“I think that really worked very well for the roles that we were playing,” Harris said.
“The Man Who Fell” is also a series about an alien who arrives to Earth as a naked Black man in New Mexico — home to border militias, Roswell and the Manhattan Project — and almost immediately has guns pointed at him. The symbolic layers are hard to miss; this was an alien Ejiofor knew how to play.
“If you’re playing an alien,” Ejiofor said, “you always end up playing your own alien. Because you can only base it on your own experiences of alienation.”
Ejiofor is no stranger to alienation. No doubt, nearly dying and losing his father was alienating, though it’s not something he brings up. He has felt it as an artist, he said, “when you feel that you are trying to express something that nobody else can really get.” And he felt it as the son of immigrants growing up in South London, where he was picked on by his white classmates.
“Obviously, you’re going through those things with family members, so it alleviates a little of that,” he said. “But it’s something you can tap into, what it feels like to be on the outside looking in.”
As with Bowie’s character, it is Faraday’s outsider status that allows him to observe human behavior so keenly — in particular, what a hash we’re making of our own planet. Set decades after the events of the film, the series takes place on an Earth that sees more plainly the effects of global warming. Anthea’s collapse plays differently now than it did in 1976.
The show’s eco-conscious underpinnings were a big draw for Ejiofor — here was a role that not only rattled him but might also rattle viewers. “It meant a lot to be able to look at my own relationship to the environment, and what it has afforded me, and afforded all of us, through this show,” he said.
“Human beings can love and laugh and enjoy each other’s company because we are afforded this space and luxury by a planet that cares for us,” he continued. “And yet we treat this planet with such contempt. We treat it so carelessly. And I think it’s something we’ll all be reckoning with for a long time.”