It’s almost too much: a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance and Timothée Chalamet, plus Tyler Perry, Rob Morgan, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Himesh Patel, Ron Perlman and more, in a “catastrophic comedy” written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice, Anchorman) that was filmed just as the COVID pandemic descended, trapping all these talents inside a production “bubble” to tackle a subject — the earth’s demise — that feels more timely each day.
Not only that, Don’t Look Up, the resulting dead-on satire “based on truly possible events,” will hit Netflix screens on Christmas Eve, after its global cinema premiere last week.
We were set for an Asia-Pacific Zoom event with Leo, Meryl, JLaw and Adam that was, sadly, cancelled at the last minute. Perhaps the whirlwind Stateside media tour of these high-voltage stars — including a global presscon with 375 media peeps in New York moderated by the film’s science consultant Dr. Amy Mainzer — was deemed enough to drive home the message of the film, which embeds its urgent climate crisis warning inside the tale of two astronomers (Leo and Jennifer) who discover a six-kilometer-wide comet barreling straight for Earth in three months.
A full review on the film, which arrives on Netflix Dec. 24, will come next week. For now, we delve into the experience of the stars and director making the film, which has special resonance in an era where the greatest defense systems mankind has evolved are those against truth and reality.
Meryl and Leo on the film’s urgent message:
LEO: It was incredibly timely. Especially when the scientific community has given us a nine-year window to make this transition as far as the climate crisis is concerned and how Adam wrote this script before COVID hit, which was a whole new level of the denial of the scientific community.
I think all of us felt not only that we wanted to work together with Adam, but at this specific turning point in history, there was nothing more important to do than to sort of recreate the narrative — start to take a mirror to ourselves in society and media and politics and realize that the consequences of what will happen if we continue to not act on this issue.
It’s just so sad and frustrating to watch people who have dedicated their lives to learning the truth be turned away because people don’t like what the truth has to say.
MERYL: I’m grateful for Adam McKay. There’s almost nobody else who could deliver the message of this movie with more deft humor. It’s almost like he’s as smart as Stanley Kubrick and as deft and funny as Mike Nichols. But he has another ambition even beyond that, which is something that no filmmaker, no other filmmaker that I can think of is willing to do, which is to put himself on the line and look earnest.
Jennifer Lawrence and Adam McKay on why it wasn’t all a doom-fest:
JENNIFER: It was so fulfilling every day to just work with (people who are) hilarious. You just show up to work, and you’re belly-laughing all day, it’s the best.
I mean, Jonah Hill (who plays President Orleans’ son and “bag man”) is the greatest, the master of comedic improv. On the set there was one entire day of him just improv-ing insults at me. And it was the best day of my life.
ADAM: I needed to work with Jen during a pandemic. It was so fun being on set with her because she’s just one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. And it was just so cool to see her. You know, she improvises, she’s a great actress, she’s hilarious, but it was also just fun to be around her and have her call out how weird the world was — a little bit like her character, Kate Dibiasky.
Why this story now?
LEO: I’ve been looking for a movie that was about (climate change) for decades now. I was asking myself, “What can we contribute to this cause?” And Adam really cracked the code with this narrative. I mean, there’s so many comparisons that we can make to the climate crisis with this storyline.
ADAM: At the end of the day, when I looked at the script, I realized the script was never really about the pandemic — I mean, it’s obviously inspired by the climate crisis, but it was really about how we’ve just broken and shattered the ways that we talk to each other. So I actually felt like that jumped out even more after this.
Leo and Jennifer on listening to the science:
LEO: I was just thankful to play a character who is solely based on so many of the people that I’ve met from the scientific community, and in particular, climate scientists who’ve been, you know, trying to communicate the urgency of this issue and feeling like they’re subjected to the last page in the newspaper.
I love the way Adam portrayed these two different characters — one that is incredibly outspoken, like a Greta Thunberg-type of character with Jen’s, and mine, who is trying to play within the system. But I also love the way he was just incredibly truthful about how we’re so immensely distracted from the truth nowadays. And then, of course, COVID hit and there was a whole new scientific argument going on there.
JENNIFER: It’s just so sad and frustrating to watch people who have dedicated their lives to learning the truth be turned away because people don’t like what the truth has to say.
On why satire was the best way to scare the hell out of people:
ADAM: The climate crisis is so overwhelming and it’s arguably the greatest threat to life in the history of mankind, and we just felt like that can almost be like an animal attacking you —it can just be overwhelming. But if you’re able to laugh, that means you have some distance, and I actually think that’s really important. It’s also a great unifier, too. You can’t really fake laughter. It’s not a political thing.
JONAH HILL: Adam walked the craziest tightrope in this movie, which I think is almost impossible and he pulled it off, which is like taking things that are terrifying and using comedy to maybe make them digestible, or palatable, or entertaining in some way. So I found the whole movie to just be like the truth and terrifying and hilarious.
MERYL STREEP: There are a lot of chilling moments in the film. One, I don’t know why, but it just really hit me, was the scene in the bar with Tyler (Perry) and Cate (Blanchett) when everything’s going to sh*t outside, the world is ending, and she just says, “I just wanna get drunk and talk sh*t about people.” But it kinda chilled my bones.
And then the one in the car and Timothée Chalamet (POSSIBLE SPOILER!) proposes an idea to Jen and she goes, “Yeah.” And it’s so clear, there’s just no way it’s ever gonna happen. You know, but it’s just that glimmer of the human dream where we hope something good is gonna happen, even though we know something bad is. That’s sort of the kernel of truth of this, is that we push this information away. Smart people, people who don’t have scientific backgrounds, everyone pushes it away, because it’s just... ugh!
On what kind of reaction Don’t Look Up might stir up:
MERYL: I said to Adam when we first talked about promoting it, “You gotta give people three things that they can do, so they won’t wanna kill themselves at the end.” You know? (Editor’s Note: One thing people can do is write and demand the US Congress support H.R.794, the “Climate Emergency Act of 2021.”)
ADAM: Also, did you guys feel like we’re so hungry for someone to express real emotion?
MERYL: Yes, we’re mad as hell.
MERYL: And we’re not gonna take it anymore.
ADAM: Yeah, like, I mean you just see these politicians’ speeches in that same cadence every single time. And it’s like, “Will someone be angry or afraid or sad?” Like, you’re kind of missing it. It’s so satisfying when both you guys (Jennifer and Leo) have your moments. It just feels like, ah, “I’m dying for that.”
MERYL: Well, yes, I love Jen’s righteous anger. I mean, it’s just — and her despair in this film.
On what inspired Meryl’s Trump-like character:
MERYL: There were so many places to take things from, because there’re so many preposterous people who’ve put themselves in public places recently — and shamelessly. So yeah, it was kind of fun to put together this character that was just pure id, just what her appetite wanted. And about amassing power, money, more power, and more money, and that’s pretty much — and nice hair and nails, you know?
And it’s amazing that we ever get good people to (run for office). But we need them. We need them right now more than ever.
Don’t Look Up streams on Netflix Dec. 24.