Writer/director Lorene Scafaria described her new film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, as a mash-up between “a rom-com and the apocalypse.” Set during the last three weeks on earth, the film traces the last days in the lives of Dogde (Steve Carell) and his neighbor Penny (Kiera Knightley) who meet and maybe fall in love as their current relationships end just as the world is coming to an end.
The characters are forced to explore what Scafaria said is, “How people spend their time when you take ‘forever’ off the table.” The filmmaker described her cockeyed approach to the end of the world as finding, “Comedy in tragedy. Death is surreal.” Seeking a Friend tracks the stages of grief for all of humanity. “Some go to work, some are in denial, they have different coping mechanisms—some find comfort in rituals like mowing the lawn,” Scafaria explained. Others commit suicide, try heroin and have orgies. At one chain restaurant, there’s an amusing, “anything goes” mentality. “I show the acts of violence, but I try to focus on the positive side,” Scafaria admitted gleefully.
The film opens with Dodge’s wife, Linda (Carell’s real life wife, Nancy), giving her husband a mean look at the announcement that the world is going to end and then literally running away. The scene, ironically, was shot on the couple’s 16th wedding anniversary. “We got them a cake with an asteroid in it,” Scafaria recalled with a laugh. Carell, chatting via Skype, remembers the event, “I’m not unfamiliar with her dagger-eyed look,” adding that it usually means he’s in trouble.
Seeking a Friend charts Dodge meeting Penny (Keira Knightley), a “flaky and irresponsible” optimist who, when it comes time to flee for safety, leaves her boyfriend Owen (Adam Brody) but grabs her vinyl records. Knightley, who just got engaged to James Righton of the Klaxons, admitted that she was, surprisingly, late to embrace music. “I do love music, but I’m not a music lover in the same way Penny is. Music touches people in such an amazingly emotional way—most of my best friends are passionate, absolutely obsessed with music. I came to it quite late. I didn’t like music when I was a teenager. I didn’t listen to it. I think it was because when I was 11 or 12, and I still wanted to play games, and girls who I was really friendly with got into Boy Bands, and it was almost like they were taking my childhood away. Because I still wanted to be playing. And I think I found it really offensive for a really long time because of that. But when I was 24, 25, I really started getting into it and understanding [music] on a personal level. I found things I really like. I love that music can completely capture a moment, a summer, a relationship. I love that kind of memory. It’s what we do to make sure we know we’re not alone.”
Asked for his playlist for the end of the world, Carell said, jokingly, that he would listen to “Jethro Tull—some Aqualung to be upbeat—and Taylor Swift to feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” Which causes one to wonder how Knightley and Carell would fare in the face impending doom.
Knightley appreciated that her character was, “The sort of person who is able to go, ‘This moment is fabulous!’” in the face of death, doom and destruction. “She’s stuck in the moment of her life, and doesn’t quite know what direction to go, or who she wants to be with, or where she wants to go, or where she wants to be. And the end of the world is happening at the same time. But that doesn’t stop where she is. I found it uplifting and positive. What it really says is what’s important, which is love and friendship and the wonderful moments in life—not the other moments.”
Knightley’s Penny has many wonderful moments—cooking and smoking pot—in the film. Yet the actress said she is not like Penny off screen. She admits to being capable of making “one-pot” dishes, like stews and as for weed, admits with a smile, “I wouldn’t know.” Making the film did not prompt the actors to check things off their proverbial bucket list. Knightley would decline making a rush trip to, say, visit Fiji. Instead, her regrets would be, “Not spending enough time with the people you love.” Likewise, Carell said if the world was coming to an end, he would want to be with his family—his parents and his brothers, and “I’d forage for junk food—Twinkies and Ho-Hos,” since eating healthy wouldn’t matter.
Scarafia, a Jersey native, suggested she would want to get a cheesesteak at Geno’s having made trips to South Philly in the past. When asked if they believe in the prophecy of the Mayan Calendar that suggests the end of the world in 2012, Knightley replied with her proper British reserve, “I think they have a lack of imagination.” Carell didn’t concur at first, “I do think it’s all coming to an end,” he said in his patented deadpan, before confirming his real thoughts, “No, I really don’t. But what can you do about it? The movie is a metaphor to embrace life. This is an unlikely couple finding common ground.” And Knightley was glad to share the experience of making the film with the comedian, about whom she said, “He makes you believe he’s on the verge of suicide and yet finds incredibly funny moments in it.”
Carell praised his co-star as “fine and sweet… [but] didn’t have the best breath.” He was taking, of course about the dog named Sorry that Dodge adopts before connecting with Penny. Speaking of animals, an amusing scene has Carell not killing a spider one night only to pay for that decision the next morning. When asked about his feelings about spiders—does he fear them, leave them live or kill them gleefully, he responded with a laugh of amazement, “That’s a substantive question!” And answered, “I’m live and let live.”
Not unlike the characters in Seeking a Friend, who share a “You Only Live Once” attitude.
Check out a quick scene from the film below. The film opens in theaters on Friday, June 22nd.