Away Showrunner Jessica Goldberg on Bringing Netflix's Latest Drama to Life

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Hopefully, you've already marked your calendar to watch after reading the Away series review, but now allow showrunner Jessica Goldberg to share her insight into what makes the show, from Jason Katims, starring Hilary Swank and Josh Charles, so special.

We'll have reviews of each episode during the premiere weekend, so be sure to join us for our full coverage.

For now, allow Ms. Goldberg to enlighten you about the series.

Jessica Goldberg Behind the Scenes of Away

Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of Away and your involvement with the project?

So I started working with Jason Katims on Parenthood many, many years ago, and then I wrote The Path, which he produced with me. Andrew Hinderaker, who created Away and wrote on The Path, wrote this beautiful pilot, and Netflix wanted to bring someone in.

And I read it, and I thought, "Oh, my God, I want to be a part of this." It was so beautiful and unique and hopeful. And in that moment, I was longing for hope, as I still am.

Jessica Goldberg Away

And you and Jason have a really great working relationship. What is it that you think works between you?

It's so odd. We really do. I mean, Jason is just one of these rare men in Hollywood who is so deeply respectful of what other people bring to the table. I think it's also the way we think about art and work; it always comes from character.

We're not big prod-y people, but we always think about what people are feeling.

So maybe there's something in that. No one's ever asked me that, but it's such a great question, so I'm thinking on the fly, but it's true. We've definitely connected in a really strong working way.

Decompressing - AWAY Season 1 Episode 1

And how do you think Away compares to other shows that you've worked on, including The Path and Parenthood, which you both are a part of?

I mean, to me, it's so epic. I love how international it is. It sure the same intimacy as those other shows, and yet, it sort of like has a bigger dream.

One of the reasons I was so attracted to it was the audacity right now to dream; instead of dreaming of dystopia, dreaming of the world coming together for extraordinary exploration, of China and America being on the same ship, of a Russian man changing the way he thinks about certain things.

I had never worked on anything with that kind of scope.

A Family Photo - AWAY Season 1 Episode 1

And Away is set against the race to Mars, but it's really a relationship and family drama, I think.

Yes, it is.

How did you guys set the right tone for fans of both dramas and fans of sci-fi?

Well, I hope we did do that. The show comes from this beautiful article by this writer, Chris Jones, who actually was in our writers' room in a really important part of conceiving the show.

But there's a part in the article where he talks about -- and this is what NASA says when they eventually send people -- they're going to have to send people who love people here because they need the people to have these tethers, they need a reason to fight to get back. S that was always in the DNA of the show.

And I think we all wanted that sort of family story at the heart of it, putting that first. Then you sort of got to say like, "Okay, we're in space. Okay, they got to get out there. They got to leave the ship. They got to take a big spacewalk. There has to be the heroics of that."

But always coming back to the intimate, I think, is what makes it really special.

AWAY International Poster

Who all came together then after the article and the pilot to create the rest of the series? Was it one person, was it the entire writers’ room, and how did you all connect on that same level?

So Andrew Hinderaker wrote the pilot, and then Netflix picked up the show, and we immediately went to Hilary, so that was such a gift. And then we really looked for writers that had a sort of international scope that had worked in intimate shows.

We didn't really do the normal thing that you would think of, of looking for sci-fi writers, because we had a lot of experts from NASA, helping us with this show and JPL.

So we did tons of research, and the whole writers' room did many tours of JPL and talked to many engineers, and we had a lot of research together as a team.

Do Not Go in There - AWAY Season 1 Episode 4

And I know what your interest level was on other types of programming, but did you have any interest in shows that featured space, and did you take any inspiration from any of them?

Well, I mean, this is what's been amazing about my journey, in that I had no interest in space, which I'm embarrassed to say. I loved the movie Apollo 13, but working on the show has made me grasp the importance, the necessity, the dream of space exploration.

Now I'm like, "Gosh, if we can get there, we can tell Earth the tale of global warming."

I had never connected all these dots of the universe before I worked on this show.

A lot of the drama, I would say, comes down to character, and the characters are really well developed. And it comes down to choices that they make, which is how the plot progresses. And my personal opinion, I love character-driven drama.

Me too.

Decompressing - AWAY Season 1 Episode 1

With every choice that they make, it affects everything. What was your process to create that unique journey for each of the characters based on their choice?

We have such a unique way of working, and I learned it from Jason. For every episode, you start with each character, and you really go, "Okay, what did they last week? What are they feeling right now? Who did they just talk to?"

So you really do a deep exploration of each character before you even start to break the story of where they're at emotionally and what happened just before this. And I think it's that process that allows you to tell that tale in which characters are slowly changing.

So you almost don't even notice it, and then all of a sudden you're there, and you've been on a journey with someone.

May I Have a Word? - AWAY Season 1 Episode 3

And you mentioned that the show itself has a lot of diversity. How important was the diversity and inclusion aspect of making Away, especially because Netflix is a global network so that it should appeal across pretty much everywhere?

Yeah. It was amazing. I've never had this experience, and it was so exciting because I jumped onto this international show, and the way Netflix treated the international aspects of the show was really impressive. So we had translators, sometimes multiple translators, in all the different languages that are represented in the show.

There's an episode where you meet Kwesi's adopted father. We had an actor from Ghana who played that part. For Netflix, the accents, the language -- they can actually send the show to those places and make sure that it's resonating.

And then with the character of Lu, Vivian Wu really is from China. And Ato Essandoh's family -- he plays Kwesi -- is from Ghana. So having all of these actors that came from these places or with parents who did, helped with that.

I mean, it was really powerful to experience how diligent everyone was about these languages.

Suiting Up - AWAY Season 1 Episode 1

And bringing the actors into this, the acting is great, the cast is incredible. How did all of that fall into place?

Well, you get Hilary, and then it all falls into place. But seriously, in a way, that was the first step, "Who is Emma?" And both Andrew and I from the beginning, we just were like, "Hilary Swank." You just believe it, because to be an astronaut, not only do you have to be full of mental fortitude, you have to be really physically strong.

Of course, Million Dollar Baby and Boy's Don't Cry were early movies that made me want to be a writer, but also her strength in those movies is so profound. So we chased her, and then the other puzzle pieces started to fall into place.

Let's see, Vivian came in and auditioned in the room. She was on her way back to China. We just met Mark Ivanir, who plays Misha. And we saw Ato and Ray Pathaki, who plays Ram, on tape.

Talk to Me - AWAY Season 1 Episode 7

And once everybody started working, did the actors bring anything unexpected to the role that anybody found surprising?

Oh, yeah, so much, even Ato. That character was originally Nigerian, and when we cast him, we were like, "Well, let's make him from Ghana then." So many things happened because of the actors.

Vivian had so much information about China that we didn't know. Mark, who plays Misha, is very funny, so he had a lot of jokes that ended up in the show.

And then, of course, Alexis was such a find. We were casting with Ed Zwick, and she was auditioning, and he said, "Oh, this is how I felt when I saw Claire Danes when she came into the room." So that was a really exciting moment, the daughter.

And then, of course, we were really lucky to get Josh, because he brings such integrity to that character, so that was a great piece of the equation.

The Puppeteer - AWAY Season 1 Episode 5

And it's such an interesting show because of how important both work and family life are. Did you guys use your own experiences, trying to make work and family fit together?

This is one of the things I always say about the show. The first thing I thought when I read it was that I think it's the best articulation of a working mom show I've ever seen.

That's the number two thing that drew me to it. It was the opportunity to tell a story about a woman who loves her work, who loves her family, the push and pull of all that. I felt like I really never seen it portrayed with such honesty.

And yes, we did, because I was a mom in the room, and then we had another mother in the room, Aditi Kapil, who has three children, and then Chris has two children. I always say I've never shot anything in Los Angeles, so I always have to go to Vancouver and New York.

Looking at the Stars - AWAY Season 1 Episode 1

And you miss things, and that's really hard, but you also love what you do. And the very meta thing for me with this show is my daughter just turned 13, and we edited in COVID, so we were editing at home.

And she would crawl in bed me at night and start watching them. And then it was like the first time she got what I did, and she was crying in one episode. And she was like, "You worked on this..."

Because The Path was too dark, and for Parenthood, she was just too young, she's never experienced anything I made. It was so exciting for me to have that moment.

That is beautiful.


Bad Connection - AWAY Season 1 Episode 4

And by the end of the season, there's so much room for the show to expand. I mean, I expect that there's going to be a second season because why wouldn't there be? And I'm assuming that you all have an idea in your head about that; I hope.

Yes, we do. We're ready.

That's good. And my final question for you is, what's your message to people as to why they should set aside a portion of their weekend to binge Away?

Well, first of all, there's so little you can watch with your kids. So this feels like a show that your whole family can watch, which I think is so special at this moment.

I also think it's a show about humanity, the best of humanity, which is also so special at this moment. So those are the reasons.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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AWAY Quotes

Reporter: Why should we care more about Mars than we do our own planet?
Emma: We shouldn't. Of course, we should care about social imperatives. But in the US alone, we spend a trillion dollars each year on the military, and mostly in case the countries represented here decide to blow each other off the face of the Earth. This mission, it costs a fraction of that, as we work together, repurposing those same tools of destruction for discovery.
Kwesi: At this very moment, there's a team of astronauts on the Moon, mining polar ice caps for fuel and water.
Misha: Water that will be pumped into the hull of our ship to shield us from radiation, allowing us to travel safely from the Moon to Mars.
Emma: Reaching Mars... might prove to be the greatest achievement. Not only for science, but for the future of our planet.

Yeah, but you gotta be the one that wants to take the shot!