Interview: Mckenna Grace and Isaiah Russell-Bailey on Disney’s New Sci-Fi Adventure Crater

Each generation has its seminal coming-of-age films about power and the bonds of friendship. Think The Goonies, Stand By Me and all of the John Hughes-a-verse in the ‘80s, and The Mighty Ducks and Now and Then in the ‘90s. Disney Plus brings us a brand new cinematic entry to the heart-warming genre with the release of Crater, a sci-fi adventure that sees a group of friends set out to discover what’s – both literally and somewhat figuratively – on the dark side of the moon.

The film, from writer and director Kyle Patrick Alvarez, takes us to the year 2257 and follows four friends who’ve grown up in a lunar mining colony. One, Caleb (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), has recently lost his father in a mining accident. As part of the miners’ contract, should. Before he leaves for Omega, and with the help of Addison (Mckenna Grace) – a recently arrived teen from Earth – the group steals a rover and, while the base is under lockdown due to an imminent meteor shower, heads out across the lunar surface to discover what lies at the bottom of a mysterious crater Caleb’s father (Scott Mescudi a.k.a Kid Cudi) talked about.

Written by John Griffin, Crater explores the ins and outs of being a teen on the moon, the true ties that bind friends together and the power of found family, all amid solid sci-fi surroundings. We got to sit down with two of the film’s stars – Grace and Russell-Bailey – last week to get a glimpse behind the scenes of filming the big Disney adventure. Here are four things we learned:

Both actors were drawn to the project by the strong script, the layered teens they portray, and the emotions Crater drew to the surface.

Russell-Bailey describes his first encounter with the story as a powerful moment: “Once I finished, I immediately started bawling.” Unsure of whether it was just the mood he was in, he decided to show it to his mother and was gratified when she had exactly the same reaction. It’s clear from the affection in his voice that his mother is a big part of who he is: “I take her with me. She is my home.” But what about his character in particular? “He reminds me a lot of me with how I am with my friends. I don’t like to leave my friends out. I don’t like to let them down. I have a very tight knit, close group of friends who I’m ride or die for.” It’s clear the young actor has a lot of love for this particular character: “Caleb is a leader, not a follower, which is something I try to live my life being all the time.”

For Grace, the appeal was routed in the genuine emotion at the centre of the sci-fi adventure. “I think as fun as the film is – and it’s very fantastical and exciting – I think there’s a lot of heart in it too.” She was impressed with how Griffin was able to ground the story in reality , even while the action was all on the moon or the other planet involved, Omega. “[That’s] hard to do when you’re writing a film about a couple of teens going on a road trip across the moon!” And, like her co-star, the story as a whole got to her: “I don’t cry very easily during films or while reading scripts, but this one either made me cry or got me very close. So I was like, ‘oh, I’d love to be a part of something like this.'”

The cast spent time together before filming to get to know each other and to help build their on-screen connections.

Russell-Bailey and Kid Cudi have several key scenes together as father and son, a relationship that provides the film with its beating heart. “Working with him was so great,” relates the young actor, “and to build up the father and son relationship, we decided to hang out before having to shoot so we can connect with each other and get a feel for each other’s personalities.” It helped that the two could bonds for hours about their common interests. “I love music and he loves music. He’s such a great artist,” Russell-Bailey raves about his scene partner, “and I want to produce soundtracks or beats for movies or songs for artists someday, so we just connected over our love of music and music production.”

The rest of the Crater‘s narrative foundation comes from the core five youngsters, portrayed by Grace, Russell-Bailey, Billy Barratt, Orson Hong and Thomas Boyce. “We all stayed in the same apartment complex,” Grace explained, “so we definitely got to hang out a lot.” There’s a genuine feeling of closeness among the teen cast and they were excited to see that carry through on screen: “I’m very glad we were able to portray that–all of the characters mesh so beautifully together, especially towards the end when they know each other even better than before.”

Russell-Bailey also credits both his co-stars and the surrounding crew for helping him get over the stress and intimidation that came along with what is, essentially, his first leading role. “Being around a lot of amazing actors really gave me the confidence to show people what I’ve got, and act to my highest ability.” They helped him realize that even getting to this point in his career is something to celebrate: “Luckily, the people around me really lifted me up and gave me [great] advice.” What was the biggest lesson for him at the end of the day? “I had to just do the work and work as hard as I possibly [could] because [that’s what] definitely pays off.”

The cast got to participate in a two-week “Moon Camp” to bone up on lunar facts and to get used to their spacesuits and stunts before filming commenced.

Audiences familiar with the ’80s movie SpaceCamp might be a little leery of the potential for danger in such a boot camp, but everything went according to plan. “We learned how to walk like we’re in [zero] gravity and learn how to use the wires,” Grace revealed to the assembled journalists. They also had experts on site to answer any questions they might have: “I’m 90% sure that we talked to somebody from NASA and got to ask them questions.” It was like a crash-course in all things space and the actors had a blast. Or as Grace succinctly puts it: “It’s so terrifying and interesting…and terrifying.”

Harness and wire work has a reputation as difficult and uncomfortable, but the actors enjoyed the challenge and how it furthered their on-set friendships.

“It’s really interesting,” Grace related, describing the stunt set up. “They actually have people lifting you with the wires! It’s not just an automatic system, but you look off to the side of the stage and there’s two guys per wire, holding it up and then pulling other things, and it’s really cool to see.” The young star hopes she’ll get another chance to use all of the skills she picked up on a project down the road: “I got to learn a lot about putting on harnesses. Now I know how tight I like it or if I want to use padding in certain harnesses, which I think really helps.”

There was more than one scene that required the actors to ‘suit up’ in their harnesses, and Russell-Bailey relished the experience. “It definitely felt like an adventure. I wasn’t uncomfortable with it because it wasn’t my first rodeo with harnesses,” the actor explained. “So I was kind of acclimated to the feel of the harnesses. So that made it really fun.” Surely it’s a fairly prescriptive environment to film in. “Actually, a lot of us were playing around on the harnesses while we were filming. The stunt team allowed us to do flips while in the harnesses. So it was just amazing experience.”

“It was really fun for all of us getting to be on the wires together, especially that scene when we walk out of the rover for the first time,” agreed Grace. “What you don’t see is that all of us were on wires, but the wire track starts over there,” the actress gestures far ahead of her, “and we’re inside the rover.” She laughs: “So the wires were at this weird angle. We’re all leaning forward, trying to hold on to stuff so that we don’t fly out of the rover before we’re supposed to.” The actress describes the chaos inside the rover itself: “I was squished against a wall behind everybody, and everybody was accidentally hitting each other with their oxygen tanks, and arguing like their characters. It was very funny getting to shoot that.”

And speaking of stunts and actions, if Marvel is looking for a live-action Miles Morales, then Isaiah Russell-Bailey is your guy.

When asked what genres he’d like to explore next, given that he’s just given sci-fi a go, Russell-Bailey had his answer locked and loaded: “I would love to be in another superhero movie, specifically a Marvel movie, because one of my goals is to play Miles Morales.” Well if he’s got his sights set on the Spiderverse, who would round out his ideal cast? “Well, Tom Holland’s got to be my Peter Parker,” he enthuses. “Holland is a great Spider-man. I’m a big fan of [his].” The actor takes some time out to fill in the rest of the parts: “Uncle Aaron? I mean, Childish Gambino is a really dope uncle Aaron. I’m a fan of him as an artist.” But the hardest for Russell-Bailey to cast might be Gwen. “This one’s kind of hard, because there are a lot of people who could be Spider-Gwen and play it very well. I’d have to get back to you on that one!” Either way, Marvel, take note. You’ve got your Miles ready and waiting.

Crater is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.