Oscar-nominated filmmaker Darren Aronofsky is getting plenty of attention these days for his new film The Whale, but he has another high-profile project that’s also generating buzz for very different reasons: National Geographic’s Limitless with Chris Hemsworth.
The six-part series on Disney+ features Marvel Cinematic Universe actor Hemsworth exploring various techniques to combat aging and extend the human lifespan, and learning about the effects of these techniques firsthand. Aronofsky serves as an executive producer on the series, which has Hemsworth experimenting with various activities reported to have an effect on how — and how long — we live, including meditation, fasting, and exposure to extreme conditions.
Digital Trends spoke to Aronofsky about the origins of the series, the challenges in defying aging, and what audiences can hope to learn from the series, which premiered November 16 on the Disney+ streaming service.
Digital Trends: How did the series originate? Was it an idea you brought to Nat Geo? Chris?
Darren Aronofsky: I hate to take all the credit, but it started with me and [my production company] Protozoa in that I met Dr. Peter Attia several years ago and we became good friends. I was very interested in his work because I did a film called The Fountain back in 2006 that dealt with longevity science.
Back in 2006, longevity science was very much in the sci-fi land of ideas. But I’ve watched over the last couple of decades as it’s become mainstream science and a tremendous amount of resources and interests have gone into it. And at some point, I realized this would be a really great project: to really explore longevity science.
I brought it to Nat Geo and they got it immediately and thought it would be great. And then we realized we needed a personality to help bring us through the science. We had a lot of success doing that in some of the past documentaries we did like One Strange Rock and Welcome to Earth. When the idea of Chris Hemsworth came up, I never thought we would get him, but he responded really well to the material and that’s how it all started.
The premise of the series — learning how to combat and deal with aging — is a broad one. How did you approach breaking it down into digestible, episodic themes?
A lot of the ideas come from our experts — especially Dr. Attia. He talks about living better, longer, and the idea of, instead of flattening the curve to the end of life, to try to live as healthy and as well as possible for as long as possible. And then, when your time comes, going out quickly. I thought this was a really attractive, exciting idea, because who wants to live in a slow decline? People would rather live as well as they could before going out, and try to maintain that health for as long as possible.
So we started looking at different ways that we could communicate some strategies so that people who watched the show can actually benefit from watching the show.
Some of the episodes put Chris through some difficult experiences — both physically and psychologically. Were there any episodes that presented a particular challenge to create or assemble in a way that felt right?
Have you seen the last episode, “Acceptance”?
I have. I was going to ask all about that one because it’s so powerful.
For me, that one became the main reason to do the show. It took a while for everyone to get on board with it. Chris was game to go however we wanted with it, and it turns out that actually coming to terms with your death is one of the ways to live a less stressful life. It actually helps with longevity.
I wanted to figure out a way to demonstrate that, so I was pushing this idea of immersing Chris in some of those ideas and thoughts. It was very abstract for the studio at first, but slowly they came around and as it came together, they started to get super excited by it.
I’m happy because it’s everyone’s favorite episode. So I do really hope that all the viewers get to the end [of the series] because it’s well worth the trip.
Were there any lessons or activities or such that you took away from the series and brought into your life? It feels like you have plenty of experience with managing a busy schedule and pressure.
Of course, yeah. Health is so important, and taking care of yourself and finding the time to exercise, eat, and sleep right is super important. Even though there’s a lot going on in my life always, I try to get my eight hours of sleep and eat well. I’ve got really into exercising and taking care of myself.
I confess I tried some meditation myself after that first episode.
Oh, that’s great to hear. I do TM [Transcendental Meditation] and I love it. It’s a really helpful exercise.
What’s next for you after this series and The Whale? What are you working on next?
I’ve got a bunch of other projects with Nat Geo that I’m super excited about that are continuing to push science in entertaining and emotional ways. And I haven’t yet decided on what my next movie will be, but that’ll come soon.
National Geographic’s Limitless with Chris Hemsworth is available now on the Disney+ streaming service.