When crafting this wildly satirical yet all-too-close-too-reality film Don’t Look Up, writer-director Adam McKay admits that the unpredictable and seemingly over-the-top events of recent years convinced him he had to go even bigger to achieve his comedic ends.
“I swear on all the holy books on the planet Earth that I wrote this before Covid, and it was one of those strangest experiences I’ve ever had,” McKay explained Sunday on a panel for Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles panel at the DGA Theater. “The strangest thing about this movie was writing it, casting it and then seeing a lot of the elements come true, and then wondering: do you even make the movie?”
Reflecting on his script during pandemic downtime before shooting, “there was this moment where I realized it was all about how we’ve befouled, broken, profitized, pornographicized our lines of communication, the way we actually talk to each other,” McKay said. “That was the moment where I was like, Oh, we definitely have to make that and I wrote all the cast and they were all like, ‘Oh, yeah – Now more than ever.’ ”
The filmmaker recalled how stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who play astronomers who’ve spotted an asteroid hurtling toward earth urgently trying to wake indifferent irresponsible leaders to acknowledge the catastrophic consequences to come, immediately recognized that outrageous real-world events necessitated they up the ante, no matter which side of the political aisle people stand.
“Regardless of how you voted, I think we all have to admit seeing the President of the United States float the idea of ingesting bleach to deal with a medical emergency is an unusual situation,” he said. “When that happened, I right away texted my producer, Kevin Messick, and texted Leo and Jen was like, Okay, we’re gonna make this a little crazier.’”
Likening his intentions to achieving a satirical tone even less straight faced than films like Network, Wag the Dog and Ace In the Hole, McKay said he couldn’t simply resort to parodying Donald Trump in the film’s president, played by Meryl Streep. Instead, he borrowed a bit from several recent commanders in chief.
“My god, man, we have had a run of terrible leaders!” he laughed. “So if you do just do Donald Trump, it doesn’t work because Donald Trump doesn’t adhere to a narrative. And the comparison I’ve made is it’s like Brick Tamlyn from Anchorman that you just have this wandering, free-floating ghost from the old Pac Man video game, so that doesn’t work.
“But then I started thinking about all the presidents that we’ve had, and I was like, ‘Holy crap, it has been a murderer’s row of louts and rollovers and suck-ups,’” he added. “I took a little bit from each, so you have kind of the performative empty suit of Reagan.
“You have the used car salesman of Bill Clinton…and you have the dangerously underqualified George W Bush. And then you have – I voted for him, but like let’s face it, Barack Obama awfully smooth and cozy with big money. And then of course, Trump’s run-amok narcissism.”
Of course, McKay could rely on Streep to add her own distinctive spin to the role. “When I first talked to Meryl I just said ‘Put all of that in a pot with some chopped onions and some olive oil and stir it around and for about six, seven hours just make sure the pot doesn’t boil,’” he added. “And then of course, Meryl came back with like seven brilliant ideas – my favorite was the idea that she has hair like a 25-year-old, which when she first told me I was like, ‘That’s crazy!’ But I was like, ‘I’m going to trust Meryl Streep.’ And so when she put the wig on, I was like, ‘Yep, that’s perfect.’”
Don’t Look Up tells the story of two low-level astronomers (Lawrence and DiCaprio) who must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy Earth. The cast also includes Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Melanie Lynskey, Gina Gershon, Ron Perlman, Matthew Perry, Ariana Grande, Tyler Perry, Michael Chiklis, Himesh Patel, Kid Cudi and more.
Netflix opens the film December 10 in theaters and starts streaming it two weeks later on Christmas Eve.
Check out the panel video above.
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