Jose Hernandez ’84 delves into his upcoming biopic movie—and other space films
The inspirational life story of former NASA astronaut and University of the Pacific graduate Jose Hernandez will be the subject of a Netflix original movie due out in 2022.
Hernandez was rejected 11 times by NASA before being accepted to the astronaut program. He spent 14 days in space in 2009 as a flight engineer aboard Space Shuttle Mission STS-128.
Hernandez discusses details of the upcoming movie and gives mini-movie reviews of previous space films in this interview for Positively Pacific.
How and when did you first learn about the desire by Netflix to make a movie about your life?
Hernandez: The Netflix folks approached me and asked if I was interested in putting my story into a movie. We have been talking for I would say a year or year and half. I was actually approached by the production company called Select Films. They have filmed movies like “McFarland, USA” and others. They have a lot of experience in telling motivational stories. The screenwriter for “McFarland, USA” was Bettina Gilois, who wrote for this movie on my life. Unfortunately she passed away (July 5). We certainly will make this movie in memory of her.
What type of film do you envision? One with a message of hope? A story of persistence? A space movie?
Hernandez: I think it’s going to be a combination of all of those. It’s going to have space, for sure. Space is very sexy. But it’s more of a movie of not giving up, of believing in yourself. It will deal with serious issues, such as imposter syndrome and the self-doubt that comes from that. But it will be a feel-good story where the viewer can have empathy for the character and will be rooting for him.
There are so many facets of your life that can be included, from the farm fields of the San Joaquin Valley to Franklin High School to your college studies at Pacific. What are some of the early-life scenes we will see in the movie?
Hernandez: There will be some NASA in there, but it will be toward the end of the movie. The focus is going to be on how the character got there. I do want them to show Pacific’s campus, so I’m going to push to get some recognizable scenes at Pacific, whether it’s Burns Tower or the arch near Pacific Avenue. There is no doubt Pacific is a huge part of my life story.
Any discussion yet about who will play the lead role?
Hernandez: The preferred actor to play my part is Michael Pena. I think it would be a great choice. He was in “The Martian” as an astronaut, so he has career experience in this area.
There have been so many space movies over the years. As someone who has lived through space travel—from lift-off to landing—can you speak to whether Hollywood is realistic in how it depicts space travel?
Hernandez: I think Hollywood does a better job than I do when I describe it in my conferences. They have the advantage of being able to use special effects. The physiology of what the body goes through, that is hard to re-create. But from a visual perspective, they are going to do it justice in this movie.
Let’s do a little rapid fire on space movies. Give me a couple of sentences on each space movie that I mention.
Hernandez: All right, let’s do it.
Hernandez: Lots of flaws. I love Sandra Bullock but there were so many technical flaws in that movie. There were many things that just physically can’t happen up in space.
“Hidden Figures” (2016)
Hernandez: Very inspirational. What really stuck with me was the fact that people love their jobs and they do what they do because of those feelings. NASA is a government position, and they pay less than if you were out in corporate America. These three amazing ladies during the Apollo era were discriminated against, but they believed in what they were doing.
“First Man” (2019)
Hernandez: I found that movie interesting. Maybe a little darker in the sense that the character had a lot of emotional undercurrents. That may be how he (Neil Armstrong) was in life. That is not what you will see from my character.
“The Right Stuff” (1983)
Hernandez: That one is another classic, in fact I’d call it an inspirational classic. It talked about how the astronauts got selected and the process that they went through. Very, very informative.
“Apollo 13” (1995)
Hernandez: I loved it. Tom Hanks. They really did a great job in depicting what happened and what was being done in space and on the ground simultaneously to solve a problem and get them home safely.
Hernandez: I have to admit I had to watch this movie two or three times to finally get it. That was the one with Matthew McConaughey. I found it had more fiction than what I liked for a space movie. It had time travel and some things that I respect, but it doesn’t fall into the category of “Apollo 13” or the real classics.
“The Martian” (2015)
Hernandez: That movie came out close to when “Gravity” came out. I compared both of them and I liked “The Martian” better. I looked at what was possible and what wasn’t. “The Martian” got 90 or 95 percent right technically about what was possible. They obvious had someone consulting who was well versed in space travel. “Gravity” did not.
“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1967)
Hernandez: Simply a classic. This movie and “Star Wars” are what started everything in regard to space movies.
Thank you very much and congratulations. I know Pacificans and the San Joaquin County community can’t wait until this film comes out.
Hernandez: I would love to have a preview at the Janet Leigh Theatre on campus. I think it will be a story that will bring people together.