No matter what you do, you have to love life first. That has to come first and then everything else can kind of fall in line.
What one day on “Mars” can do. When the sky over the Bay Area turned an eerie orange this past month, the cultural conversation took an apocalyptic turn. National headlines reflected growing concerns about the influence of climate change on extreme weather events. The visual was alien, yet the cause—rampant wildfires, accelerated by global warming and climate change—was very much a this-world problem. Some folks on the ground said it felt like living on the next planet over, that red one. Others said it felt like a solar eclipse, but longer, or the apocalypse, but less biblical. Surreal sky, surreal year. The sky should never turn orange—that much we all know. An orange sky, it turned out, could poke its way into everything. You’re reading Noam Chomsky’s new book and the sky is orange. You grab your morning coffee and the sky is orange. You walk outside and the sky is orange. You and your neighbors report encouraging facts to one another: this is a fun new feature of fire season. It makes you wonder how parents, used to the challenges of explaining why the sky is blue to inquisitive children, explained away the now orange sky. People around California reported that the birds that would normally be singing went silent. Also, ash was still falling—of trees, forests, homes, towns, and dreams going up in smoke. It won’t be the last.
Seth Larney’s apocalyptic “eco-horror” 2067 is a dialed up vision of a bleak future for our little planet, set in that titular year and then stretching all the way out to 2470. Earth has been ravaged by record-breaking heatwaves, which is only worsening. Entire towns are being reduced to ashes. Oxygen levels have plummeted from deforestation, and then the last tree on earth is logged in the Amazon. Our supply of synthetic oxygen, which humans have resorted to, are buckling under demand. Canada goes dark. We’ve lost India. Germany goes offline. China is now completely dark. This is all telegraphed to us via newscasts in voiceover from around the globe, set over the visual of a dying earth in rotation. And we’ve barely made it through the film’s three-minute mark.
Now imagine that you’re humanity’s only hope—a regular guy who just lives from one day to the next. In Larney’s world, which is on the brink of extinction, our synthetic oxygen has also sparked a mysterious illness that’s killing off the earth’s already dwindling population. All hope seems lost until one day an encoded message from the future arrives on the digital panel of a hastily built time machine, the only one of its kind—“Send Ethan Whyte”—and the aforementioned ordinary man, Ethan (Kodi Smit-McPhee), an underground utility worker, is dispatched to the year 2470 on a quest for answers, hanging on a thread of hope that he may safely return after solving this cosmically existential riddle. Meanwhile, Jude (Ryan Kwanten), Ethan’s friend and confidant from the tunnels, is soon sent chasing after him for an unknown purpose. Who can Ethan really trust?
2067 hits select theaters and VOD on October 2.
Despite its very blunt “tomorrow” title, 2067 is totally relevant to the times right now. When Seth Larney started penning the script ten or something years ago, he was very prescient. There’s an urgency in the film’s message, and climate change and global warming are perhaps the most universally plaguing topic. Obviously without the planet, we are nothing and there is nothing. I’m curious to know how your relationship to the movie has changed, if at all, since you boarded.
That’s a great question. Yeah, Seth almost set us up like prophets with the movie when we finished shooting this at the tail end of 2018, and like you said, he’d been very much trying to get this film going for the eight years prior to that. I’d been attached for maybe two of those eight years. To see the world changing as this script is becoming, not just more relevant but even more real, was a scary phenomenon and a bit of a wake up call for us, too, as a species. Let’s change how we’ve been living. Let’s begin to evolve, as opposed to devolve, and turn to nature for the answers. That was kind of key.
Living in Los Angeles, you’ve felt the brunt of this fire season. Also, I learned that both you and Seth are originally from New South Wales, a region that has witnessed so much destruction due to the devastating bushfires. I believe it’s been called Black Summer out there, which sounds so sinister. A fire historian actually recently coined the term “Pyrocene” to describe the fire age we’re currently in. What have you found is the best approach to engaging in dialogue with climate change deniers?
I try to keep myself abreast and educated. There are tribes that are acknowledging it and ones that are kind of denying it—that’s the hardest thing about the day and age we’re living in. It’s that we’re told there’s only your way, you know? People get so caught up in their own way and refuse to even believe that there’s another side. I think we’re kind of mad to believe that there isn’t another side, when it should be about the ability to talk and relate to that other side with a sense of open-mindedness. Look—with this movie coming to fruition and the deeper themes that I think will really resonate, I’m excited beyond hell to see how audiences react because it is a very artistic way of articulating how we’ve put ourselves in this current state of affairs. It’s providing a chance or an opportunity for change.
I think it’s important to note also that 2067 is ultimately hopeful about our future. Seth clearly wants us to have faith in each other, and to believe that our individual actions have the capacity to impact the great whole. Are you hopeful about the future, Ryan?
I am, yeah! You know, I think at my heart I’m an optimistic realist. Like one of the other themes in the movie, I believe in people, I really do. I believe that there’s more good than evil. I think if we just harness that and get together in our little communities, expand that sense of consciousness beyond us and the inherent selfishness of humanity or humans in general, we can overcome and start eliciting the type of change that is going to benefit us for the future.
When your character is slingshot to year 2470, he comes out on the other side going, “I’m happy to breathe without a mask.” The context is different—we still have oxygen—but the very idea of having to wear masks hits you. Masks were science fiction ten years ago when Seth wrote this. We could not have predicted 2020 even a year prior. What do you think draws audiences to films like this? Why do we go back to Contagion or The Leftovers, despite the anxiety? What are we trying to fill up?
That’s another great question. Going back to what you talked about earlier, it is that one human trait of hope. I think that’s ultimately what drives these stories, and you can get across hope in both a micro and macro sense when you’re coming at it from a character’s standpoint. So what initially seems like an internal battle—as the story of the world gets bigger and your own personal story gets bigger—you begin to see the broader implications of that character’s journey throughout the narrative. We see it in Ethan and we see it in my character, Jude Mathers, in this. It becomes the collective consciousness of the people watching it. It can have a greater effect than just on one person. We come to realize that, oh shit, I’m not alone on this particular issue, and maybe there is something we should be doing about it.
Is the concept of time travel and time machines interesting to you?
To be honest, it’s not that interesting to me. But the psychology of what it takes to go there is. That is far more interesting to me as someone who tries to pride himself on just living in the moment, and being true and accepting of that moment no matter how it finds me, no matter what mood or what environment. I think it’s just as important to try and be living in that mindset. Really, there’s no particular time period that calls out to me in that regard. I feel blessed to be in the now. Considering the amount of miracles that need to take place for us all to just be where we are, it’s important to be grateful for that now and then, too.
I know you to be an extremely private person, and I have a lot of admiration for that. Also, like you said, you live very presently and in the moment. I remember reading one interview from I don’t remember how long ago, where you had talked about having gone on a road trip with your partner after a particular shoot to get that time on set back, so to speak. So as much as you love acting, you have priorities. At one time you admitted to not owning a television. You’ve been off social media for a number of years now. These are choices that you make. I wonder if these are easy choices.
No matter what you do, you have to love life first. That has to come first and then everything else can kind of fall in line. There’s an inevitability to this life that slaps you in the face at various moments. But that’s when you’re going to really listen, you know? It’s when you’re truly going to listen. And is it gonna take someone to pass away? I’ve always had dogs, and obviously dogs inherently don’t live as long as we do. You’re only given that 10 to 15 years of their beautiful lives to give them as much as you can. Losing them is a tough thing, but it teaches you the breadth of life. I think it’s important that we talk about these things, experience it. I try to experience it as much as I can and put as much of those experiences into what I do. Those road trips, or the ability to decompress and find yourself again, are important not just for actors but pretty much anyone.
Ethan’s artificially intelligent gadget, Archie, is interesting to me because it has the ability to be thoughtful. When Ethan essentially becomes a caveman in the vastness of nature devoid of humankind in the year 2470, he has trouble starting a campfire. Archie in that moment reassures him: “Even I have trouble with fire. Rub rub rub. Easy-peasy, easy-peasy.”
[laughs] Yeah, mate.
In science fiction, AI is so often, maybe more often, a malevolent force that we will need to contend with. What are your thoughts on AI? Do you think it will inevitably become something to be feared in our lifetime?
I think there should be a level of trepidation walking into that artificial world. It’s explicitly artificial. I’m a big believer in nature. I’m a big believer in that if you have questions, if you have problems, you should go take a hike, go climb a tree, get knee-deep in the sand, go for a swim. There are so many better alternatives than turning to something like playing an AI game or spending a few hours on Facebook. I think you’re gonna get far more out of sitting under a tree than trolling on Instagram for a couple of hours.
Did you grow up feeling deeply connected to nature from an early age? I don’t mean to generalize about Australians.
Yeah, definitely. We’re a “sunburnt country,” that’s one of the phrases that gets thrown around about Australia, which is true. We live and breathe the ocean. We’re surrounded by it. Ninety percent of our population is on or near the ocean so that sense of boundlessness is very much what you take into your own life, you know? I can speak for myself, and I think most of us do feel that way. There’s nothing holding you back, and if there is, it’s in your imagination. We’ve been talking about the negatives of technology, but there are advantages to it, too. It can be used to bridge gaps. It can be used to cultivate a collective consciousness, where we can shoot ideas across the globe and effect change in that way. But I think the root of it still has to come from nature, I really do. Nature will survive long after we’re gone, even if we don’t pull up the answer to save ourselves.