‘Don’t Look Up’: How Adam McKay made this Movie

In an interview with THR, McKay discusses his A-list cast, shooting during the height of the pandemic, and casting the hardest character.

Adam McKay returned to his isolated lake house in Ireland to write a draft for a film project he’d been thinking about for a few years: a film about the ongoing climate crisis.

“David commented on how [the climate crisis was like] an asteroid [about] to hit the planet and no one cares — and it was perfect”, McKay tells THR. “I liked it because it could be funny too, and it’s a big, clear idea that a lot of people can enter. That was it”.

He had a script for Don’t Look Up in just three weeks. Everything began to move quickly once producer Kevin Messick, a frequent collaborator of McKay’s, and associate producer Staci Roberts Steele read the script. Jennifer Lawrence received the script from McKay, who had written the character of astronomy postdoc Kate Dibiasky for her.

“I’m a huge fan of Adam McKay”, Lawrence tells THR. “I’ve always wanted to work with him … so to hear he was thinking about me when he wrote the part was unbelievable”.

The Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays astronomer Dr Randall Mindy, entered the scene in late January 2020 when McKay began meeting with him at his home in Los Angeles.

“I had been wanting to do a film about this subject for God knows how long”, DiCaprio said at a post-screening Q&A hosted by THR’s Scott Feinberg on Nov. 17, “but to build urgency with the story of the climate disaster is something that’s next to impossible”.

Adam’s use of the analogy of a comet striking planet Earth in a limited amount of time, and how we become distracted and focus on other things instead of doing the task at hand, was brilliant. I realised I needed to be a part of this”.

McKay had a first-look deal with Paramount Pictures, but the studio passed on the concept because the budget was too low for him to make a film like this, according to McKay.

According to McKay, the lack of COVID-19 testing options made the start of production difficult; at the time, quick tests were unavailable. The cast and crew were separated, the set was divided into zones, and everyone was required to wear masks as COVID monitors walked the set. The producers believed they could carry off a shot after PCR testing became accessible, according to McKay.

“The huge key was Netflix’s willingness to guarantee the safety of filming because none of us was going to show up unless we knew we’d be safe”, McKay adds. “They went above and beyond to make such a secure setting”. We had zero negatives in the red zone the entire period, which was incredible given there was no vaccination at the time”.

The finished movie, which hits limited theatres on Dec. 10 before its Netflix debut on Dec. 24, is a serious story wrapped in a satire – exactly what DiCaprio hoped for. It’s the artist’s job, and when I read the screenplay for the first time, I thought that was awesome.

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