Just in time for Christmas: the end of the world! In the new movie "Don't Look Up," out this month in theaters and on Netflix, a giant comet is on a collision course with Planet Earth. And who better to tell the story of cosmic disaster than some really big stars?
There's Leonardo DiCaprio as the scientist trying to warn the world, and Meryl Streep as the president who won't take him seriously.
Chief of Staff Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill): "And then what happens, like a tidal wave?"
Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio): "It will be far more catastrophic. There will be mile-high tsunamis."
President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep): "So, how certain is this?"
Dr. Mindy: "There's 100 percent certainty of impact."
President: "Please, don't say 100 percent."
Aide: "Can we just call it a 'potentially significant event'?"
Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence): "But it isn't 'potentially' going to happen."
Dr. Mindy: "99.78%, to be exact."
Chief of Staff: "Oh, great. Okay, so it's not 100%."
President: "I'm gonna call it 70%, and let's just, let's move on."
It's quite a vision, and the guy behind it all is screenwriter-director Adam McKay.
"Sunday Morning" correspondent Tracy Smith asked, "Did you, in casting this, just look at the two front rows of the Oscars and say, 'Okay, yeah, these are the people I want in the movie'?"
"I mean, I guess?" McKay replied. "And so, for instance, with the president, President Orlean, of course you think Meryl Streep. And you just assume she's gonna say no and you'll move on."
"Was there a moment where you kind of said, 'Oh, come on! This can't be happening.' You know, 'I want a Leonardo DiCaprio type,' and you get Leonardo DiCaprio?"
"He was the moment. When he said yes, I was like, 'This is crazy.'"
And it gets even crazier: Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is a snubbed scientist; Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill is a petty White House official.
It doesn't take long to see that the comet is a metaphor for climate change, with the world split between believers and skeptics. And while there's nothing funny about global annihilation, the movie is a comedy through and through.
Smith asked, "Did you feel like, 'I have to do a comedy'?"
"Yeah," said McKay, "'cause if we're laughing we can deal with stuff. It's when we get, you know, overwhelmed with depression or despair, that's when things get hard. So, as soon as I realized we needed to laugh when it came to dealing with the climate crisis, I knew where to go."
And at 53, he's learned how to get a laugh or two. McKay dropped out of Temple University to join the Second City improv troupe, and eventually was hired as a writer at "Saturday Night Live," where he met his comic soulmate, Will Ferrell.
McKay said, "The experience of writing with him and then getting the sketch on the air was so fun and pain-free, neither one of us were over-thinking things. We were just having a good time. And it was like, 'Oh, I gotta work with this guy.' And that was kind of the beginning of it."
Click on the embed below to watch the 1999 sketch "Happy Smile Patrol," co-written by Adam McKay, from "Saturday Night Live":
After "SNL," McKay and Ferrell took their brand of funny to the big screen, with films like "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," and "Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."
But even with their runaway success at the box office, McKay wanted to stretch his legs beyond pure comedy. He got his chance in 2015 as director of the movie version of Michael Lewis' bestseller about the 2007-08 financial crisis, "The Big Short."
Smith said, "I'm not sure that most people who read 'The Big Short' thought, "Oh, this would make a really interesting feature film."
"I couldn't put it down," McKay said. "And for some reason when I was done with it – all these people have told me since, 'Oh, I never thought that could be a movie' – I was like, 'Oh, this is a movie.'"
McKay turned a confusing story into a box office hit, and shared an Oscar for screenwriting.
For him, it was all personal: "You know, my father lost his house in that collapse. I mean, people think, 'Oh, big-shot Hollywood guy.' But no, this collapse affected people that were close to me. So, it was definitely a project that I felt a real emotional connection to."
And now, McKay has an emotional connection to the climate crisis: It's a passion he shares with some of his best-known cast members.
Tracy asked Meryl Streep, "Why did you decide to do this movie?"
"Because of him, because of Adam," she replied. "I'm a huge fan. Nobody makes me laugh harder in his movies, and nobody makes me think more."
Leonardo DiCaprio said, "I had been waiting patiently for something like this. And it sort of landed in my lap. And then of course, got to work with amazing people like this."
"He's done award-winning movies like 'Big Short,' 'Vice.' But are you 'Anchorman' fans?"
"Absolutely!" said DiCaprio.
"Oh yeah," Streep said. "Ron Burgundy's my second husband!"
Turns out, they all needed a few laughs on set. The movie was filmed at the height of the pandemic, masks and all. But to DiCaprio, that only made the film more meaningful: "It was a fascinating thing. You know, this is the hundred-year pandemic. But to realize that everyone was going through the same thing simultaneously on Earth, and that's why it connected with this screenplay that was about the climate crisis, that we're all gonna feel the ramifications of this. And what we're seeing right now, with the wildfires and the massive hurricanes and all these catastrophes, doesn't get better than this, okay? It doesn't get better than this. It slowly becomes worse."
But bad news, like the climate crisis, is a tough sell, and the film skewers news media types (played by Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett) who insist on smiling through it all:
Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence): "Are we not being clear? We're trying to tell you that the entire planet is about to be destroyed!"
Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchette): "Well, that's something we do around here. We keep the bad news light."
Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry): "Right, it helps the medicine go down."
Smith asked, "From where you sit, is that accurate?"
"Yeah," said DiCaprio.
Streep replied, "But here we are. We're, you know, we all get fluffed up and we come on and we're talking about our movie and we're on TV. And, you know, he shaved. And yes, we try to give the people something, you know, something to lift them. And I think it's accurate about everybody's very human desire not to look at the bad thing."
"I totally agree," DiCaprio added. "I think it, you know, again, talking about climate, I've talked about it a lot. And you can kind of see people's eyes glaze over."
"Can one movie make a difference?"
"Hopefully," DiCaprio replied. "But at this point, I'm Debbie Downer with the system. So, you're asking the wrong guy. To me, it's about a little less, you know, conversation, and a lot more action."
Adam McKay isn't the first filmmaker to use comedy as a way to get a serious message across. He's just hoping he won't be one of the last. "We can overcome this," he said. "But what's scaring me now is, it's really getting to be down to the last second. So, hopefully this movie is something where we get a lotta laughs, but we also get a kick in the pants."
To watch a trailer for "Don't Look Up" click on the video player below:
For more info:
- "Don't Look Up" opens in select theaters December 10 and streams on Netflix beginning December 24
Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine.
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