrence
Poster for 'mother!' starring Jennifer Lawrence Paramount Pictures

Were you disappointed by the negative reaction to mother!?

Aronofsky: You know, I don't think that's really part of my job description—reacting to how it's received. The only thing I really want is for more people to see it and I hope more people will discover it as times goes by. I'm very proud of the work. You can't control everything.

Do you perhaps think it's one of those movies that perhaps will, in time, be better understood? Do people perhaps need to watch it more than once?

Aronofsky: I will allow your question to answer that question.

Jennifer Lawrence has also been in the headlines lately, with public perception seemingly turning against her, at least in quarters of the internet. Some are even pointing to mother! and Red Sparrow to question her ability to draw at the box office. What would you say to the Jennifer Lawrence backlash, as it were?

Aronofsky: You're talking about one of the most talented people of a generation. She's a once in a lifetime talent. I got to work with her and see how profound that talent is, how diverse that talent is. Jennifer is just going to be fine. She's going to be entertaining audiences for the rest of her life.

One Strange Rock premieres Monday 26 March at 10 p.m. ET on National Geographic