Joel Kinnaman exclusively previews his alternate reality Apple TV+ series For All Mankind

Patrick Gomez
Joel Kinnaman exclusively previews his alternate reality Apple TV+ series For All Mankind

What if the Russians beat the United States to the moon? That’s the scenario that sets the stage for Joel Kinnaman‘s new Apple TV+ series For All Mankind.

“At the height of the space race, NASA was being afforded 10 percent of the national budget. It was the peak of innovation. Everything in the whole society was driving towards expanding into space. But it was a crisis project that was all around beating the Soviets,” explains the actor. “And then when the U.S. landed on the moon and we won the space race, everything deescalated. The program got defunded, and we haven’t been back since. This creates a scenario where the space race continues.”

“We’re starting with how history changes, and as the season develops we’ll jump months — and sometimes years — and you’ll see the ripple effects that occur: We pull out of Vietnam earlier, Nixon goes in hard on the space program,” explains Ronald D. Moore, who created the series with Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi. “How do things change because of all that? In our history, Ted Kennedy does not go to Chappaquiddick. He cancels the trip to go to Washington, and so Nixon’s team is worried he’s going to run. There’s a lot to explore when you start to consider how life would be different.”

A moon base is developed during this first season (launching Nov. 1), but don’t expect a futuristic series.

“The world is real,” says Kinnaman. “It feels like this Mad Men world, but where it all keeps expanding.”

That Mad Men analogy is fitting because Moore and his team enlisted the help of Mad Men production designer Dan Bishop on the drama.

“I went straight to Dan Bishop because I wanted him to think about NASA and the world in 1969 and then developing how the world would evolve and change because of the differences,” says Moore. “He was literally one of the first people brought on after the writers.”

The series will follow a group of mission control employees as well as the families of the astronauts, which include Kinnaman.

“He’s kind of what you think of when you think of an astronaut from that era,” Moore says of his star. “And then you get him in the haircut and sunglasses and the suit, it’s like he just stepped out of The Right Stuff. He has all that, but there’s this other side that’s sensitive and a guy who has doubts. There are layers that he brought to the character.”

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“I found myself talking a lot to my dad because it’s sort of his generation,” Kinnaman says of preparing for the role. “I mean, it is his generation. My dad, he actually told me because he deserted from the Vietnam War and was on the run in Laos. And one day he just walked by this little TV screen in this little village in Laos, and it was just an old lady sitting watching. And then he stood and started watching what she was looking at it behind, and it was the moon landing. He’d been so detached from everything for a whole year, and all of a sudden he was standing basically in the jungle in Laos with this Laotian lady watching the moon landing. He said it was the most surreal thing he’s ever been a part of. We got into a lot of what the space project was all about, and what it did to people, and how it sort of inspired hope. It was the one thing that people could sort of unify around in a time when there was so much division. I think people in my generation right now, we’re feeling that there hasn’t been a time where there was more division than there is right now. But when you go back into the late ’60s, it was worse. It was 10 times worse than it is now. The space race was something that was unifying for all of humanity. I think that showing a positive example can be very powerful too. I think that’s what this show is trying to do. It’s trying to inspire by showing a positive example.”

For All Mankind launches on Apple TV+ on Nov. 1.

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