Stars open up about making doomed-Earth comedy ‘Don’t Look Up’
In a Zoom call earlier this month, the actors gave their take on the serious messages and not-so-serious characters in Adam McKay’s latest film
“Maybe the destruction of the entire planet isn’t supposed to be fun,” yells Jennifer Lawrence, who plays astronomy PhD student Kate Dibiasky, who discovers a comet on a crash course with Earth in Adam McKay’s new doomed-Earth, flat-joke comedy, Don’t Look Up.
“Maybe it’s supposed to be terrifying and unsettling and you should stay up all night, every night, crying,” she adds, in the newsroom scene with Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett — who both do a brilliant job of playing the overly made-up, superficial and plastic hosts of an American morning news show, The Daily Rip.
The creator of social commentary comedies such as The Big Short, about the 2007 housing market crash, and Vice, a darkly comic biopic of former US vice-president Dick Cheney, McKay enlists a star-studded Hollywood cast to make his latest film, which is essentially about how politics and the media encourage people to disregard what could be potentially disastrous (read: global warming) for them.
But the film is not about global warming. It’s about two astronomers trying to convince the world of its imminent demise when the powers that be, such as the president — an ex nude pin-up played by Meryl Streep, and her creepy son and press aide, played by Jonah Hill — are clearly only in the game for their own selfish objectives.
Though the humour is pretty raw, the message more like a baseball bat than a sharp arrow, and the acting over-the-top satirical, McKay does get a few barbs in about how politicians are immoral narcissists; the news cycle is meaningless and forgettable; we’ve become stupefied by social media; and we’re all, in fact, just lemmings being led off a cliff.
In a Zoom call earlier this month, the cast shared their experience of making the film:
How do you hope that this movie changes the public’s perception of science and the people who practise science?
Leonardo DiCaprio: Adam wrote this film about the climate crisis, but created a sense of urgency by making it about a comet that’s gonna hit Earth in six months’ time to show how science has become politicised. I was thankful to play a character who’s based on so many of the people I’ve met from the scientific community. In particular, climate scientists who’ve been trying to communicate the urgency of this issue, but feeling like they’re subjected to the last page in the newspaper.
I love the way he portrayed the two astronomers: one that’s outspoken, like a Greta Thunberg in Jen’s [Lawrence], and mine, who’s trying to play within the system.
‘Don’t Look Up’ is based on real events that haven’t happened — yet.
Jen, what do you think about PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky?
Jennifer Lawrence: It’s sad and frustrating to watch people who’ve dedicated their lives to learning the truth, to be turned away because people don’t like to hear the truth.
How do you pull off talking about such a serious, real-life issue, through the lens of comedy?
Adam McKay: The climate crisis is arguably the greatest threat to life in the history of mankind, and so it’s overwhelming. But if you’re able to laugh, you get some distance. That’s important. You can feel urgency, sadness and loss, while also having a sense of humour. Laugh or cry, I suppose.
Who was the inspiration for your character, Meryl?
Meryl Streep: There are many preposterous people who’ve put themselves in public places recently. It was fun to put together this character that was pure id — just what her appetite wanted. She’s about amassing power, money, more power and more money, and that’s pretty much all — oh, and nice hair and nails.
Leo’s [DiCaprio] character says: ‘Not everything has to be positive all the time.’ Is this a criticism of our way of life, the way media colours things?
Adam McKay: There’s so much money behind the media, with advertising and clicks and apps, that there has to be engagement happening — people have to have a hot take or be clever. We monetise the way we speak to each other through social media, through phones, commercials, shows ...
If there were a comet heading our way, what would you do with your last day on Earth?
Scott Mescudi (who plays DJ Chello): I’d try to get to my daughter.
Tyler Perry: I’d sit around the table with people I love and have some wine, a great meal — and give everybody cyanide right before it happens.
Jonah Hill: I would tweet ... make sure people knew the cool thoughts that I had ... opinions on stuff like movies and stars ... how they live their lives, what they look like, who they’re dating and stuff.