'Constellation' creators on ghostly voices and piecing together a satisfying sci-fi puzzle (exclusive)

a woman in an astronaut helmet looks frightened
Scene from Apple TV+'s new sci-fi series "Constellation." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

If you're in the mood for a head-spinning yarn with its eyes stuck in the stars and myriad mysteries planted on Earth, there's no better destination right now than Apple TV+'s "Constellation," an eight-episode sci-fi conspiracy series that just launched its first three chapters on Feb. 21 to great fanfare.

Here's the official synopsis:

"'Constellation' stars Noomi Rapace as Jo Ericsson — an astronaut who returns to Earth after a disaster in space — only to discover that key pieces of her life seem to be missing. The action-packed space adventure is an exploration of the dark edges of human psychology, and one woman's desperate quest to expose the truth about the hidden history of space travel and recover all that she has lost."

The series also showcases the talents of Jonathan Banks ("Breaking Bad," "Better Call Saul"), James D’Arcy ("Oppenheimer," "Cloud Atlas") and Will Catlett ("Abigail," "The Devil You Know").

Related: 'Constellation' episodes 1-3 review: A well-made thriller that may be revealing its cards too soon

Michelle MacLaren and Peter Harness at the photo call for the new AppleTV+ drama series "Constellation" at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on Feb. 1, 2024. (Image credit: Getty Images/Momodu Mansaray/WireImage)

Created and written by British filmmaker Peter Harness ("Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," "BBC's The War of the Worlds," "Doctor Who"), "Constellation" is directed by Emmy Award winner Michelle MacLaren ("Breaking Bad," "The X-Files," "Game of Thrones"), Oscar nominee Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”), and Oscar nominee Joseph Cedar ("Footnote," "Our Boys”).

We recently chatted with showrunner Harness and MacLaren, who also acts as the series' executive producer and directed the initial two episodes, about the origins of this spooky new sci-fi show and what viewers can expect as its reality-shifting narrative unravels in the weeks to come.

Space.com: What was the genesis of "Constellation," and what were your goals for pulling off this elaborate conceptual sci-fi series?

Peter Harness: For me, the genesis of the project was a ghost story, and it was something that happened to me when I was on holiday in a cabin in the woods in Sweden. At nightfall we heard a little girl's voice calling, "Mama, mama!" We went out to look and there was no little girl and no house that she could have been in. Then we heard her again the following evening, and this happened every now and again. I don't know what that was, but it really stuck with me.

Then, a couple years later, two of our producers asked if I'd like to write a series about astronauts coming back to Earth and I said yes, because I'm very interested in the reality of space travel and the kinds of ghost stories surrounding it as well. So I wrote this sequence of a mother being trapped up there trying to get back to her daughter, and that somehow connected with the lost girl in the forest in Sweden trying to get back to her mom. I think this project enabled me to write about a lot of stuff that I love, like ghost stories and space stories and things which play with the edges of human consciousness and the borderline between madness and reality. 

It was an extremely big toy box to play. It's a weird and unusual and different kind of proposition as a series, and I’m perpetually astonished at the leap of faith that so many people have taken with the show. Michelle has been instrumental in making it and generating excitement and getting it made at Apple TV+ in the first place.

Space.com: With your love of fantasy and paranormal material, having worked on "The X-Files" and "Game of Thrones," what drew you to "Constellation" to invest your time and effort? 

Michelle MacLaren: Well, I read the first two scripts and I loved Peter's writing. It speaks to me visually, and I loved the world. I love playing with time. I was fascinated with shooting in zero gravity and space. I loved the relationship between mother and daughter. I loved that there was a catastrophe in space and it was a fight for survival. And I was especially fascinated with the idea of what happens if you wake up one day and the world that looks familiar to you feels off.  

The mother and daughter being separated and having to find each other really spoke to me.  For any parent who has a career that is separated from their child at any particular time, it's always a challenge, and this is an extreme example of it. I also love the fact that it's a mystery and there are different genres at work here. There's a thriller, action adventure, horror, and there's also a massive puzzle. And I always find that really fun to design the style and tone of something like that.

Related: Everything we know about 'Constellation': Release date, plot, cast, & more

Jonathan Banks in Apple TV+'s "Constellation." (Image credit: Apple TV+)

Space.com: How did working on this strange series, with all its shifting realities and temporal dimensions, change you as people, creators, and filmmakers?

MacLaren: One thing that Peter and I both share is that we’re not married to one particular genre. We both care about what is the best way to tell the story in this moment. What is the best way to put the audience into this character's head and evoke a certain type of emotion?

And I think the other filmmakers involved, Oliver Hirschbiegel and Joseph Cedar, and the other cinematographers felt the same way. Everybody was telling a story, and we were true to that story and brought different elements from different genres at the right moments.

Harness: And I think everyone found something in the story that matters to them. In term of what I've learned, I’ve learned an awful lot. I learned that it's been a challenge but it's been a joy. It's been the most rewarding kind of artistic experience of my life, and I'm lucky to have made this. I'm very happy that we did this, because I wouldn't change a single thing about it.

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Jeff Spry
Contributing Writer

Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.