There won't be any comedy arriving in theaters this summer boasting a higher concept than "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World." The story begins with a few weeks left to go before life on planet Earth is wiped out by an asteroid, and follows an unlikely pair — Dodge and Penny — as they head out on a road trip, so he can reunite with his high school sweetheart. But while comedies generally don't come in this kind of packaging, writer and director Lorene Scafaria rounded up one helluva cast to help her tell the tale.
Steve Carell and Keira Knightley take the two lead roles in the film, with a supporting crew including Patton Oswalt, Adam Brody, Derek Luke, Rob Corddry, Melanie Lynskey, TJ Miller, Connie Britton and more all lending their talents to this apocalyptic rom-com. Earlier this spring, we had the chance to chat with Scafaria about the film, and she happily shared the wide range of influences on the film, her thoughts on the rise of female-led comedies in Hollywood, what excited her about the premise and more. "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World" opens this Friday, read on below….
Patton Oswalt was a big fan of the script before he was cast, but hearing it out loud reassured Lorene Scarfaria that she had a winner
'Seeking A Friend' marks Scafaria's directorial debut, and you might be wondering how she managed to snag both Carell and Knightley to star in the movie. Well, having a strong script certainly helps. "I thought it was one of the best scripts I've read," Knightley told us at the beginning of the year. While just prior to SXSW, Oswalt enthused, "…the script was so fucking good!" adding that he was given it to read by a friend before he was even was even up for a role. As for Scafaria, it was once she heard the script out loud, that she realized she had something special on the page.
"We had done a table read of it a few months before sort of sending it out for casting and I think once we heard it out loud we could tell it was a real movie and would have the potential to get a good cast going, but I never imagined getting people like Patton Oswalt to do basically a cameo, or Keira Knightley to be interested," she said, when we shared with her what they told us. "I still always pictured it like such a small film that it was beyond my wildest dreams to get people like that. But, I think I just knew it was at least high concept enough where it felt like a film — that separates it from most things that I write. So the idea that it was high concept enough and sort of hopefully covered themes that people might be interested in definitely got me going and you know we had great producers and a great studio already lined up and everything so it really was sort of hearing it out loud. It took hearing it out loud to feel like we really had something there."
The high concept still provided lots of room to develop and explore deeper themes
While some writers might find themselves constricted by such a precise premise, for Scafaria, there were many elements at play that she found interesting and was eager to explore. "I love that there's a really loud ticking clock, and I was most excited about telling a story about two people meeting under those kinds of circumstances. I sort of liked it as a metaphor for what it's like when people break up or go through a divorce or something like that and you're sort of in that place where you're like, 'I never want to get to know someone else, I never want to hear about somebody’s family' and all of that," she explained. "…falling in love and finding someone and spending time with important people and cultivating relationships is always most important to me. If you strip everything else away that has always rung true and I just thought what if you really don't have somebody and there's three weeks left. I mean are you going in search of someone or chasing the past? I assume someone would do that, and if not, the idea of meeting someone new seems so impossible in the same way that divorce or a break up would do to you."
"I just loved exploring the idea of what would happen to humanity on a very small level. How does it affect relationships and I've been very close to death and experiencing things like that, so it's just always fascinating to me…you can't believe who's sitting next to you when the big one hits, you know? It's sort of hard to believe who's there for you in those times and sometimes it is a stranger, sometimes it is someone you'd least expect, and I think there's something beautiful in that. But there almost always is going to be someone there but it may not be exactly who you thought," she continued. "Certainly for me, I've always been bizarrely surprised like, 'Really? This person's failing me right now and this person's coming through?' It's always fascinating."
The unlikely influence of "Life Is Beautiful"
Being a film that touches on both apocalypse and relationships, perhaps it's not a surprise that Scafaria drew on a wide range of influences as she was penning the film. "There's a film called 'Happy Accidents' that nobody's ever seen that has this high concept time travel thing through it, it's a dark romantic comedy and I sort of love that idea. 'Defending Your Life' was another one that was huge for me, I just love that film so much," she said. "There's a Swedish film called 'Songs from the Second Floor' that was pretty inspiring. And there's this Paul Auster novel that I love, 'In the Country of Last Things' and so I took from that a lot for concept, but I'd say comedically, I mean even movies like 'Annie Hall' or 'Manhattan.' It's not like they end happily ever after, you know what I mean? And yet there's something so relatable and sweet and uplifting about that."
However, the most unlikely inspiration was from a film that Scafaria had Carell and Knightley watch to get a better idea of the kind of balance she was trying to achieve. "I gave them 'Life is Beautiful' to watch because that to me is sort of magic realism and what could be darker than the Holocaust and what could be more uplifting than a father just trying to get his son through something? So that film to me was a huge inspiration in terms of wow, how did Roberto Benigni capture that? How was he able to do that? And move so smoothly, I thought, from this romantic world that it starts in with him and his woman and then it turns into this whole world and now you're here and it's the same character in that environment. So how does that person handle it? So I just loved that."
Lorene Scafaria is thrilled that female comedies and stories are back on the map, but hopes it's not just a passing fad
With a certain ensemble comedy last summer doing huge numbers and riding its way through the awards season too, and a certain recent HBO show receiving equal acclaim, many are calling it the renaissance of the female-driven comedy. And while Scafaria is thrilled to see her colleagues succeed, she hopes that the moment isn't just that and marks a new understanding about material conceived by and for women.
"…I do think it's having a moment. It's a shame that it's a genre. It's a shame that female anything is so unique that it's a genre and 'Bridesmaids' is an amazing example of that obviously because it's such a good script. But it’s become that anything you pitch has to be 'Bridesmaids' meets something, you know? If it has a girl in it you can say 'Bridesmaids' now because there's been something that's been proven to work that's relatable and good, but I do think it's a sham that it's a genre at this point. The same way that you go see comedy and they couldn't possibly book more then one female comedian without it being female comic night. And so that is sort of strange to me and yet I'll take it," Scafaria said. " 'The New Girl' and 'Girls' getting all of this attention, I guess why I'm excited is, I think it's great that female writers and directors are getting more attention and opportunities or whatever it might be. But the real problem all of these years has been that female stories don't get that attention."
"But it takes someone like Lena Dunham who has such a voice, also. It's these unique voices that seem to get through one way or another," she added. "Someone like her, so young and amazing and to be able to tell a story about a girl that is so unique and yet every moment is very relatable. I hope that it stays that way and doesn’t just seem like a fad. Like 'the year of the girl' — I feel like every five or six years people say it's the year of the girl and I wish we could get a whole decade sometime."