An incredible and inspiring film based on a true story, A Million Miles Away is a must see for anyone who has ever dreamed big. I recently had the opportunity to speak with not only the director, Alejandra Márquez Abella but also NASA flight engineer José Hernández, whose life is the subject of this film.
INTERVIEW: A Million Miles Away José Hernández & Alejandra Márquez Abella
Inspired by the real-life story of NASA flight engineer José Hernández, A Million Miles Away follows him and his devoted family of proud migrant farm workers on a decades-long journey, from a rural village in Michoacán, Mexico, to the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, to more than 200 miles above the Earth in the International Space Station. With the unwavering support of his hard-working parents, relatives, and teachers, José’s unrelenting drive & determination culminates in the opportunity to achieve his seemingly impossible goal.
Whether you have ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut or something more on this planet, José Hernández's story of going from working farms alongside his family to the International Space Station will inspire you to keep going. A Million Miles Away might seem like a “space movie” at first, but at its core it is a story about family, perseverance, and hope. I was thrilled to be able to hear from both José and Alejandra about the film.
I felt so inspired and emotional watching your story play out. It was just incredible.
José: Isn't it a beautiful story? Alejandra Márquez Abella, our esteemed director, did a superb job in condensing a whole lifetime into a two hour biopic. The thing I loved about it is she incorporated a lot of the family values and the efforts to get me to the point where I finally got selected as an astronaut. So it wasn't a journey of one, it was a journey of many.
Speaking of that, I know that your story has been out there for a while and people have tried to make your story but it was just never the right time. So what was it about this time that made you say yes?
José: It was all about the people who wanted to make it. The folks that approached me [were from a] film house called Select Films, ran by Mark Ciardi, executive producer of our movie. They had just finished doing McFarland USA, they had done Million Dollar Arm, and Secretariat. So they had a nice pedigree of doing films that were inspirational. That's when I realized this is the film house where my story can be told the way I wanted it to be told.
José: Michael is a true professional and he reached out to me. We did a lot of zoom calls and he got to know me, and I think he got the gist of what I was about with respect to my personality. He did a masterful job at portraying that up [on the] screen. He's a great actor and he was our first choice, so I was tickled to death when he said he would want to do it.
The family aspect of this film is something I really loved. My favorite part of the movie was seeing your family and the community that came around you. And I just love your wife. If she's anything like her character in the movie, no offense, but she was my favorite.
José: I agree. (Laughs) The actress, Rosa Salazar, I think she was a scene stealer in the movie. I'll be honest with you, when I first saw the movie, from a personality perspective, I was seeing my wife up there. I mean, she nailed my wife to the tee. And she did her homework. She called my wife. She did zooms with her. They cooked together over zoom. Adela taught her some recipes.
It wouldn't be a movie about becoming an astronaut without a training montage. I'm sure it was a big help to have José around to answer questions. But did you also work with NASA? Was that an actual training ground?
Alejandra: No, we built a set. We shot the whole film in Mexico around Mexico City or in Mexico City. We went to this humongous pool in Mexico City and we recreated the whole training. Which was more than challenging because we had to actually have people who could, you know, arrange that stunt and actually do that as they would do in a military facility. [It's] a very sophisticated piece of training. It was fun, challenging, and long.
We worked very closely with NASA. Michael and I got to visit NASA and do the artist training, which is a special training they have for actors who are going to play astronauts. And we had Jose, you know, a text away. So [if there were] any doubts I would (mimics texting) José help! How should we do this? What would an astronaut say in this situation, so I was lucky.
A Million Miles Away is now streaming on Amazon Prime. It is rated PG for thematic elements and language with a runtime of 2 hours 1 minute.