Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Interview with the Cast
“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Lorene Scafaria (“Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”). In the film, the writer/director explores what people will do and how they will feel when humanity’s end is near. A 70-mile-wide asteroid is en route to Earth, and the last best attempt to counter it has failed; the breaking news is that the world will end in an estimated 21 days. Dodge (Steve Carell) has always played by the rules of life, while his neighbor Penny (Keira Knightley) is an extrovert who hasn’t. From these opposite perspectives, both initially choose to navigate the impending end of the world with blinders on. After a riot breaks out at their apartment building, Dodge promises to help Penny reach her family if she will provide transport for the two of them in her car immediately. On the road together, the unlikely traveling companions’ respective personal journeys accelerate, and their outlooks – if not the world’s – brighten. The film showcases an all-star cast including performances by Connie Britton, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, T.J. Miller, and Patton Oswalt.
Carell: I read the script and could not stop thinking about it. It haunted me, to an extent. It was funny, sweet, emotionally intense at times, and a story that I hadn’t seen. This is the flip side of “Armageddon;” there’s no president with a hot line to the astronauts who are going to blow up the asteroid. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is what’s happening while all of those things are going on; how ordinary human beings respond, and the choices they make when they know that everything is going to be over in a matter of days. Lorene delicately maneuvers the comedy and the subject matter together. What I think makes it very funny is the characters being put into a life-or-death situation so that they are stripped down to their essence – it’s really amusing when you see them trying to continue their lives under extraordinary circumstances.
Knightley: My agent sent me the script. I thought it was one of the most strangely optimistic pieces that I’d read, and I instantly said, “Yeah, I want to be a part of it.” It was one of the best scripts I’d seen in years – and so unique. I got on the phone with Lorene and we had a great chat for about an hour. I don’t think we even actually talked about the film. We talked about our mothers, and about family.
Carell: Initially, Dodge doesn’t want to deal with what’s happening; he continues to go to his job. But then he decides to come to terms with his impending demise and with the end of the world; he is going to make a pilgrimage, to visit his high-school sweetheart Olivia and try to reconnect with her. He’s always idealized her as the love of his life, and before it all ends, he wants to be with her. I think this, in a big way, is what our movie is about: people connecting with one another, or attempting to, when faced with something momentous. Your perspective changes.
Knightley: [In one scene] Penny has parked her car in a small space and can’t get it out easily, so I got to bash these other cars! I don’t know that Steve Carell enjoyed it so much, but I really did.
Carell: I’m not a big mayhem guy. Now, I do think it was highly cathartic for Keira, because she’s not much of a driver back in the U.K. and she readily admits that. Here was a good learning experience for her, actually feeling a car smashing into another car, giving her a sense memory of reality for that day when she does in fact start to drive.
Knightley: T.J. Miller and Gillian Jacobs are so funny – completely brilliant – in this crazy sequence.
Music to Bring to the End of the World
Knightley: Supertramp and Talking Heads. Also, if in fact the world were ending, I would get on the road to North Devon.
Carell: [I wouldn’t take] albums because my car lacks a turntable. My family would go to Disney World, with a steady stream of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez; what the kids are listening to these days – “What the kids are listening to these days?” I just sounded about 85 years old…I would eat a lot of junk food, but I wouldn’t steal it; I would purchase cupcakes and brownies. Chinese food and pizza, too.
Britton: would probably drive across the country and I would listen to every single kind of music, especially music from my childhood and Prince’s “1999,” even though he was off with the year by a little bit.
Jacobs: I’ve never really broken any laws in my life, so I’d probably break a lot of them. I would probably destroy a lot of buildings using heavy equipment from construction sites. Maybe crash cars into medians on the highway, firebomb empty buildings – standard stuff.
Oswalt: I would have the theme to the TV show “The Facts of Life” on a loop, and drive towards Elton John, wherever he was. Because I’d want to hear him sing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” while the meteor was approaching us; I just don’t think there’s any better way to end the world.
Themes and Values
Carell: You would never have known that this was Lorene’s directorial debut. She knew what she wanted to achieve, and set a tone of support and grace. I think Lorene Scafaria’s story beautifully transcends aspects of the normalcy of life. The movie is about finding the value of life, and finding what makes you happy.
Knightley: For these two, it’s about what suddenly becomes important. I think what’s actually being said here is, why do we not live as we should live? Why do we not see what things are important? Why do we not spend time with the people that we love? We act as if we have “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” but what if we don’t? That’s why I found the story so optimistic; aside from the occasional riot, positive things will come forth from humanity at the turning point.
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