Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

10 Details About Interstellar's Cooper To Take On Your Next Expedition

One of Christopher Nolan's most emotional, ethereal, and vast movies to-date is 2014's "Interstellar," which tells the story of a team of astronauts desperately trying to find a new home planet for the human race during a time of famine. While it doesn't always get the love that Nolan's other films do (like "The Dark Knight" and "Inception"), this remains one of the director's most intimate stories, even if it is set against the vast backdrop of the stars.

One of the standout things about "Interstellar" is its main character, Joseph Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey). Compared to protagonists like those personified by Leonardo DiCaprio in "Inception" or John David Washington in "Tenet," McConaughey's is a much more level-headed professional who has little interest in leaving his family to go save the world. Yet, that is exactly what he has to do, since there's nobody else with his skill, talent, or background fit for the job. 

While "Interstellar" isn't one of Nolan's most critically acclaimed movies (it only has a 72% score on Rotten Tomatoes), it sports characters played by heavy hitters like Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, and Michael Caine. Still, Cooper stands out as the most interesting character in the entire film, and he has more depth than you might realize. 

Cooper was a NASA pilot

Part of what makes the lore behind "Interstellar" so fascinating is the state of the world by the time the story begins. 

Earth has been slowly dying from a blight-induced global famine for years, which has taken its toll on human society. The film opens with real interview footage of people who endured the Dust Bowl, portrayed in such a way that it seems like they are contemporary survivors of this science fiction blight in the year 2067 (via Washington Post). One of the more troubling aspects of this dystopia is the shutting down of many government functions, especially NASA.

That's where Cooper comes in, since it turns out that he was a former NASA test pilot when NASA was still in existence. At first, it's surprising and even a bit confusing to see a former NASA pilot working as a dusty farmer, but that is exactly what the harsh realities of this setting have caused people to resort to for survival. During the film, Cooper is mysteriously given the coordinates to a military facility that ends up housing the remains of NASA, where they tirelessly continue working on interstellar solutions to Earth's problems. Thanks to his unique background as a pilot with deep familiarity with NASA systems, he is the perfect candidate to lead their last ditch effort to find humanity a new home in space.

He became a widower

Cooper has a tragic backstory, and its exploration is what helps drive the film forward. When viewers are introduced to him, he's a hard working, struggling famer taking care of his two kids, Murph and Tom. While he does get significant guidance from his helpful father-in-law Donald (Lithgow) in raising their family, at first it's unclear what led to Cooper becoming a single father.

Over time, it is revealed that Cooper is a widower, his wife having passed away some years prior; according to the film's novelization written by Greg Keyes, Erin died from a brain cyst that remained completely undetected due to the lack of medical equipment available in the dystopian future of this story.  

Cooper lovingly described his late wife as "the calmer one" in the novel, and her passing put significant pressure on him to raise their two kids alone. It just goes to show how important his mission in "Interstellar" is, considering everything he's personally lost because of the blight on Earth.

He became a living legend

Cooper's mission in "Interstellar" is of the utmost importance; the fate of the entire human race depends on it. The team of the Endurance, which consists of Cooper, Dr. Amelia Brand (Hathaway), Romilly (played by David Gyasi), Doyle (played by Wes Bentley), and the robotic assistance of TARS and CASE (voiced by Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart, respectively) are the last remaining hope to prevent humanity's extinction by going beyond the mysterious wormhole which has appeared near Saturn.

Against all odds, Cooper and his team do the impossible, sending him past the event horizon of the massive black hole Gargantua in order to give Brand the chance to finish their mission. In real life, it has been speculated that entering a black hole would annihilate a person through a horrifying process called being "spaghettified" (via ESO Supernova); in "Interstellar," however, it works.

Cooper survived entering a black hole by entering the tesseract outside of both time and space, where he could manipulate past events through gravity itself. Because of his success in ensuring that humanity finds a new home, he becomes something of a living legend upon his return to civilization many years later. The massive space station he is brought to is actually named Cooper Station after his daughter; in an earlier draft of the script it was named in his honor for sacrifices made in the name of science.

He had a complicated relationship with his kids

One of the main emotional cores of "Interstellar" is the relationship between Cooper and his two kids, Murph and Tom. From the beginning, it's clear that Cooper has a special relationship with his daughter but is more distant with his brooding son, exacerbated by his departure into outer space aboard the Endurance. A truly heartbreaking scene in the film is the moment that Cooper leaves Murph behind, with his future self desperately trying to prevent him from going by communicating "STAY" through the tesseract.

Although Cooper and Murph have a close bond at the beginning of the film, it gets severely strained once he ventures off Earth. She feels like her father abandoned her and, as a result, she holds a deep resentment against him, decades after his supposed disappearance beyond the wormhole. Yet, a residual love and respect for her father leads Murph to join NASA herself and eventually solve the key to the gravity equation. 

When the two finally reconnect on her deathbed, since the time dilation of Cooper's journey kept him young, they reconcile their love for one another. His relationship with Tom is much more complicated, however, since they have less in common. Tom's lack of interest in science, and contentment with farming, makes them less close. Nonetheless, in the cry-inducing scene where Cooper watches countless messages from his son that took place over years that passed by from time dilation, he weeps bitter tears seeing his son grow up without him in what feels like seconds, showing the love he had for both his children.

McConaughey was cast because of Mud

By the time "Interstellar" came out, McConaughey was being newly appreciated for his acting talents, following years of battling a reputation for high-concept romantic comedies like "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and "Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past." 

Sometime around 2011 a so-called "McConaissance" occurred as the actor pivoted via in roles in projects like "The Lincoln Lawyer" and most significantly, "True Detective," and "Dallas Buyers Club." 

"I got to feeling like, for a few years, I was doing something that I liked to do with romantic and action comedies," McConaughey said in 2014, looking back on how he had painted himself into a corner. "Believe me, I noticed there were other things that were not coming in." 

Nolan became interested in McConaughey after watching an early screening of his 2012 drama "Mud," where he plays a fugitive running from the law. Discussing the performance, Nolan said, "[Mud] showed me a side of Matthew's capabilities that I never knew was there. It was a transformative performance. From when I first saw it, I had an inside track on how great he could be."

His first name is never said in the movie

At times, Nolan has displayed a unique interest in withholding the names of his main characters. In "The Dark Knight," no legal name is ever offered for The Joker. 2020's "Tenet" takes things a step further, leaving its main character completely nameless, referring to him in the credits only as Protagonist. With "Interstellar," Nolan opted for having every character refer to the protagonist by only his last name, regardless of their relationship to him.

It's never actually stated in the film itself, but through supplemental material it can be determined that Cooper's full name is Joseph A. Cooper. This is in the original 2008 version of the script which, although it's quite different from the final film, still remains a reliable source. When it comes to what's actually on-screen, characters exclusively refer to him as Cooper or Coop to denote familiarity. It's an interesting choice considering that nobody else in "Interstellar" has this level of mystery regarding their first names beside Dr. Mann (played by Matt Damon), who ends up being an antagonistic character.

McConaughey was approached for the role while working on True Detective

One of the most iconic performances in the career of McConaughey is Detective Rust Cohle from the first season of "True Detective." His work alongside co-star and real-life friend Woody Harrelson launched the series, became a phenomenon, and earned McConaughey an Emmy nomination. It's interesting to hear, then, just how intertwined his experience making "True Detective" was with his eventual casting in "Interstellar."

While Nolan was considering who to cast as Cooper, he visited McConaughey on the set of "True Detective" in 2013. In 2015, Nolan recalled his recruitment trip.

"I went down to see him when he was shooting 'True Detective.' I was thinking, Oh, he's going to do a TV show now, what's that going to be like?" Nolan said. "It was a combination of luck and knowing that he was right for the part. The studio was thrilled when his star then rose in a spectacular fashion. But it's always a leap of faith."

Cooper never had time to watch baseball

Early on in "Interstellar," Cooper and his family are attempting to watch a local baseball game when a conversation starts about how the sport has degraded in recent years. His father-in-law notes how these "bums" couldn't hold a candle to the real ballplayers of his day, and Cooper himself notes how little time there was to play any sports growing up. He says, "In my day, people were too busy fighting over food to even play baseball." Moments later, a massive dust cloud rolls into town which forces the game to be cancelled before their eyes. This seemingly minor throwaway line reveals much about Cooper's lived experience, and the nature of this harsh future he inhabits.

"Interstellar" portrays a harsh, unforgiving world directly inspired by the American experience during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s (via NPR). Nolan's use of Ken Burns documentary footage of the 1930's drought-stricken phenomenon brings a much-needed Earth-bound realism to an otherworldly adventure.  

"We drew it from Ken Burns' documentary on the dust bowl," Nolan told NPR. "He very kindly let me use some excerpts... even though it's a science fiction film, I wanted the feeling of dread, the feeling of imbalance between the human race and the planet to be real and credible." It's because of that connection that Cooper's comment about baseball is so telling, since it shows the kind of struggles he has endured in this time of famine.

Designed as an everyman

For "Interstellar," Nolan wanted to ensure his main character would be a relatable all-American who audiences would easily be able to root for on this daring space odyssey. Cooper harkens back to many real-life astronauts who similarly risked their lives for the greater good of science, technology, and exploration, like Alan Shepard, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Gus Grissom. They all share personality traits with Cooper in a variety of ways (via Universe Today), but Nolan wanted Cooper to also have things in common with people who weren't famous at all.

According to a piece by The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan was acutely aware of the benefits in making Cooper relatable for audiences. 

"I needed someone who is very much an everyman, someone the audience could experience the story with," he explained. "[McConaughey] is just a phenomenal, charismatic presence in the movie. His performance is shaping up to be extraordinary."

McConaughey was praised by critics for his role as Cooper

Although "Interstellar" isn't the highest-rated film in Christopher Nolan's filmography, it nonetheless impressed critics with its breathtaking visuals and strong, emotion-laden performances from its lead actors.  

McConaughey, in particular, was singled out for the effectiveness of his work. After all, who doesn't start bawling while watching Cooper begging himself not to leave his daughter towards the film's climax?

"McConaughey, a super-intense actor who wholeheartedly commits to every line and moment he's given, is the right leading man for this kind of film," said Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com. 

"McConaughey deserves plenty of kudos for providing an emotional anchor," said Cory Woodruff of Williamson Home Page. "A lot is asked of the actor, and he pours himself into the role... no script could convey the determination and agony that McConaughey does in certain scenes. It's a true "leading man" performance that should solidify the actor's place among the elite of the profession (if it wasn't already)."

Adds Chloe Leeson of Scream Queens, "McConaughey delivers one of the finest pieces of acting on film. I'm now a firm believer in the McConaissance."