“The crazy thing is that she does DJ sets at the ESPN Zone in Times Square three nights a week,” says the Big Short filmmaker to an amused DiCaprio, who is sitting between McKay and his pregnant Don’t Look Up costar Jennifer Lawrence.
“What I respect is that she still uses decks,” adds Jonah Hill, joining in the improvisational fun. “She’s digging in the crates. She mashed-up AC/DC and Ludacris!”
Streep herself is also present and breaks off chatting with Tyler Perry (hey, we told you this panel was star-studded!) to tongue-in-cheekedly growl her response to this entertaining nonsense.
“I know a lot more about DJ-ing than you people think!” says the triple Oscar-winner.
The ease with which these panelists riff with each other is a holdover from the making of the film, which McKay directed with his usual improv-encouraging style, and the bonds they formed during its production in the pre-vaccine pandemic. As McKay says, “This was a movie like no other movie I’ve ever been involved in. I actually get moved about how we all rallied together.”
In the filmmaker’s climate change-inspired allegorical tale (in theaters now and on Netflix Dec. 24), DiCaprio and Lawrence play a pair of astronomers attempting to warn the world that a killer comet is about to wipe out humanity. Those turning mostly deaf ears to the pair’s dire predictions include a tramp-stamped U.S. president (Streep), her chief of staff (Hill) — who also happens to be her son — and a pair of glib morning-show anchors (Perry, Cate Blanchett). The cast also features Timothée Chalamet, Mark Rylance, Rob Morgan, and Ariana Grande, playing a pop star whose relationship with Kid Cudi’s rapper deflects public attention away from imminent armageddon.
“The way to reach people is to open their hearts, and the way to do that is with a joke,” says Streep. If that’s true, then the reach of this gathering should prove extensive, given that Streep, DiCaprio, Lawrence, Perry, Hill, and moderator McKay have come to preach, play and, in the case of Hill, set off a fart machine he has placed under the table in front of his friend DiCaprio. (Hill explained the digital prank equipment was a wrap gift from Julia Louis-Dreyfus after another recent project, then told Jimmy Fallon he was asked, via McKay, to let the joke die.)
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of the conversation that ensued; watch the video below for a longer, occasionally both more sincere and ridiculous discussion.
ADAM MCKAY: This movie came from my terror about the climate crisis and the fact that we live in a society that tends to place it as the fourth or fifth news story, or even deny that it’s happening, and how horrifying that is, but at the same time [how] preposterously funny. Jen, you were the first person to read it other than my wife and the producer. What did you think?
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: I’m so happy I didn’t know that at the time. The pressure would have been overwhelming. I was blown away. I wasn’t surprised, because it’s you, but it’s so rare to see just an absolute slam dunk. There’s just every single reason in the world to do it.
MCKAY: Leo and I had three or four meetings and it was so great. Leo’s really sharp when it comes to the science of this.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: I loved the set-up with the two people that are put in charge of articulating science to the world and everyone not taking them seriously. I remember meeting so many of these climate scientists and the feeling of frustration they consistently had with trying to articulate what 99.9 percent of the scientific community has been stating for decades now and not seeing action.
STREEP: I was hoping someone would pay attention to this very issue. When I saw [the film], it just killed me. I knew what was coming but I didn’t know it would make me think: Meryl, you’ve got to change your life.
MCKAY: Tyler, you and Cate Blanchett, when you got on set, you had to have chemistry like you’d been working together for a decade. Two minutes into them talking, it was just there. Can you talk about that?
PERRY: I found myself saying, just stop watching her, be the character, because Cate is so phenomenal. She stole a few of my ad-libs, but it was all good. I have a question for you, though. This was before the pandemic you wrote this? How does that feel?
MCKAY: One of the strangest things was scouting this movie in Boston, and they say, “You’re shut down, because of a pandemic,” and then to go home for five months, and to see exact beats of the movie playing out. I never expected there to be people that would deny that COVID existed. You’ve got to admit it was crazy when the President said ingest bleach on national TV. I just felt that went so far beyond any comedy we had in our script. So it was bizarre.
HILL: Sometimes the best ideas sound crazy, Adam, but that one worked. [General laughter]
DICAPRIO: What you captured in the film is the level of distraction that we all have. In an era when there is a complete understanding by the world’s community of what needs to happen, we’re just preoccupying our time with clickbait. There’s a hundred companies in the world that are producing seventy percent of the world’s emissions. I mean, this needs to be on the forefront of everyone’s mind.
HILL: What’s a step [people] can take?
DICAPRIO: The number one thing they could do is vote for people who take the climate crisis seriously, that want to take action. That’s the number one thing people can do.
MCKAY: America has one political party that denies climate change and it should be disqualifying. If you are saying that doesn’t exist, you are empirically wrong — you’ve clearly been bought by big-fossil fuel money.
HILL: You guys are so smart on this stuff and when I hear you talking about it, I kind of check out, because it’s a lot.
STREEP: I feel that from you.
HILL: Well, not you, Meryl.
MCKAY: I just checked out on what you said. Let me ask you guys [about] the process of shooting this movie during the pandemic. Tyler had the plan on how to act during a quarantine: just [living on] your bus that you drove up [from Atlanta]. The way you handled it was so smart because you never had to break quarantine.
PERRY: Not so much. Twelve days on a bus and not being able to go to the gym and eating Philly cheesesteaks was not a good thing when you have to show up on camera every day.
DICAPRIO: Sounds like my dream life!
PERRY: I couldn’t go out in the daytime, all these neighbors were coming by to say, “Who’s on the bus?” They thought it was Kid Cudi.
MCKAY: Meryl, how was it for you?
STREEP: I found it really hard. I didn’t feel funny in the lockdown. When I would come in to shoot my stuff, [I’d] get out of the car and hadn’t spoken to anybody in three weeks. [I’d] walk into the stadium in Worcester, put on the wig and the nails and the suit, and make a speech to all these people. I just lost it. I forgot how to act, I forgot what I was about. It sort of dismantles your humanity, to be isolated like that. But thank god for Jonah, because he kept us laughing [Streep is informed by EW’s audio engineer that her microphone has fallen off dress]
HILL: Dude, you interrupted the part where she was saying I was sick! What the f—?
MCKAY: Alright, Meryl, pick it up from saying, “Jonah was a joy who brought us all together.”
STREEP: Jonah was a f—ing nightmare and ruined everything of mine and if I work again, it’s a miracle.
HILL: [Laughs] I had so much fun. Once we were in that Oval Office it was so cool, because it was a bunch of people I either know really well and/or deeply respect. It was like, oh, my God, we can joke around together. Meryl was so rad, not because of your stature in your art, but because of how fun and funny you were in the pocket of this character. [There’s] that one bit that’s not in the movie, where we start laughing so hard about Jennifer crying and that’s our inside joke.
MCKAY: The other one was the amount of phone calls that Meryl improvised at the beginning of the Oval Office scene.
DICAPRIO: That was incredible.
MCKAY: I was like, “Have you studied improv?” She was like, “Ah, no, no.” She was so humble about it. [We spent] two straight days on those phone calls. It was crazy.
STREEP: It was really fun, but the other thing is, it’s not in the movie, so f— you. [Laughs]
MCKAY: The funniest thing was, Leo has these two rescue Huskies that are just absolute tornadoes.
HILL: Like the Joker, they thrive in chaos.
MCKAY: Jonah would send me pictures of your ripped-apart couch.
STREEP: This was a rental?
HILL: He had to buy a new couch.
MCKAY: You’ve got to tell the frozen-lake story.
HILL: Basically they both fell in a frozen lake.
DICAPRIO: Yeah and then I went [in]. I didn’t understand what you do at a frozen lake.
LAWRENCE: One of the dogs fell in and he jumped in the frozen lake to save the dog and as soon as he pushed the one dog out of the pond the other one jumped in.
DICAPRIO: We all were in the frozen lake together.
LAWRENCE: And I’m sure you guys are all wondering, I was too, he immediately got naked in the car.
MCKAY: The movie obviously deals with the impending end of the world. If you have one day left, if the world has one day left [what would you do]?
LAWRENCE: I’d get on my phone.
MCKAY: Go on TikTok? Look at farm animals?
LAWRENCE: Yeah. Um, God, I don’t know. I mean, I guess I would do things that I’ve always been curious about, like pushing somebody onto the subway tracks.
HILL: Jen’s all involve murder.
LAWRENCE: Yeah, I would do the Purge. And then cuddle up to my loving family.
HILL: I would surf, I would hang with my girlfriend and my dog and my nephews and my sisters. Just be around the people you love and laugh with and also, like, don’t take everything so seriously. I do want to say you made a brilliant movie and I’m honored to be a part of it.
HILL: The craziest thing you did is, you made a tonal masterpiece — that is the hardest thing in the world to do, something with this tone, and I think you killed it, bro.
MCKAY: I love you guys so much and you were all so amazing.
PERRY: Congratulations. It’s really awesome. Congratulations.
Motion direction and photography by Pari Dukovic for EW; DP: Alberto Mojica; Production: Maya Robinson; VFX: Wove; Post-production: Good Company and Ethan Bellows; Design: Chuck Kerr; DiCaprio grooming: Kara Bua; Streep grooming: Roy Helland; Lawrence stylist: Kate Young; Hair: Jenny Cho; Makeup: Fulvia Farolfi. Perry/Hill/McKay photo by Victor Llorente for EW.