Not many of us are called to stories that center the Midwest, but for writer-director Noble Jones, who is a native New Yorker, there has always been something beautiful about small-town America.
In his debut feature, The Tomorrow Man, Jones explores aging, love and the fear of what’s next. Starring John Lithgow and Blythe Danner as two older people who clutch on to one another in the midst of apocalyptic trepidation, The Tomorrow Man is a whimsical look at companionship and what it means to face death.
Ahead of the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, The Knockturnal sat down to chat with Jones about The Tomorrow Man, getting Lithgow and Danner together on screen, and why this is a film for today.
“I’m not quite sure why it ends up being about an older couple,” Jones reflected on his characters Ed (Lithgow) and Ronnie (Danner). “Much of this process is likes a séance, where the character shows up. I have a habit of just creating characters and then ripping for a while. In this case, I just thought it was interesting. I’m a fan of John Ford films and the west. I was watching all of these Ken Burns documentaries, specifically, The West. I put it on a loop.”
Jones was also inspired by his favorite novel —Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. “It was very big when I was growing up,” he explained. “Everybody read Future Shock. One of the main ideas was that, if you occasionally saw a man talking to himself and he looked insane, he’s actually not insane —he’s in shock. He’s in future shock. In other words, time is accelerated to the point that it can become difficult for some individuals to deal with the world changing so quickly, and they go into shock.”
The idea of being shocked by the future, and by the rapid movement of time was something that has always stayed with Jones, and as a result, Ed Hemsler and Ronnie Meisner began talking to him. Just as the characters were swirling around Jones’ mind and becoming concrete on paper, everything else started to fall together.
“John just happened to come over to the management company I was at,” Jones remembered. “I had just written the script a few months earlier. He read the script and said, ‘I’m in.’ Then we met with Blythe a little while later. I actually had to wait for John, because he had to do the Churchill role on The Crown. Though Lithgow and Danner had known each other for decades, The Tomorrow Man is actually the first time they’d worked together. “They’ve known each other since the ’70s in New York theater, and they would hang out,” Jones said. “There was one opportunity years ago where they were going to work together. Then, John for whatever reason took another play. Thirty years later, and this is the first time they have worked together.”
With his script and the actors solidified, Jones already knew where his story would take place. “My father’s from Alabama,” he revealed. “I don’t know how much that had to do with it, because I think I’ve been to Alabama once —but it’s just always amazing. Someone asked me earlier if there was a visual image for the film. I said, ‘Absolutely, the man on the landscape.’ There’s a very tiny man on this vast landscape. It’s something about the idea of a man standing against that vast amount of terrain that’s always fascinated me. I’m just so enamored by the environment.”
Though The Tomorrow Man seems to have these major proclamations about life and love —Jones cautions that it’s much quieter than that. “It’s a process of revelation,” Jones explained. “That’s what draws the audience in, but it really becomes just character reveals. The most important thing about any love story, and ultimately this is a love story, is you stick around to find out whether or not they’re going to be together in the end. That’s really it.”
As a music video director and a David Fincher protégée, Jones has worked in the industry for decades on everything from music videos to The Social Network, but The Tomorrow Man is his feature debut. “There have been many previous attempts at getting movies made,” he reflected. “It’s show business, it’s the nature of movies, that sometimes they fall apart. It’s an amazing thing to have it finally come together. I’m glad in a way. You could do these things in your 20s, and then that becomes a certain perspective toward success —whatever that is. Then there are other things that you’ll have to deal with like children, family, and all that kind of stuff. For me, I could not have written this had I not lived a little. Everything worked out the way it’s supposed to work out. A few years ago, I ended up writing the remake of American Psycho which wasn’t produced, and then it got me into the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA). People said, ‘Oh, I guess you can write.’ Then suddenly this happened.”
With Sundance wrapped and The Tomorrow Man premiere behind him, Jones is content to look towards the future. “I have a few screenplays and stories that I’d like to do,” he said. “Right now, I’m working on an adaptation and on an actual historical event that I’m populating with characters. There are one or two real characters that we know, but I’m creating the other characters to frame it and giving it a narrative drive and a meaning beyond just purely the specifics of the event. It’s a pretty sensational event.”
The Tomorrow Man premiered January 30, 2019 at Sundance Film Festival.
Photo Credits; Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images