Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn has been in the movie business for decades, but he only just booked his "first" starring role in a TV show. Penn is leading The First, an original science-fiction drama series about traveling to Mars that just dropped on Hulu (and is scheduled to air on the United Kingdom's Channel 4 later this fall). Since this is such a new role for the actor, fans are likely wondering: Who does Sean Penn play on Hulu's The First?
The First is a "near-future drama" taking place in New Orleans in the early 2030s. The show documents a group of five astronauts attempting to become the first (get it?) humans to colonize Mars, according to Hulu's website. Over the course of the eight-episode first season, the astronauts' quest forces them to make personal sacrifices (they are planning to move to another planet, after all) and risk their lives, the website explains. Beau Willimon, known for creating House of Cards, also created The First.
Penn plays Dr. Tom Hagerty, one of the five astronauts selected for the mission to Mars. According to The Los Angeles Times, the pilot introduces viewers to Tom, a widower and a single father to a troubled teenage daughter. He's also an experienced astronaut (with trips to the moon on his resume!) and briefly the commander of the mission to colonize Mars. After he puts together a group of astronauts for the mission, a bigwig scientist named Laz Ingram (played by Natascha McElhone) swoops in and takes over his role as commander.
The show's trailer features plenty of drama. There are tear-filled conversations between Tom and his daughter, between the other astronauts and their family members, and between the astronauts and their coworkers. As the astronauts' family lives are slipping through their fingers, it becomes apparent that they are all risking everything for the chance to be the first people to colonize Mars. "They're five people fulfilling the destiny of 8 billion," Laz confidently says in the trailer.
In the midst of all the emotion, rockets, and 2030s seen technology in the trailer, Tom's internal struggle is palpable. His daughter needs him to stay on Earth, and he clearly wants to be there for her. However, he also desperately wants to be the one to discover life on Mars, which could mean he'll never see his daughter again. Oof.
So, what drew Penn to take on this role? "I think we all recognize, whether it’s in ourselves or in others, this thing that is the explorer, the wanderer, the person who wants to take themselves out of either their own or society’s comfort zone,” Penn told The New York Times in an interview earlier this week. He also explained how he was able to get into character for the show — by talking to real astronauts. Penn got to meet with Chris Hadfield, who is known for being "the first Canadian to walk in space," according to his website. “To hear [Hadfield] talk about it, it’s universe-broadening,” Penn told The New York Times.
Penn further opened up about The First on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday, where he highlighted the show's struggle on parenting vs. career. "He was born to be the father of his young troubled daughter, and he was born to be the commander of the first mission to Mars," Penn told Kimmel of Tom. "And do you go away for what is a two-and-a-half year mission, away from that daughter who is ... in need of a present parent?" Even if science-fiction dramas aren't usually your cup of tea, any parent who has faced that struggle is sure to relate to The First.