Steve Carell and Keira Knightley
The Apocalypse Has Never Looked so Bright
Jul 01, 2012
Everyone on Earth will die in three weeks, and who wants to die alone? That’s the basic setup for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and perhaps one of the grimmest premises for a romantic comedy of all time.
Steve Carell plays Dodge, a loveably schlubby insurance salesman whose wife leaves him upon hearing the news of the Earth’s impending demise. He decides he’ll use his final days on the planet to try to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, who was the love of his life. Dodge takes to the road with his flighty neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), on a journey to find a friend for the end of the world.
Screenwriter and director Lorene Scafaria takes a setup that wouldn’t be out of place in the run-of-the-mill romantic comedy—boy-meets-mismatched-girl, they fall in love despite their differences—and adds an extra sense of urgency to their tale. Under the pressure of the ultimate ticking clock—an incoming asteroid that will wipe out mankind—Penny and Dodge must treat every moment as if it’s one of their last.
“If you take forever off the table, what does that do to a love story?” Scafaria asks. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is her first feature film as a director, but her Hollywood break came from penning the screenplay adaptation for the 2008 film, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. That film, about one seemingly-endless night out in New York City, stands in stark contrast to her feature filmmaking debut, which features a steady countdown towards Armageddon.
While Seeking a Friend for the End of the World operates under the darkest of premises, it manages to refrain from sinking too far into gloominess. Scafaria and her actors, both the leads as well as the strong supporting cast that includes Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Gillian Jacobs, T.J. Miller, Melanie Lynskey, and Martin Sheen, walk a delicate line between humor and dread. The script’s unconventional treatment of the subject matter helped attract its A-list cast: both Steve Carell and Keira Knightley were excited to get on board and portray a love story at the end of days.
“You see a film about the end of the world and you think it’s going to be a massive, action blockbuster,” says Knightley. “I love the idea that you’d take people from a suburban place who can’t really figure out what to do with themselves, and they’re still having the same problems as they’ve been having for their entire lives, and they’re just trying to deal with that. I loved that.”
“That’s one of the reasons why this script appealed to me, because it showed this scenario from a different viewpoint,” says Steve Carell, referring to a late 1990’s rush of end-of-the world movies, such as Armageddon and Deep Impact. “It’s not the viewpoint of the president, on the hotline, talking to the astronauts. It’s just people, just the normal rank and file, who are dealing with this information. It makes you think about it, about what you would do and what choices you would make.”
Thinking about the choices and actions they’d make at the end of days is as far as either of the actors would like to go; if the real world were about to end, they would prefer not to have any advance notice.
“Personally, I don’t want to have the time to put my ducks in a row,” says Carell. “I’m hoping that my ducks are in a row already, and that I’m living my life the way I want to live it.”
“Ignorance is bliss,” says Knightley. “If anyone said we’d have 20 days to go, I’d just be in the corner crying.”
As violent rioters are closing in on her apartment in one scene, Knightley’s character, Penny, scrambles to save a number of her favorite records from her large vinyl collection. Though she doesn’t bring along any way of playing the music, the albums—which belonged to her parents, and include a copy of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds—are her way of staying connected to her family and a reminder of her past.
“It’s more a collection of memories than anything else, to me, when she’s grabbing those things,” says Scafaria. “I loved in High Fidelity how he’s organizing them autobiographically. It is that feeling of how this song reminds me of this time.”
“I think they were how she could make sense of the world,” Knightley says of her character, Penny. “Like so many music lovers, their memories get tied up with music. People and times of her life would have been completely tied up to those things. It was like she was carrying her life with her.”
“When I thought about what people would really want to consume in those final weeks, I don’t know about movies and TV,” says Scafaria. “I don’t know that people [would be] watching The Graduate again, even though they should. There’s such a universal love of music.”
Knightley, though recently engaged to Klaxons vocalist James Righton, admits she’s not as big a fan of music as the character she plays in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. When asked what items the stars might grab to carry along with them in the world’s final days, the stars’ ideas are more humorous in nature.
“Something I could just sort of stick under my arm? I don’t know,” says Carell. “Just a huge, flat screen TV.”
“As many bottles of alcohol as possible,” Knightley quickly answers. “I wouldn’t want to be sober if it was the end of the world.”
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World maintains a dark sense of humor up until the end; it’s a credit to the cast and the filmmaker that they can find their biggest laughs even in several of the film’s bleakest scenes.
“Death is one of the most surreal things ever imaginable, and in that way it’s kind of funny,” Scafaria says. “In that way you find these moments of humor in the darkest hours, so for the film it was always important to me that those moments can collide.”
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