Home (Alone) on Mars: Actor Daniel Stern on leading NASA in ‘For All Mankind’ (Image Credit: Space.com)
If there is indeed a multiverse where in every possible outcome happens, then in one of those universes Marv Murchins, one half of the “Wet Bandits” from “Home Alone,” is serving as NASA administrator.
As unlikely as that might seem, such a thing is sort of playing out in the current season of “For All Mankind.” Actor Daniel Stern, who is perhaps best known for his role as Marv from the 1990 Christmas comedy film, has taken on the part of the space agency’s chief in the Apple TV+ alternate space history series.
“They called me up and said, ‘Are you interested in playing Eli Hobson, the head of NASA?’ and I put the phone down and laughed for about 20 minutes,” said Stern in an interview with collectSPACE.com. “I then told my wife and she was like, “What are they drunk? You, as the head of NASA?”
But then Stern read the script and began watching the show. He got hooked on its scope and how it merged the production quality of a very expensive film with the intimacy and character development of a long-running television series. He was particularly taken by the fun the writers were having crafting the show’s alternate timeline, which began with the Soviets beating the Americans to landing humans on the moon in 1969.
“I think of it as the butterfly effect,” said Stern. “If with that one moon landing we missed our shot, they got it and the butterfly effect of that changed everything, as history is always formed by events.”
The more he thought about it, the idea of playing the head of NASA seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.
“I just have never been a part of anything like this. They made me get off my butt and actually go back to work and play Eli Hobson, and I am so glad I did,” he said.
Eli is nothing like Stern’s “Home Alone” character, but that didn’t stop some of Stern’s castmates from having to suppress their reaction to seeing Marv standing opposite them.
“Definitely, the first scene that we had together, I just let that live in the room,” said Wrenn Schmidt, whose character, Margo Madison, was the previous NASA administrator. “For the first day I think it was maybe challenging, but he is such a lovely, warm guy, and so funny.”
“I thought he was an extraordinary part of our cast this season and I really loved watching his work,” she said.
Related: What was the space race?
collectSPACE spoke with Stern about his performance on “For All Mankind,” the inspiration for his character and how being on the show has shaped his thoughts about space exploration. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
collectSPACE (cS): We know there isn’t much of a connection between “Home Alone” and “For All Mankind,” but have any of your past roles been as part of a space exploration-themed film or show?
Daniel Stern: I think there must have been a “Wonder Years” episode with the moon landing. That was right at that time [that the show was set]. So I probably did an episode, but I don’t remember that.
The only thing I did was a terrible, terrible film called ‘Leviathan,’ but it was underwater exploration. Although we had to wear suits with the big helmets and stuff like that, so I felt like I was on Mars. And I could have very well been on Mars with the performance I gave.
cS: You are one of the few members of the “For All Mankind” cast, at least in the current season, who was alive for the moon landings. Did you follow the space program growing up?
Stern: We watched the first one and our minds were blown, and then every time there was a launch, I watched it, but I didn’t follow it.
I do have another interest in it, in that one of my best friends from high school works for NASA. He’s an interplanetary geologist who is studying the samples they get from Mars. And that is real.
The capacity of what humans are capable of is all wrapped up in the space program to me. What’s interesting on “For All Mankind” is that we get to see the technology that humans can create [is] off the charts, but we always bring our own crap with us, our humanity. Our primitive selves are fighting with each other, our tribalism, and that’s what’s so fascinating on the show is that dilemma of, We’re brilliant enough to build a colony on the moon or in space and yet, we’re arguing over whose sandwich that was.
It’s crazy to me, because it’s all becoming real. Launching people on rockets has become more and more easy, and private industries are going up there. It’s wild that we’re unleashing these complicated humans on the universe.
cS: Did the creators of “For All Mankind,” Ron Moore, Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, give you any guidance on who to base your performance on? In real life in 2003, the NASA administrator was Sean O’Keefe, who prior to taking the job was the Secretary of the Navy and the deputy director for the White House’s office of management and budget.
Stern: The one who they sort of planted in my head was Lee Iacocca, and he was a good key for me to the Hobson character because Lee Iacocca knew how to run a company. He knew how to be innovative, but also budget conscious. He turned GM around. He was, for those who don’t remember him, the head of Chrysler and just turned that company around.
He was also a media star. He wasn’t just a bland corporate leader. He was an outspoken corporate leader and a political animal in a way.
So Eli is an extension of Lee Iacocca, who is friends with the president [of the United States], and the president gets to pick the NASA director. I’m not playing Lee Iacocca specifically, but it was he who gave me a direction for the character.
cS: Without giving anything away, but knowing what happens this season and the decade-long jump between seasons that has now become expected, would you like to serve another term and see Hobson return in Season 5?
Stern: I don’t really like acting all that much. I have so many other passions. I do bronze sculpture, I run a farm and I’ve got my grandkids. I love my life.
But I like the show. It was so good, I had to be a part of it. So I would definitely sacrifice one more year of messing up my life to do it again, because there were such good people on the show. It has got a lot to say, it was a great part, so how can I say no to that?
Click through to collectSPACE to watch a clip of Daniel Stern as NASA Administrator Eli Hobson in “For All Mankind,” Season 4.
The fourth season of “For All Mankind” made its global debut on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 on Apple TV+, and is now streaming one new episode weekly every Friday through Jan. 12, 2024.