Chiwetel Ejiofor to Star in "The Man Who Fell to Earth" TV Series for Star Trek: Discovery Showrunners


Despite not being a household name to most viewers, the late novelist Walter Tevis is having quite the cultural moment right now. His novel The Queen's Gambit was of course just adapted into one of the most critically and popularly beloved TV series of 2020. Now, one of his best-known novels - at least by name, thanks to its iconic previous screen adaptation - is likewise being developed into a new series. Alex Kurtzman and Jenny Lumet, the writer/producer team behind Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and Clarice, are producing, co-writing, and showrunning a series adaptation of The Man Who Fell to Earth for Paramount+/CBS All-Access. Tevis's second novel, from 1963, was previously adapted into the iconic 1976 film by Nicolas Roeg, starring David Bowie as the title character. The new series will star Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The Man Who Fell to Earth
tells the story of an alien from a dying civilization - dying due to nuclear war and ecological disaster, reasons that seem very plausible as the undoing of our own civilization - who comes to Earth hoping to bring water back to his own planet. But as he creates a false human identity and tries to blend in with Earth life, he gets drawn into human corporate culture, relationships, and alcoholism, and suffers a crisis of identity as well as addiction. It's a multi-layered, philosophical story driven more by an exploration of human weaknesses and psychological malaise than sci-fi concepts, with the main character's alien nature serving more as a removed lens through which to examine ourselves. 

Given that uniquely human approach to sci-fi, the team behind the two current Star Trek TV series seem like a potentially good fit for the material. The Man Who Fell to Earth is certainly a lot closer to home than Star Trek, but Trek's humanist style of sci-fi gives Kurtzman and Lumet a good background to draw on. Kurtzman also was the creator of the beloved cult sci-fi series Fringe, which also boosts his genre credentials. The sprawling premise and loose narrative style of the book also provide plenty of room to expand the story into a series, and explore the various facets of its themes. Nicolas Roeg already gave us a classic screen version of the novel, but 45 years have passed since that film, and it would be fascinating to see the themes updated to our modern world.

The trickiest part of any attempt to make a new adaptation of The Man Who Fell to Earth, of course, would be who to cast as the title character: David Bowie gave a truly iconic performance in Roeg's film, and the lead actor in a new version will have big shoes to fill, and will struggle with inevitable comparisons. Kurtzman and Lumet have definitely found an actor up to the task, however, in Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor is, without a doubt, an absolutely brilliant actor, whose eclectic and bold career in Hollywood films and indies alike have earned him a reputation as one of the finest actors of his generation. It is very easy to imagine him playing an otherworldly figure learning the hard way how painful it can be to be human, and it is safe to assume that he will make the character very much his own, and won't get hung up on Bowie's portrayal.

In their statement about the casting, Lumet and Kurtzman said “Chiwetel Ejiofor’s stage and film career are staggering in their bravery, commitment and quality. He’s everything we could imagine and a million things we can’t. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

I wholeheartedly agree.

There is no word yet on when Paramount's The Man Who Fell to Earth might air, but we will follow the production.

- Christopher S. Jordan

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