TORONTO -- If there's one thing people associate with Lisa Nowak, it's diapers.
After returning home from her first space mission, the astronaut went on a 950-mile drive from Houston to Orlando, Fla. She had gone to confront a U.S. Air Force engineer who was sleeping with the man Nowak had an affair with. In February 2007, when she was captured by Florida authorities, she told the police she'd brought a slew of questionable items on her journey: a buck knife, latex gloves, a BB gun, pepper spray. She also had in her possession government-issued diapers, which she used to minimize pit stops on her long drive.
Not only was the then-43-year-old the first active-duty astronaut believed to have ever been arrested on felony charges, the diapers became infamous, turning Nowak into a tabloid headline, a "Saturday Night Live" reference and the butt of the joke in the 2017 comedy "Rough Night."
Of course, Nowak's actual story was far more layered than the punchlines suggested. And now a film debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival on Wednesday, "Lucy in the Sky," is inspired -- loosely -- by that story. The film, directed by television veteran Noah Hawley ("Fargo," "Legion"), is not directly based on Nowak's life. The former NASA employee had no involvement in the Fox Searchlight project, and the lead character, played by Natalie Portman, is named Lucy.
But just how much of the film, out Oct. 4, is based on real life? Before heading to Toronto, Hawley called from his home in Austin, Texas, to discuss the similarities and differences between his film and Nowak's case.
Q: How familiar were you with Lisa Nowak before signing onto the movie?
A: I had a memory of a moment in time when the real story made headlines. But I didn't know a lot of it, other than the tabloid details. What was interesting to me, as I thought about taking this on, was what's really behind a tabloid story? A human being with dignity who made some bad choices and ended up in a story that is now smaller than it should be. Her human experience has been reduced to a joke, on some level. I wanted to try to tell that story, and allow her to retain her dignity -- but you now understand what she did, and now it's a tragedy and not a farce. As a tragedy, she can find some redemption.
Q: This is your first film, following the creation of the FX shows "Fargo" and "Legion." Why this project as your directorial debut?
A: I've never made anything you can watch in one sitting before, which was a really interesting challenge. The question became: If I was going to make a movie, it should give you an experience you can only have in the theater. Therefore, it should be something immersive -- something you can use that big room and screen for that wasn't an action movie.
The script that I read ... was a story of a psychological decline that had these elements of magical realism in it. It was a film about trying to understand decisions someone made that aren't understandable. She had everything and was at the top of the world, literally, but then things unraveled. Especially after "Legion," I was interested in something subjective that immerses you in her point of view.