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How Meryl Streep Came Up With Her Character’s Conclusion In Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up

Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and Jennifer Lawrence walking and talking in Don't Look Up.
(Image credit: Netflix)

The following story contains major spoilers for Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, including details about the ending. So don’t read this unless you have seen the movie, or simply don’t care about spoilers. 

By the end of the dark satire Don’t Look Up, society has failed to stop the comet that was aimed straight at our planet, mainly because we ignored science and couldn’t figure out how to work together as a global community to prevent a preventable disaster. While many people gather around a dinner table and make peace with their decisions, the greedy elite escape in a spaceship, and hope to find another hospitable planet. One of those travelers is Meryl Streep’s U.S. President Orlean, and she survives until the castaways find a new world… and then she gets eaten by an alien creature. 

While the bulk of Adam McKay’s screenplay is exactly that, scripted, the comedic director also likes to let his actors play around in scenes, and as he told Variety, it was during an improvisation on a scene that Meryl Streep herself came up with the idea for her grisly death. Here’s how McKay remembers it:

We were shooting the scene with Rylance, Meryl and Jonah in the BASH control room for the second launch. 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!’

By that stage of the story, Mark Rylance’s creepy tech genius has revealed that the data points collected on each person by his software could predict accurately how you were going to die. And President Orlean was going to get eaten by something he called a “brontaroc.” Streep loved it, so McKay ran with it, telling Variety: 

Mark, Meryl, and I kind of cleaned it up a little bit. 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!’

And so, they do. In the post-credits scene of Don’t Look Up, the survivors land on a planet that exists thousands of years from Earth. The oxygen is increased on that planet, and the people walk around with no clothes. When Orlean sees what looks like an ostrich creature, she approaches it, and it eats her face off. Mark Rylance says, “I believe that’s called a brontaroc,” and the prophecy has been fulfilled. 

Don’t Look Up isn’t that strange the whole time through. The A-list cast does an OK job of selling the anger and frustration that comes with society ignoring a doomsday scenario. But while Adam McKay saw the movie as his answer to climate change, I substituted “COVID” for “Comet” and saw too many familiar decisions being made on screen, making the movie more realistic than amusing. You know, until an alien ate the president’s face. 

Sean O'Connell

Managing Director at CinemaBlend. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.