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Is Don't Look Up Based on a True Story?

Don't Look Up Isn't a True Story, but It's Inspired by These Real-Life Events

DON'T LOOK UP, from left: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, 2021. ph: Niko Tavernise  Netflix /Courtesy Everett Collection

The full-length trailer for Oscar-winning writer-director Adam McKay's star-studded movie Don't Look Up dropped on Nov. 16, and it has the audience abuzz with its out-of-this-world premise! Billed as a satirical, sci-fi dark comedy, the movie centres on two low-level astronomers (played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) who discover an asteroid hurtling toward Earth that could wipe out humanity. When faced with ridicule and indifferent response from the White House, they go on a media tour to warn humankind of the impending apocalypse.

While the story behind Don't Look Up is not based on reality, it is a highly dramatised, satirical version of real-life current events. Read ahead to find out what inspired McKay to bring forth the story of Don't Look Up.

What Real-Life Events Inspired Don't Look Up?

Inspiration comes knocking in the strangest of ways. That seems to be the case for McKay, who cowrote the screenplay with David Sirota before the COVID-19 pandemic took over our lives, but was understandably surprised when he realised the extent to which his once "unrealistic" script had come to life. While reflecting on whether he should move forward with the movie during the pandemic, he eventually decided to push the satire even further, highlighting the eye-opening and sometimes bizarre aspects of the US's political landscape and leaders.

"There was this moment where I realised it was all about how we've befouled, broken, profited, pornographicised our lines of communication, the way we actually talk to each other. 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," McKay explained during Deadline's Contenders Film: Los Angeles panel on 14 Nov. "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.'"

What Fictional Movie Inspired Don't Look Up?

In a conversation with The New York Times, McKay revealed a scene from the 1975 action-thriller Jaws initiated his vision for Don't Look Up. "It's not the most high-concept, bizarre idea — the idea of a disaster movie in which people don't necessarily believe that the disaster is coming. It goes back to the trope of the mayor from Jaws: 'Love to prove that, wouldn't you? Get your name into the National Geographic?'"

Who Inspired Meryl Streep's Character in Don't Look Up?

The president in Don't Look up, portrayed by Meryl Streep, is a perfect concoction of several recent commanders in chief. McKay summed up how he finally landed on this version of the character, saying, "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 (is) awfully smooth and cosy with big money. And then, of course, Trump's run-amok narcissism."

While Streep's president may be redolent of several real-life personas, she fleshed out the character with her trademark creative brilliance. She presented a version to McKay that felt like a breath of fresh air, all while encapsulating his original vision. When describing Streep's character to her, McKay trusted her to bring something new to the table, telling Deadline, "Meryl came back with like seven brilliant ideas — my favourite 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 will screen in select theatres starting Dec. 10 before it hits Netflix on Dec. 24.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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