Physicist Kip Thorne, Science Advisor for Interstellar, Discusses New Film

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Physicists Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking, along with producer Lynda Obst, are in talks with DreamWorks about their treatment for a new science fiction film.

A renowned black hole physicist, Thorne served as the chief scientific consultant for the 2014 film Interstellar. Thorne spoke at an event on the science of Interstellar at MIT on Monday night, where he answered questions about the film and told the audience that he is working on a treatment for another film with Hawking and Obst.

Thorne said he began working on his new film idea 5 years ago, but that it got put on the backburner when Interstellar went into production. In the past year, he returned to working on it with Obst, and recently was able to pitch the idea to the CEO of DreamWorks.

DreamWorks gave Thorne 45 minutes to pitch his idea. When his time was up, Thorne said a secretary came in announcing that the CEO’s next client was waiting. Apparently Thorne’s movie was more exciting than the waiting client, because the CEO canceled that appointment to continue speaking with Thorne for another 45 minutes.

Kip Thorne
Physicist Kip Thorne (center) answered questions about the science of Interstellar at MIT on Monday, March 28, 2016. The panel was moderated by science writer Marcia Bartusiack (left), and Thorne was joined by exoplanet expert Joshua Winn (right) and gravitational wave expert Scott Hughes (not pictured). Photo credit: Ryan Cross

When asked how he became interested in the movie-making process to begin with, Thorne said, “Much of my life has been grabbing opportunities.” One of those opportunities came from producer Lynda Obst.

“I met Lynda Obst on a blind date in 1979 but it never really went anywhere,” he said. “[But] Lynda and I remain friends and she called me one day and said I have an idea for a movie and will you brainstorm with me?”

The result of that was Interstellar.

Obst was the producer of the 1997 fictional film Contact about a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) scientist who believes she received confirmation of intelligent life beyond earth. Obst was also the producer of Interstellar and the executive producer of Sleepless in Seattle.

Hawking’s role in the new film is less clear, but his involvement seems to indicate that the movie, like Interstellar, will have strong themes derived from physics and cosmology.

Hawking is the famous British theoretical physicist whose life is depicted in the 2014 biographical film The Theory of Everything. He is most well-known for his contributions to black hole physics, his science writings for popular audiences including A Brief History of Time, and his vocal support in favor of searching for extraterrestrial life.

Thorne and Hawking
Kip Thorne (left) and Stephen Hawking (right) are two physicists that are working on a treatment for a new science fiction film. Thorne was previously the science advisor for Interstellar. Image credit: Wikipedia Commons

One thing that Thorne said he learned from Christopher Nolan is that there is a lot of strategy behind leaking movie information. He wouldn’t tell the audience the title or topic of the film, but assured that the story was independent of Interstellar.

The creative process of incorporating science into film is a luxury that Thorne views is more suitable to the current stage of his career. When deciding how much time to devote to advising a film like Interstellar compared to pursuing his research, he said he considered two things: “One, this would be fun, and two it would be an opportunity to reach and inspire a far larger audience than I could in any other way.” Interstellar hit both those marks.

“I think it was particularly successful in inspiring people, especially in Korea and China,” Thorne said. He spent a few days in Korea for the release of the film and was pleased by how many people wanted to see the movie for its science and engineering elements. “In Korea, with a population of 50 million, they sold ten million tickets,” he said. “Parents were encouraged to take their children to it, and I was really impressed.”

Thorne also said that he enjoyed helping the actors and actresses of Interstellar understand as much of the science behind the story as possible. “I was impressed with how dedicated they were to becoming and really living the life of the people they were portraying,” he said.

The experience was good enough for Thorne to want to do it again. “I still have some science going on,” he said. “But I am more interested in this in this phase of my career in my creative interests.”

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