J.K. Simmons and Crew on Prime Video’s ‘Night Sky’ and Its Deserted Planet (Interview)

Prime Video’s Night Sky is a new series starring Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons as a couple that discovers a chamber buried in their backyard that leads to an extraordinary, deserted planet. The two have been keeping their discovery a secret, but their lives will change when they find out there’s more to the chamber.

We had the chance to chat with J.K. Simmons, writer/co-executive producer Holden Miller and showrunner/executive producer Daniel C. Connolly about the series.

Simmons was brought onto the project later and was interested in Night Sky due to the two main characters and the world around them.

“Well, finding out I was working with Sissy was part of the draw for me because she was already attached to it when they came to me with it,” Simmons tells Nerd Reactor. “But you know, as is almost always the case with me, it’s about the script more than anything else. So really the deciding factor was kind of falling in love with these two characters, Irene, played by Sissy, and my character Franklin, the world that we create [for] the two of us, but then the expanded world and universe that the series goes on to investigate.”

The first episode drew Simmons in since it has a slower pace and really allowed time for the couple to go about their day-to-day lives.

Credit: Prime Video/Chuck Hodes

“The first episode really takes its time, which I think is a bold choice in this day of short attention spans,” the actor said. “I think the script and the story give the audience credit for a little patience and lets us get to know this old couple at their home in Illinois and kind of settle into that rhythm. Then it starts very dramatically disrupting it.”

To help him get into the role as the husband of Sissy Spacek’s character, Irene York, Simmons hopped on a call with her and had a lengthy chat about life.

“I did, I did call Sissy,” Simmons said. “Or, you know, I asked if she would be amenable to having a talk on the phone, and they hooked us up with phone numbers and just to get to know her a little bit. Because I think by the time they came to me, we were just a few weeks out from the beginning of shooting. We’ve talked on the phone for like an hour and a half, just not even talking really about the job itself, I don’t think, hardly at all. Just chatting about family and life and love and what’s important. Then we just hit the ground running like the two old pros we are.”

Courtesy of Prime Video

Simmons thinks it’s great when a script follows leads in their 60s and 70s and how it’s fun to mix the different locations and cast members into the mix.

“One of the really interesting aspects of Night Sky is that they take this old sort of stoic, solid, Midwestern couple, and take the time to get to know them a bit before throwing them into the sort of blender that this adventure ends up taking us on with ultimately a very diverse cast and diverse locations and everything else,” the actor continued. “But yeah, it’s always fun. You know, as a 67-year-old guy, it’s great to read scripts where they’re actually interested in what people in their 60s and 70s think about life.”

Writer and executive producer Holden Miller is fascinated by big questions about life and wanted to convey that into the series with the York couple.

Miller tells Nerd Reactor, “I think the story really started off as a relationship story between these two older people who are grappling with these really epic questions like, ‘What are we doing on earth? What is life adding up to? What do you do as you approach the end? What does it mean to spend your life with another person?’ And yet it’s happening in the context of their very kind of relatable small-scale day-to-day life. I think that we tried to bring that same feeling to the sci-fi element of the story. And the sci-fi element of the story, in fact, allowed us to dive into those epic questions in a more literal way on screen, I think as far as it being a sort of alien planet.”

“And I think what really attracted us to it, certainly in the early parts of the show, is kind of the unknowability of it,” he continued. “It’s very beautiful. It’s very captivating. It clearly is important. The Irene character in particular has been kind of wanting an answer from it for decades. And yet, it’s just silent back to her. And I think that is true of many of the kinds of big questions that we spend our whole lifetimes grappling with. And you may never get a clear answer, but it’s the exploration of them, that is enriching.”

Credit: Prime Video/Chuck Hodes

Showrunner Daniel C. Connolly and the crew knew from the beginning that they wanted another parallel storyline, especially one that was global that added scope to the series. This includes a plot that follows a mother and a daughter from Argentina.

“We shot all that stuff in northern Argentina, with two fantastic actresses, Julieta Zylberberg and Rocío Hernández,” Connolly said. “And that storyline becomes for the audience another point of view into the mythology of these chambers. And that mother and daughter have a much different relationship to it and have a deeper knowledge of it than the Yorks do. So it’s serving a narrative purpose for us to sort of have the audience have an access point to more information and a different take on those items. But it also the Spanish language element to the show, just as a really important flavor, and a uniqueness to the storytelling that’s unexpected, and I think elevates it.”

Courtesy of Prime Video

Night Sky really embraces the mundane lives of the Yorks as they experience something extraordinary with the chamber. The series takes its time with the day-to-day lives and then adds in surprising moments when needed.

“Yeah, I think that the mixture in working on the show, the way that we phrased it was ‘the magical and the mundane,'” Miller said. “What does that really mean? And when do they mix? And when are they apart? And I think that on some level that might initially make you think, ‘Okay, the planet is the magical and their house is the mundane.’ But sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes they’re in the observation room, and it’s just Frank reading a book and Irene is having some tea, and then they’re in their house and something incredibly kind of shocking and unexpected and momentous happens. And I think playing with those expectations was a big thing that we were trying to do about when the story chooses to take its time and when it kicks into high gear. And we think that having a mix of both makes both of them more effective. And hopefully, towards the end of some episodes, things happen that will perhaps catch hopefully catch viewers off guard and keep them coming back to find out what happens next.”

About Night Sky

Spanning space and time, Night Sky follows Irene (Sissy Spacek) and Franklin York (J.K. Simmons), a couple who, years ago, discovered a chamber buried in their backyard which inexplicably leads to a strange, deserted planet. They’ve carefully guarded their secret ever since, but when an enigmatic young man (Chai Hansen) enters their lives, the Yorks’ quiet existence is quickly upended…and the mystifying chamber they thought they knew so well turns out to be much more than they could ever have imagined.

Night Sky is a co-production of Amazon Studios and Legendary Television (Carnival Row, Paper Girls) and is written and co-executive produced by Holden Miller, with Daniel C. Connolly serving as showrunner and executive producer. Mosaic’s Jimmy Miller and Sam Hansen serve as executive producers, along with Emmy- and BAFTA Award-winner Philip Martin (The Crown).

Night Sky premieres on Prime Video Friday, May 20.

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