Adam McKay encourages his actors to improvise during filming, but that’s quite a time-consuming process when the scene in question features three Oscar winners and one of the most beloved comedians working today (who also happens to be a two-time Oscar nominee). A set piece featured in McKay’s star-studded Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up” is set in the Oval Office at the White House and features Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence’s astronomer characters consulting Meryl Streep’s president and Jonah Hill’s chief of staff. Also involved is Rob Morgan’s NASA executive. With so much talent and so much improvisation, McKay filmed this one set piece for two whole days.
“That group of people could not have been happier to be in that fake Oval Office, doing that scene,” McKay told Deadline. “Laughing, improvising. They almost were a little intimidated by Meryl Streep because she’s arguably the greatest film actor ever, and we discover she’s just a delight with this big generous laugh, who can improvise all day long. Jonah Hill is one of the great film improvisers, and that was inspiring to Jen and Leo to throw stuff in, and Rob Morgan too.”
McKay continued, “We shot that scene for two days and the first cut was 16 minutes long and I never got tired of watching it. The problem was, you can’t have a scene start off a movie that’s 16 minutes long, where basically nothing happens. Hank Corwin is one of the great film editors, and he turned it into a Fred Astaire dance piece. I showed the first cut to people, that 16 minutes of the greatest actors, edited by one of the great editors and everyone felt you could have watched it for another five minutes, but we had to whittle it down for the final cut.”
DiCaprio loved the chance to improv on set, which isn’t always the case on his films. “Adam gave us an interesting opportunity to try anything,” the actor told Netflix. “And so, right off the bat, Jen and I really developed our characters on camera. It was done through a lot of different improv. There were so many different actors who came in and were given free rein to really delve into their characters. It was incredible to work alongside such amazing talent.”
“Don’t Look Up” will start rolling out in theaters exclusively on December 10. The film’s streaming date is set for December 24 on Netflix