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'Don't Look Up': Meryl Streep's improv led to elaborate mid-credits scene and 'a whole new creature'
Let's just say that's a long way to go for a joke.
Netflix assembled an absurdly ample lineup of A-list acting talent for the wild apocalyptic story that’s propelled Don’t Look Up to holiday hit status. Amid a standout cast loaded with the kind of star power that could sustain half a dozen typical movies, Meryl Streep’s cigarette-chomping U.S. President Orlean steals her scenes with a dose of the same entitled iciness that infused her deliciously wicked media mogul in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers below for Don't Look Up!**
Unlike that movie, though, Don’t Look Up is a broad sci-fi disaster parable that nervously laughs its way to the bitter end. And for viewers who caught the film’s insane mid-credits scene, the end for Streep’s powerful political character was about as bitter as it gets — except, of course, for the CGI alien "brontaroc" creatures that feasted on President Orlean and the rest of the ultra-rich crowd who thought escaping 22,740 years into the future could somehow save their skins.
The idea to show Orlean (alongside other rich and powerful Earthlings) getting chomped by hungry aliens started with Streep herself, director Adam McKay recently confided to Variety. What began as a moment of improv comedy from the Oscar-winning actress ended up powering the ambitious idea to have the film’s effects wizards create the alien planet’s brontaroc fauna…and then let them pick off, one by one, the hapless, naked humans who thought that money could buy their way to a cryogenic escape from certain death.
“We were shooting the scene with [Mark] Rylance, Meryl and Jonah [Hill] in the BASH control room for the second launch,” McKay explained, referencing the greedy, fictional big-data company that stands in for the corporate tech titans here in the real world. “I’m like, ‘We should play around. Why don’t you guys talk about something? You never know. It could show up.’ And Meryl, who’s such a great improviser, says, ‘I want to know how I’m gonna die!’”
That provided the creative spark for everything viewers saw in the film’s mid-credits scene, said McKay. It also affixed a satisfying coda to a throwaway line Rylance’s character utters earlier in the movie, when the AI algorithm he consults informs him that Streep’s President Orlean would die by being eaten by “the brontaroc” — a cryptic computer warning that no one, at the time, could make any sense of.
As for the bird-like brontarocs, their design evolved as McKay ran with Streep's crystal ball-consulting idea and began hashing out the cast members’ silly on-screen fates. “What if you’re eaten by a creature?” he reportedly posited to Streep. From there, “Mark, Meryl, and I kind of cleaned it up a little bit,” he explained. “I think every time we said the name of the creature, it changed — and the take we used was a brontaroc. And then after we shot it, I said, ‘That’s really funny. We should end with her getting eaten by a brontaroc!’”
That meant having to come up with a solid idea of what a brontaroc would actually look like. But even with production in full swing, the film’s technical team was ready. “We’re adding a new beat,” McKay reportedly informed VFX supervisor Raymond Gieringer after everyone was on board with the idea. “We’re creating a whole new creature.”
Of course, the only way to appreciate all the behind-the-scenes scheming that went into giving the aliens a new human delicacy for dinner is to stick with the movie all the way through the credits (there’s a hilarious post-credits scene as well that finds Hill’s character impulsively making a worthless selfie shoutout as the last human left alive). Perhaps it’s more blunt and silly than the serious fare that most of the big-name cast is used to…but that’s also what makes it so much fun.
Starring Streep, Hill, and Rylance alongside a ton of Hollywood heavy hitters like Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lawrence, Ron Perlman, Tyler Perry, and more, Don’t Look Up is streaming now at Netflix.