If there ever was a life-or-death need to pick a Hollywood it-girl to define the 2010s, Jennifer Lawrence would surely be the one chosen to save our hides. She started the decade with the star-making Winter’s Bone, the rural mystery that marked only her third feature film appearance, nabbing a Best Actress Oscar nomination in the process. 2011 and 2012 came and it felt like Lawrence was everywhere, across blockbusters like X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games, along with Silver Linings Playbook, for which she finally (“finally” meaning five years into a film acting career) won the Academy Award.
“As ridiculous as a lot of this stuff seemed, we were seeing a lot of this play out in real time,” DiCaprio said. “As COVID was hitting, as the Capitol was being stormed, our art was imitating real life.”
Currently playing in theaters and set to hit Netflix on Dec. 24, “Don’t Look Up” stars Lawrence and DiCaprio — along with a panoply of stars, including Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry — as a pair of obscure astronomers who discover that a comet is on track to destroy the Earth in just six months. Overwhelmed by the enormity of what they’ve learned, the two set out to warn a world that really isn’t equipped to handle such bad news.
Recently, Lawrence was in the comedy No Hard Feelings. See where all her films land as we’re looking back on all Jennifer Lawrence movies ranked by Tomatometer! —Alex Vo
DiCaprio: Well, that’s what I loved about the ending, because I felt like that’s ultimately how I would respond. We’re a communal species, and I would want to be around people I love and ignore the impending Armageddon. That dinner table scene is really what clinched it for me.
McKay: Each of these guys had their own responsibility for the tone. Kate Dibiasky was going to be the unerring truth — she’s the root note of the movie, the one who never bends. And Leo’s character, Dr. Mindy, was going to be more the incrementalist, the neoliberal who was going to try and stay in the room. So each of these guys were harmonizing, and we were just hoping and praying that when we got into that edit room, all these ingredients would come together.
I was talking to a friend of mine — journalist David Sirota, who is also a speechwriter for Bernie Sanders — about how tepid and anemic a lot of the mainstream media’s coverage of the climate crisis is. He said, “Yeah, it’s like an asteroid is going to hit Earth and no one cares.”
McKay: I would immediately get like a 2,200-calorie cheese steak with cheese fries and a cherry Wishniak. Then after that, I would start crying a lot, reestablishing faith, and then eventually, I would wind myself back to the ending of our movie: get with my loved ones and friends, put a big table in our backyard and just hold hands and pray and laugh.
McKay: I’d been trying to find a way to crack the story of the climate crisis and I’d written a bunch of different treatments. Some were “Twilight Zone”-type thrillers, some were character pieces. But none of them felt like they fully landed with that big open door you need for an idea like this.
DiCaprio: There was really no rehearsal process because of COVID, so to watch the relationship between Meryl and Jonah’s characters develop in front of us was kind of amazing to witness. This sexual tension starts, they’re laughing at people that are suffering, their arrogance, the flippant attitude about the science that we’re trying to portray — all of it was happening right before our very eyes.
Lawrence: I’m sure I can say this on behalf of pretty much everybody: It’s extremely frustrating to be a citizen that believes in climate change and is scared, but I’m not a part of it — you know, I can’t buy a senator — so we’re just kind of helpless. And finally, this came along and it was just funny and urgent. And I’ve wanted to work with Adam for as long as I can remember. So it was extremely exciting to sign on to it.
DiCaprio: The end of this movie gets really dark, and had it not had that tonal shift, I don’t think we would have been as excited as we were to do it. You can never tell what a movie is going to do culturally, but the end of this film is really a smack in the face.
What I loved about the idea was that it’s a reference to a lot of narratives that we already know; we’re very comfortable with end-of-the-world movies and how they always wrap up in a nifty bow. But most of all, it made me laugh. It’s sort of a Clark Kent-level disguised allegory for the climate crisis. Right away, I thought, “Wow, that could be funny and disturbing” — which is kind of how I feel about the climate crisis. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we don’t address it to a degree where it’s almost funny and at the same time wildly upsetting.
DiCaprio: I’ve been looking for a film about the climate crisis for decades now but none of them, from a narrative perspective, could create that sense of urgency. As many documentaries as I had done trying to explain the science of climate change, there is a level of inaction; people feel it’s too big of an issue for them to take on.
The cast is so packed wall-to-wall with big stars, it’s almost like one of those 1970s disaster movies like “The Towering Inferno” or “The Poseidon Adventure.” Adam, were you envisioning that kind of all-star cast from the start?
The Times spoke with McKay, DiCaprio and Lawrence about turning climate change, toxic political polarization and anti-science conspiracy theories into fodder for comedy — and, they hope, a bracing wake-up call for audiences to look up before it’s too late.
Sequels and franchising were the name of the game in the 2010s, so of course she stuck around as Mystique in every X-Men sequel, all the way to the bitter end with Dark Phoenix. Likewise, Hunger Games completed its dystopic story with Lawrence in the lead. In-between, she collaborated twice more Playbook director David O. Russell (Joy, American Hustle), worked with 2010s it-dude Chris Pratt (Passengers), and released against-type material like mother! and Red Sparrow.
Jen and Leo, what was it like shooting the scenes in the Oval Office with Meryl as the president and Jonah Hill as her chief-of-staff son, where they’re not taking your characters’ warnings of impending doom seriously? Was there much improvising?
McKay: No. I wrote the role of Kate Dibiasky for Ms. Lawrence here, and I wrote Teddy Oglethorpe for Rob Morgan, who I’d worked with on our [upcoming] HBO Lakers show. Then, like every delusional director on planet Earth, when you write a character like President Orlean, you think, “Let’s go to Meryl Streep” — and lo and behold, she said yes. Then Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry came on board.