Oscar-nominated director Morten Tyldum revealed what attracted him to Sony’s sci-fi love story Passengers at Deadline’s annual Contenders event today: The movie’s a balancing act.

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Deadline

“It’s an intimate film,” said Tyldum about Passengers, which relies largely on the Jennifer Lawrence-Chris Pratt chemistry, “but the epic quality was a balancing act. Because it’s a character-driven film, they have to go through extreme choices. It’s really a roller coaster emotionally.”

Throughout Passengers’ development, such stars as Reese Witherspoon, Rachel McAdams and Keanu Reeves were attached at some point. Sony and co-producer Village Roadshow wound up with the town’s most bankable actors Lawrence and Pratt. “They didn’t know each other before the film,” explained Tyldum. “I met them individually, and you have this gut feeling that they will allow themselves to connect and fall in love with each other at some level. The whole diva factor wasn’t there at all.”

Passengers Trailer
Sony Pictures

Passengers takes place on a spacecraft transporting thousands of people in suspended animation to a distant colony planet. The trip takes a deadly turn when the Pratt and Lawrence characters wake up 90 years before anyone else. As they look into the malfunction, they fall deeply in love — all while the ship is collapsing and the two learn why they were awakened.

Tyldum boarded the $100M project in December 2014 after Sony won a fierce bidding war for the Jon Spaihts script, during the company’s hack. Spaihts also was present at today’s Contenders panel, moderated by Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr, during a weekend when Doctor Strange (which he co-wrote) is riding atop the domestic box office with an estimated $80M+ opening. Also at Contenders today was editor Maryann Brandon, who has a finesse for cutting sci-fi pics like Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latter of which earned her an Oscar nomination last year. Passengers opens on December 21.