Bill Irwin

Interstellar Blu-ray: See how Christopher Nolan and Bill Irwin brought TARS to life

When Bill Irwin heard that Christopher Nolan was asking about him for a space movie he was working on, he understandably got excited. Perhaps not as excited as his agent—”Christopher Nolan wanting to talk to you makes an agent’s eyes go kind of wide”—but he had no clue what to expect when his phone rang and the Interstellar director was on the other end of the line.

Turns out Nolan thought the 64-year-old actor, who’d once trained as a Ringling Bros. clown, could breathe life into TARS, the robot that would help Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway’s astronauts through the cosmos in search of a new home for mankind. “He described this plank machine and I did my best to follow what was in his mind,” Irwin says. “He said, ‘I could save a lot of money if I just had an actor come in and do the voice afterwards, but I won’t do that.’ He was very clear that this was going to be a physical, visceral gig.”

That gig required Irwin to master a form of puppetry to make some bent-up aluminum convincingly walk across rough terrain that suited Nolan’s desire for old-school effects. Irwin and stuntman Mark Fichera dressed in grey unitards and literally controlled TARS movements for about 80 percent of the movie. (The other 20 percent were CG-enhanced to accomplish TARS’ more dynamic action sequences.) In an exclusive behind-the-scenes extra from the Interstellar Digital HD release, which arrives on March 17—the Blu-ray and DVD will be released on March 31—Nolan explains why he chose Irwin, and viewers get to see how the actor and FX crew brought TARS to life. 

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