Leonardo DiCaprio And Adam McKay Discuss The Urgency And Humor In Don't Look Up

"It's 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."

That quote from Jennifer Lawrence at the recent "Don't Look Up" press conference encapsulates the last several years of what it's been like to live in a world in which science and facts have come under attack. Co-writer/director Adam McKay tackles that idea head-on in his star-studded new comedy, which features the Oscar-winning actress playing a PhD candidate who discovers a planet-killing comet headed straight for Earth. But when she and her colleague (an astronomy professor played by Leonardo DiCaprio) try to sound the alarm about the seriousness of the matter, the people in power don't want to hear it. It's an extremely obvious metaphor for the very real threat that climate change poses, and McKay was able to attract some of the biggest stars in the world to participate in the film. Here are a few of the best quotes from the press conference. 

Cracking the Code

DiCaprio, who is an outspoken activist and supporter of the environment through a foundation he started in the late 1990s, said a project like this was something he'd been actively seeking out for a long, long time:

"I've been looking for a movie that was about this subject for decades now ... this is an issue where everyone feels like, 'Well, what kind of difference can we make? What can we contribute to this cause?' And Adam really cracked the code with this narrative. There are so many comparisons we could make to the climate crisis with this storyline, and as a whole, I think it's probably the most important issue all of us could be talking about on a regular basis. It takes artists like this to change the narrative, to create conversation."

Despite the movie's intentions to generate meaningful conversations, it remains to be seen whether that will actually happen. The intentions are noble, but as we point out in our review, the execution leaves a lot to be desired, which could hamstring the movie's effectiveness in helping to move the needle on this issue. Still, DiCaprio considers this an "important" movie:

"Adam created this film, which was about the climate crisis, but he created a sense of urgency with it by making it about a comet that's going to hit Earth within eight months' time. And how science has become politicized – there's 'alternative facts.' 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, particularly climate scientists who have been trying to communicate the urgency of this issue and feeling like they're subjected to the last page on the newspaper. There's too many other things that we're inundated with. I love the way he portrayed these two different characters, one that is incredibly outspoken like a Greta Thunberg type of character [played by Jennifer Lawrence], and mine that is trying to play within the system. But I also love the way he was incredibly truthful about how we're so immensely distracted from the truth nowadays. And then of course, Covid hit and it was a whole new scientific argument going on there. It's just such an important film to be a part of at this particular time."

'Wouldn't It Be Nice to Laugh at Some of This?'

For years, Adam McKay has found himself on a path toward making movies which overtly address political and societal issues he feels need to be discussed. But with a subject so grim, he wanted to strike the right tone and approach this particular story from an angle he felt audiences might find more digestible:

"We wanted to deal with this subject, the climate crisis, which is so overwhelming and it's arguably the greatest threat to life in the history of mankind, and we just felt like, it can almost be like an animal attacking you – it can just be overwhelming. But if you're able to laugh, that means you can have some distance. I actually think that's really important. You can feel urgency and you can feel sadness and you can feel loss, while also having a sense of humor. That was really the intention with this movie after the crazy last five or ten years we've all had across the planet. 'God, wouldn't it be nice to laugh at some of this and feel the other feelings?' That was the approach. I think we get hit with thumping doomsday talk quite a bit – which, by the way, is totally legit when it comes to climate change. But I did think it was important that people be allowed to laugh and have some distance. It's also a great unifier. You can't really fake laughter. It's not a political thing. They've tried, but it never really works when you try to fake that."

At one point in the movie, DiCaprio's scientist character goes on a TV morning show hosted by two vapid idiots (played by Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry). They constantly try to keep the mood lighthearted and goofy, but DiCaprio flips out on the air, pointing out that not everything has to be charming or clever – sometimes things can actually be terrifying and scary. This was an idea McKay and co-writer David Sirota worked hard to crystallize and make sure they got right. As McKay explained:

"I do think there's this demand, because there's so much money behind the media with advertising and clicks and apps, that there has to be some engagement happening on some level, or people have to have a hot take, or be clever, and I love the way – we must have rewritten that speech 20 times and it's one of my favorite moments: 'Sometimes we just have to be able to say things to each other.' That seems to be the basic line that's been corrupted. We've profitized the very way we speak to each other through social media, through phones, commercials, shows. It's crazy to think about: They don't call it TV shows or songs, they call it 'content.' It's literally a word from a boardroom. That's how much we've profitized the way we talk to each other. So yeah, sometimes I feel like you do just have to be able to hear things. There has to be a neutral playing field occasionally that is not brightly lit with sound effects and great-looking people that have high focus group test numbers. That's one of my favorite moments in the movie for sure."

"Don't Look Up" arrives on Netflix on December 24, 2021.