Tim Peake, the European Space Agency astronaut and former International Space Station crew member, is stepping away from his comfort zone in the sky and into the world of film. He voices Tim from command central in the new Disney Pixar film, Lightyear.
It is impossible to speak with a renowned astronaut without referring to our young spaceman in Cork, Adam King, whose love of space and hugs has inspired people at home and across the globe.
Adam, 7, who has a brittle bones illness, became an instant hit when he appeared as a toy tester on The Late Late Toy Show in 2020.
Peake has a special message for Adam: “It is fantastic that you’re so inspired about space and want to become an astronaut; that is brilliant. The future is so exciting.
Pressing buttons in space must be daunting, but was getting the call from Disney to voice a character in a multi-million-dollar film any less so? Peake says both have their moments.
“They’re both pretty daunting, but the team at Disney were wonderful. They looked after me; they made sure I knew exactly what I was going to do. They helped every step of the way.
Filmed during the pandemic, Peake did his voice work in Shepperton Studios with the film’s director, Angus McClane, Zooming in from LA. For first-time actors, not having the director in the room might have been challenging, but Peake is used to communicating from far greater distances than LA to the UK.
“I just don’t think twice about having that kind of remote working environment because on the space station, our daily business is often dealing with an experiment that you may have never seen before, and you’re talking to somebody you may have never met before. They could be in Japan, Moscow, or Munich, yet you have to get a really complicated experiment done. We get very used to that kind of remote working environment.”
In the film, Buzz, voiced by Chris Evans, must take a risky test flight. Peake was a test pilot before joining the space program, so would he take a flight like Buzz’s if he faced a crisis in space?
"What we learn as we go through our astronaut training is that everybody has strengths and weaknesses. We try and do everything as a team, but if one person has a skill set that’s obviously suited to a particular role, they’re expected to jump in and do it.”
Buzz Lightyear’s space suit is iconic, but does it compare with a real-life suit? Peake says there are a lot of similarities, but wishes space suits could be closer to another iconic character’s attire.
“Our suits are made up of sections. We have the trouser section, the boots clip-on at the bottom, then to get into our upper torso, we have to go in underneath it. It’s really difficult to get into. Buzz’s suit is very similar to that. It takes us about 30 minutes to get dressed; it’s nothing like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, which wraps around. I wish we could have spacesuits that did that. It would be so much easier.”
Buzz and the rest of his crew get stranded on a space station, and Peake has plenty of experience of life in space. He says the ISS has everything the crew could need, but would love an app to help them figure out what part of the Earth they are looking at.
"You might take a photograph of somewhere amazing, but it takes a long time to work out where exactly it is. I would love an app that you instantly know what you are looking at.”
The ISS consists of modular rooms, and Peake says if he could have an extra room, it would be a glass dome.
“The cupola [observatory module] is lovely, but I’d like an entire glass dome, where you could float into and just see the universe all around you. That would be spectacular.”
The astronaut says Buzz goes on a journey in the film and would be an asset to the space station.
“He’s a very skilled and talented operator. At the beginning of the movie, he’s a bit like a fast jet test pilot, who is used to working alone and all the pressure’s on their shoulders; they have to be the one to get the job done.
Peake says film was a big influence on his love of space.
“I was a big Star Wars fan. It inspired me from a sci-fi point of view. Back To The Future and ET were big influences. These big films sowed seeds of space, the universe, technology, and what the future might hold.”
IN Toy Story, Tim Allen voiced Buzz Lightyear, but this new outing for the character is not about Buzz the action figure; he is Buzz the film character.
Chris Evans steps into the space ranger’s suit and says we will see much more to the character than in previous Toy Story outings.
“We get to explore a character we all know so well in a slightly more nuanced interpretation. The Buzz we all know is a toy, and as a toy, there are certain ways they can move to the world without the weight we may carry. A toy knows its purpose; it doesn’t have to worry about the lasting impacts of the choices that we make as people. It’s fun to put Buzz against that backdrop.”
Film-maker and director Taika Waititi voices Mo, a character who can’t seem to get anything right until he must step up in challenging circumstances. As a film-maker, Waititi says working with Pixar is always an educational experience.
"The way they write their scripts, they get it right every time, so I’m not afraid to rip off the practices they use ss it’s inspiring as a filmmaker to see these guys make these perfect films.”
Buzz is famed for his phrase ‘To infinity and beyond’. From his time as Captain America, Evans also has experience of an iconic line, ‘Avengers Assemble’, but which is his favourite?
“As proud as I am to play this role, that line belongs to someone else. You do your best to honour it, but that’s Tim Allen’s line. With ‘Avenger Assemble’, I was the first one in the pool.”