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Why the cast of Netflix's Away looks so familiar

Netflix's original drama series Away is about the first manned mission to Mars. In some ways, however, the thrill of space exploration is just a vehicle to deliver the complex and often heartbreaking stories of its main characters. In the series, the international crew of the Atlas must navigate the rigors of space travel and the interpersonal dramas that come with existing together in an extraordinary situation with differing opinions and priorities.

For that kind of story to work effectively, the characters have to be strong, and the actors have to shine. Thankfully for viewers, Away assembled a stellar international cast to bring the crew of the Atlas to life. While the top-billed stars are mostly familiar faces, you may not immediately recognize some of the other names. Don't be fooled, though. Away's cast is made up of veterans of the film and TV worlds, and there's a good chance you've caught each of them in something before. Here's why each of the main cast members of Away might look familiar to you.

Hilary Swank is a two-time Oscar winner with a long list of credits

At the head of the cast is two-time Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank. She plays Emma Green, an American astronaut who fulfills a lifelong dream of traveling to Mars by becoming the commander of Atlas. No matter what your movie viewing habits look like, there's a good chance you've seen Swank somewhere before, as the actress has a long and varied résumé. She had prominent teen roles in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie and The Next Karate Kid before upgrading to prestige dramas like her Oscar-winning parts in Boys Don't Cry, and Million Dollar Baby. Action and thriller fans may have seen her in films like The Core or The Resident, while rom-com lovers probably remember Swank from P.S. I Love You or New Year's Eve.

If you just realized that you haven't seen the acclaimed actress in much lately other than Away, there's good reason for that. In 2018, she revealed to The Guardian that she took a three-year break from acting in order to care for her father after he had a lung transplant. Since getting back into the business, she's popped up in the controversial thriller The Hunt and FX's series Trust.

Josh Charles is best known for his work on network TV

Although much of the action of Away is focused on the mission to Mars, the lives of the families that the astronauts must leave behind on earth share an important part of the narrative. One of the most prominent family storylines is that of Emma's husband, Matt, who is also an astronaut, out of commission and with health issues. He is played by Josh Charles, an Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated TV star.

Charles is best known for two-signature roles. The first was as one of the stars of Sports Night, an ABC dramedy created by Aaron Sorkin that took place behind the scenes of a highly-regarded sports commentary show. Charles was also a main cast member on The Good Wife for five seasons. His performance as Will Gardner on that shownetted him multiple Emmy nominations.

In addition to his work on TV, you may also recognize Charles from his roles in movies like Dead Poets Society, Muppets from Space, and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Vivian Wu is a star of Chinese cinema with an international career

While Emma and her family may be at the center of Away, the rest of the Atlas' crew each have their own fleshed-out stories. One that received special notice from some critics is that of Lu Wang (Vivian Wu), an astronaut representing China who brings a difficult secret with her onto the mission. As Brian Lowry of CNN wrote, "Of those subplots, the best probably belongs to a Chinese astronaut played by Vivian Wu."

Other critics also singled out Wu's performance as an astronaut struggling to represent her home country while trying to stay true to her heart. Stephen Robinson of the AV Club said, "Wu is a revelation as Lu: She's stoic but never cold, decisive but not heartless. She's sacrificed the most emotionally for this mission but is the most determined to see it through."

Wu is mostly known for her work in Chinese cinema, but she has appeared in several international productions throughout her 30 year-long career, including The Joy Luck Club and The Pillow Book.

Away isn't Ato Essandoh's first Netflix original series

Another fascinating crew member of the Atlas is Kwesi Weisberg-Abban, a Ghanian man who was raised in England by Jewish parents. Unlike the rest of the crew, botanist Kwesi isn't an experienced astronaut, and he often leans on his faith when things on the ship don't go as planned. He's played by American actor Ato Essandoh, who is best known for his supporting role on the recently canceled Netflix original Altered Carbon, as well as delivering the line "Jesus Christ ... that's Jason Bourne" in the film Jason Bourne.

Although Essandoh himself is not Jewish, it isn't the first time he's played a devout member of the religion. He has a recurring part on Chicago Med as Dr. Isidore Latham, an orthodox surgeon. The actor told Jewish Telegraphic Agency that his part on the medical drama gave him more confidence in taking on the role of Kwesi: "The British part was the problem — I was like, now I have to learn a dialect! But I said, 'OK, I have the Jewish thing down.'"

British crime dramas are Ray Panthaki's bread and butter

Family plays a large role in Away, and in some cases, it's a character's lack of family that ends up defining their relationship to the mission. That is the case for Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki), the second-in-command on Atlas, who hails from India. Ram is a man with a troubled past and little connecting him to his home planet.

Despite tapping into Ram's rugged individualism, Panthaki couldn't have a more opposing view of the sacrifices of space travel. When asked by Jon Kelley of Entertainment Studios if he would join Elon Musk on a trip to Mars, Panthaki replied, "The length of time it takes to go to Mars, I don't think I could be away from my loved ones for that long. The moon is a fair negotiation. I'd go there for a couple of days, and then fly back. Doable."

If you're a fan of the gritty Netflix British crime drama Marcella, you'll recognize Panthaki as Detective inspector Rav Sangha. The actor has also appeared in the series Gangs of London, and recently co-starred with Keira Knightley in the films Colette and Official Secrets.

You've likely seen Mark Ivanir as a guest star on one of your favorite procedural shows

The most senior member of the Atlas is Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir), a Russian astronaut who holds the title as the man who has spent more time in space than anyone else. Misha is fully aware of his incredible accomplishments in life and isn't afraid to let those around him know about them. Despite his confidence, he does harbor regrets about how his commitment to space travel drove a wedge between himself and his family. 

Like Misha, Ivanir is a veteran of his profession with an extensive résumé of roles. He's a frequent guest star on network procedurals and dramas such as CSI: Miami, The Blacklist, The Mentalist, and Madam Secretary. He had a recurring role on Homeland as Russian intelligence agent Ivan Krupin and played Tsar Nicholas II of Russia on an episode of American Horror Story: Apocalypse that sees the franchise's coven of witches going back in time in an attempt to save the life of Anastasia Romanov.

While playing astronauts on a series isn't quite as formidable as actually traveling to Mars, we're still glad that Netflix compiled a cast of accomplished actors to take on the mission of starring in Away.