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Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and director Adam McKay brought their new film Don’t Look Up to theaters for the first time this week, on Thursday night sitting down for a Q&A in Westwood to break down the story of two astronomers desperately trying to warn mankind of a planet-destroying comet.
The Netflix project is a not-so-secret allegory for climate change, with a more urgent message following the pandemic, as McKay told moderator Dave Karger. “The whole movie from the very beginning, when I talked to these guys about it, was trying to capture a moment that we’ve been living through for the past half decade or a decade, which I don’t even know how to define — somewhere in between the Jonestown flood and the final Price is Right showdown,” McKay said. “This strange mixture of irrational exuberance and total stark fear.”
DiCaprio, a longtime environmental activist, remembered McKay coming up to him after the star used his Oscar speech to make an impassioned plea for the climate, which marked the first real interaction between the two. When the Don’t Look Up script came around, “I had been looking for a film about the climate crisis, but from a narrative perspective, it’s next to impossible,” DiCaprio said, with the difficulty of creating a “sense of urgency and tension with an issue that evolves over a century.”
But he said McKay had “a stroke of genius” in telling the story through the angle of a comet set to destroy Earth in six months, and “how do we as a species, as a society, as a culture, politically, deal with imminent Armageddon.” And of course, there is the cast, featuring not only Lawrence and Streep but also Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry and Ariana Grande.
Streep plays the president of the United States, with Hill as her son (and chief of staff), in what she calls a “delicious” role to play as a scheming politician doubting the severity of what DiCaprio and Lawrence’s characters are telling her.
“I really got my rocks off, I have to say, about certain tropes of how women are supposed to be in public life and in the media and all those bright primary colors that everybody wears,” said Streep during the Q&A. The biggest challenge? “Working with Jonah Hill. I have a problem with corpsing — laughing, when people try to make you laugh in a scene and I don’t have any control.” Streep pointed to Lawrence as someone who was actually able to keep it together when Hill “went after you like a demon,” trying to make her break.
“We did have an entire day that was just spent of him improv-ing insults and that was the best day of my life,” Lawrence said, before quickly coming to Streep’s aid, calling her a “comedic genius.”
“I was like, ‘Bitch, you don’t have to do this. You don’t have to also be funny and also be writing your own dialogue,’ improv-ing, and look at her butt,” Lawrence teased. “It was like nonstop.”
McKay also spoke about his difficulty in getting the idea right, after having started on numerous past climate-crisis stories, from dramas to thrillers, before friend and journalist David Sirota told McKay three years ago that the lack of urgency surrounding the issue “is like the asteroid is going to hit Earth and no one cares.” “I was like, ‘That’s it!'” McKay said.
DiCaprio, who transforms into a nerdy Michigan professor for the role — one of “two scientists at the helm of having to articulate the end of the world to the general public, and simultaneously not being media savvy or slick or sexy in any,” as he jokingly turned to Lawrence with, “Well, you were kind of sexy; your haircut was awesome” — said the performance also mirrored “all of the frustration that I’ve felt” after conversations he’s had with environmentalists on how to articulate the urgency of climate change to the world.
To close out the night, Karger asked DiCaprio if he had any optimism about the climate crisis, particularly after working on the film, to which he responded, “Not much.”
Lawrence quickly jumped in, “You asked the wrong person, Leo is such a bummer with this stuff,” as DiCaprio admitted he’s “a Debbie Downer when it comes to this issue. I could go off for an hour,” though he hopes films like this will help fuel change.
“Right now, we have such a limited amount of time and there’s such a massive scale that needs to happen so quickly,” DiCaprio added. “And you know, if we don’t do something, we know the outcome.”
McKay also chimed in with the hope that “a small percentage of the audience re-orientates, and like, this needs to be the number one filter that we’re viewing the world through.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly interested in Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez being together. I’m actually not kidding about that — I really am, I wish them the best,” the writer-director continued. “But at the same time, we as homo-sapiens have never lived under an atmosphere like this. It’s never existed, there’s never been this much CO2 greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. And I think we’ve got to start to learn that we can do both, that we can make that the number one priority — who we vote for, what we talk about. Start to change our view of the world while at the same time still caring deeply about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. They can coexist,” before seeing DiCaprio’s highly skeptical face and adding, “he’s right, I’m fucking deranged.”
Don’t Look Up hits theaters Dec. 10 and starts streaming on Netflix Dec. 24.
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