Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Welcome to Earth producer Darren Aronofsky loved torturing Will Smith

Aronofsky, who also directed Black Swan, explains why he's turned to documentary, and why it's so satisfying to push the limits of stars like Smith and Chris Hemsworth.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
2 min read
Will Smith vs the volcano in Welcome to Earth.

Will Smith vs the volcano in Welcome to Earth.

Kyle Christy/Disney Plus

When you're sending someone into the most forbidding environments nature can throw, you want someone with a wealth of experience. Or, if you're Darren Aronofsky, you could send someone who's never even slept in a tent. You could send Will Smith.

Aronofsky is executive producer of new documentary series Welcome to Earth, streaming on Disney Plus now, in which Smith explores the most intriguing and inaccessible corners of the planet. The Independence Day, King Richard and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star joins explorers Albert Lin, Diva Amon, Cristina Mittermeier, Dwayne Fields and Erik Weihenmayer diving into the blackness of the oceans, seeking out absolute silence, rappelling into active volcanos and even experiencing the largest ever turtle gathering on record.

Aronofsky dropped us a line from location to discuss both Welcome to Earth and Limitless With Chris Hemsworth, another National Geographic show he's producing for Disney Plus that pushes a movie star into perilous situations.

"It's always great, no matter whether they're movie stars or not, to see people pushing their own limits or conquering fears," Aronofsky says. "That's what's fantastic about Will. He's willing to step way outside his comfort zone to follow elite explorers to the ends of the earth. This is a guy who's never swum in a lake or slept in a tent who is now descending 3,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean. It's spectacular to watch."

Aronofsky is previously best known for fiction films like Black Swan, The Wrestler and Requiem For a Dream. But in recent years he's moved into nonfiction formats, like the One Strange Rock documentary series or cosmos-exploring virtual reality experience Spheres: Songs of Spacetime.

"When it comes to human nature, it's sometimes easier to get at the truth with fiction than with nonfiction," the director-turned-documentarian says. "But when it comes to our planet, just pointing the camera can tell a story we could never dream up in our wildest imagination. Taking the world's greatest natural history photographers to some of the farthest reaches of the planet with cutting-edge cameras has led to some incredible images and sounds."

Will Smith and Darren Aronofsky filming Welcome to Earth.

Will Smith and Darren Aronofsky filming Welcome to Earth.

Kyle Christy/Disney Plus

Common themes thread through his fiction films to the nonfiction series. "In my last two fiction films [2014's Noah and 2017's Mother!], I've been very interested in the connectiveness between humans and their home: planet earth." By pointing the documentary camera straight at the planet's most interesting corners, Aronofsky says "We can be more direct in making those connections."

Aronofsky hopes that speaks directly to viewers living at a critical time for our planet. "I hope they fall in love with our planet and see how beautiful and fascinatingly weird it is," he says. "There's still so much to discover and we've only scraped the top of the surface." 

Welcome to Earth premiered on Disney Plus Dec. 8. Limitless is expected to stream in 2022.

New Movies Coming in 2023 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

See all photos