Entertainment

Leonardo DiCaprio's a 'huge nerd,' says Don't Look Up science adviser

Adam McKay, the writer and director behind The Big Short and Anchorman, and astronomer Amy Mainzer discuss their new Netflix film on CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence in Netflix's Don't Look Up.
Niko Tavernise/Netflix

This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

There are moments in the Netflix film Don't Look Up when the satirical story feels both ridiculous and too on the nose. Don't Look Up follows two astronomers, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who discover a comet on track to destroy Earth. Instead of being taken seriously by the president of the United States, played by Meryl Streep, the astronomers decide to share their news through a media tour, which doesn't go as expected.

Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Adam McKay, who was behind the films The Big Short, Anchorman, Vice and Step Brothers, Don't Look Up is both a reflection of society and a warning that our values are out of place. As I watched the film, I couldn't help but see the parallels to how our government, media and society handled the coronavirus pandemic. McKay, who was my guest on CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast, explained that he wrote Don't Look Up before the pandemic, and when the US went into lockdown, his film had to change.

"I went home for five or six months and just watched basically 60% of the movie come true. It was very strange. The only change I had to make was I had to make the script a little crazier," said McKay. "Once you have the actual president of the United States, regardless of who you voted for, float the idea of ingesting bleach during a nationally televised press conference, you're kind of past Talladega Nights. You're really closer to Step Brothers at that point."

The tone of the film straddles being wonderfully silly and optimistic and being filled with despair. McKay was inspired to write the film after reading a report on climate change. He pondered why the report wasn't bigger news.

Amy Mainzer -- an astronomer, professor and the principal investigator on NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (Neowise) -- helped McKay with many of the scientific aspects of Don't Look Up. Despite having a planet-killer-sized asteroid named after her, Mainzer recommended that McKay change the threat to Earth from an asteroid to a comet. She joined McKay on I'm So Obsessed and shared why she thought the characters in Don't Look Up would buy shovels and how that would lead to a shovel shortage.

"I remember when the great toilet paper crisis of 2020 unfolded, and I was like, 'yeah, shovels. Absolutely.' There's going to be a shovel shortage because, of course, people think they can dig tunnels and somehow that's going to protect you from a comet that's going to rip off a good chunk of the ground."

The cast of Don't Look Up includes Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Ariana Grande  and Timothée Chalamet. During my interview with McKay and Mainzer, we discussed what it was like having such big stars in the film. Both also described DiCaprio as nerdy when it came to the scientific aspects of the film. Mainzer said that in another life DiCaprio could have been a marine biologist.

Don't Look Up is in theaters starting Dec. 10 and will stream on Netflix starting Dec. 24. You can listen to my full interview with McKay and Mainzer in the podcast player at the top of this article. Subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Connie Guglielmo or I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about their work, career and current obsessions.