Actor Daniel Stern on Leading NASA in ‘For All Mankind’

By | December 23, 2023

If there is indeed a multiverse in which every possible outcome occurs, then in one of those universes Marv Murchins, one half of the “Wet Bandits” from “Home Alone,” serves as NASA administrator.

As unlikely as that may seem, something similar is 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, has taken on the role of the head of the space agency in the Apple TV+ alternate space history series.

“They called me 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,” Stern said in an interview with “I then told my wife and she said, ‘What are they drunk?’ You, as head of NASA?”

But then Stern read the script and started watching the show. He became hooked on its scope and how the production quality of a very expensive film merged with the intimacy and character development of a long-running television series. He was particularly impressed by the fun the writers had creating the show’s alternate timeline, which began when the Soviets defeated the Americans in landing people on the moon in 1969.

Related: ‘For All Mankind’ season 4 episode 6 review: Culmination of a storyline decades in the making

a man in a dark suit stands in a room with gray walls.

a man in a dark suit stands in a room with gray walls.

“I think of it as the butterfly effect,” Stern said. “If we missed our chance with that one moon landing, they got it and the butterfly effect of that changed everything, as history is always shaped 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’ve just never been part of anything like that. They pushed me to come back to work and play Eli Hobson, and I’m so glad I did,” he said.

Eli looks nothing like Stern’s “Home Alone” character, but that didn’t stop some of Stern’s castmates from suppressing their reaction when they saw Marv opposite them.

“Definitely, the first scene we had together, I just let it live in the room,” said Wrenn Schmidt, whose character, Margo Madison, was the previous NASA administrator. “For the first day I think it might have been a challenge, but he is such a nice, warm guy and so funny.”

“I thought he was an extraordinary part of our cast this season and I really enjoyed watching his work,” she said.

Related: What was the space race?

an older man shakes hands with a woman in front of a older man shakes hands with a woman in front of a window.

an older man shakes hands with a woman in front of a window.

collectSPACE spoke with Stern about his performance in “For All Mankind,” the inspiration for his character and how being on the show has shaped his thoughts on space exploration. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

collectSPACE (cS): We know there isn’t much connection between ‘Home Alone’ and ‘For All Mankind’, but have any of your previous roles been part of a space exploration-themed movie or show?

Daniel Stern: I think there must have been a “Wonder Years” episode with the moon landing. That was true at the time [that the show was set]. So I probably did an episode, but I can’t remember.

All I did was a terrible, terrible movie called “Leviathan,” but it was underwater exploration. Even though we had to wear suits with big helmets and stuff like that, it felt like I was on Mars. And I could very well have been on Mars with the performance I gave.

cS: At least you’re one of the few cast members of “For All Mankind.” in the current season, who was alive before the moon landings. Did you follow the space program growing up?

strict: We watched the first one and were amazed, and every time there was a launch I watched it, but I didn’t follow it.

I have another interest in it, which is that one of my best friends from high school works for NASA. He is an interplanetary geologist who studies the samples they get from Mars. And that’s real.

To me, the capacity of what humans are capable of is all wrapped up in the space program. What’s interesting about “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 bullshit with us, our humanity. Our primitive selves are fighting each other, our tribalism, and what’s so fascinating about the show is that dilemma: we’re brilliant enough to build a colony on the moon or in space and yet we argue about whose sandwich that was .

I think it’s crazy because it’s all coming true. Launching people on rockets has become increasingly easy, and private industries are getting in on the act. It’s wild that we’re releasing these complicated people into the universe.

side-by-side portraits of two older men in suits.side-by-side portraits of two older men in suits.

side-by-side portraits of two older men in suits.

cS: Did the creators of “For All Mankind,” Ron Moore, Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, give you any advice on who to base your performance on? In real life in 2003, the NASA administrator was Sean O’Keefe, who before taking the job was the Secretary of the Navy and the Deputy Director of the White House Management and Budget Office.

strict: The one they kind of planted in my head was Lee Iacocca, and he was a good key to the Hobson character for me because Lee Iacocca knew how to run a business. 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 boring business manager. He was an outspoken business leader and, in a sense, a political animal.

So Eli is an extension of Lee Iacocca, who is friends with the president [of the United States], and the president gets to choose the NASA director. I don’t specifically play Lee Iacocca, but it was he who gave me the direction for the character.

photo of an older man in a suit sitting and wearing dark of an older man in a suit sitting and wearing dark headphones.

photo of an older man in a suit sitting and wearing dark headphones.


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cS: Without giving anything away, but knowing what happens this season and the decade-long jump between seasons that is now expected, would you like to serve another term and see Hobson return in season 5?

strict: I don’t really like acting. I have so many other passions. I make bronze statues, run a farm and I have my grandchildren. I love my life.

But I love the show. It was so good, I had to be a part of it. So I would definitely ruin my life for another year to do it again because there were such good people on the show. There’s 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 worldwide debut on Friday, November 10, 2023 on AppleTV+and is now streaming a new episode every Friday through January 12, 2024.

To follow on Facebook and on Twitter at @gathering SPACE. Copyright 2023 All rights reserved.

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