Astronomer Amy Mainzer Spent Hours Chatting With Leonardo DiCaprio for Netflix’s ‘Don’t Look Up’

Astronomer Amy Mainzer is no stranger to asteroid-hunting. Mainzer is a professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the College of Arizona and serves as the principal investigator for NEOWISE, a NASA mission that utilizes an infrared space telescope to scour the skies for space particles. She’ll before long guide the project’s successor, the In the vicinity of-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, a planetary defense undertaking that aims to obtain and catalogue comets and asteroids that could pose a menace to our planet.

If Mainzer’s do the job sounds strikingly identical to the premise for Do not Look Up, Netflix’s new catastrophe-comedy flick about a pair of astronomers who struggle to alert mankind about a comet on a crash training course with Earth, that’s for the reason that it is. Director Adam McKay — known for screwball comedies like Anchorman and, far more just lately, sociopolitical satires like The Big Limited and Vice — tapped Mainzer as the movie’s science adviser a couple years back. In that ability, she played a significant part in aiding sculpt the film’s dialogue and people, such as astronomer Randall Mindy, who is played with believably neurotic strength by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Mainzer just lately caught up with Learn about hunting for space rocks, chatting with Meryl Streep by means of iPad and the invaluable part that scientists can participate in in an more and more science-phobic culture.

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Q: Your investigate focuses on understanding smaller bodies in our photo voltaic procedure, like asteroids, and the probable effects hazard they pose to Earth. What acquired you intrigued in that?

A: It’s amusing, it is not the place I started out. But just one of the excellent issues about functioning on unique types of telescopes is that you survey all types of unique issues. From an observer’s standpoint, asteroids and comets are a lot of enjoyable for the reason that they’re frequently shifting. That suggests there is a lot of exercise and action involved with chasing these objects about the sky. Then from a scientific standpoint, they have a lot to instruct us about the formation of the photo voltaic procedure and how we acquired to be below. And, of training course, we like to be able to answer thoughts about the impacts them selves.

Examine far more: How Geared up Is Earth for a Possible Asteroid Collision?

Q: In your do the job, have there been any near-misses, or asteroids that have appear close to hitting us?

A: No, and just one of the important issues below is to contemplate the risk of impacts from these objects in the context of a lot of other threats. In the spacecraft world, we quantify risk as the chance of something happening vs. the consequence that it could have. For asteroids and comets, the chance [of effects] is very, very smaller. But the repercussions can potentially
be critical. So, for the reason that of that, we would contemplate this a medium risk. Which suggests you don’t have to run about with your hair on fire. But we don’t want to absolutely disregard it, both. From my standpoint, the correct reaction to this variety of menace is to go, ‘Well, all right, let’s go
glance for the asteroids and see if there are any particular objects out there that, in the subsequent 100 years, have any kind of likelihood of possessing a close approach to the Earth.’

Astronomer Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and doctoral pupil Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) on the hunt for comets in the Netflix comedy ‘Don’t Look Up.’ (Credit score: Netflix)

Q: Really do not Look Up follows a extended lineage of movies about asteroids colliding with Earth, like Armageddon and Deep Influence. Did movies like that have any kind of effects on you as an astronomer?

A: It’s amusing, I’m probably just one of the only asteroid scientists who can say I’ve seen neither Deep Influence nor Armageddon I haven’t watched both just one. But it is genuine that science fiction has a genuinely highly effective part to participate in in aiding us to visualize the long term and assume about feasible long term results. And we can use that to say, ‘We don’t want that long term we want a unique long term.’ The film has a very important message, which is that we don’t have to pick this particular long term we can pick a unique result for ourselves. And it is not just about the comet effects that is demonstrated in the film. This is pertinent to a whole host of challenges that we confront as a culture, whether it is local weather modify or the pandemic or extraordinary weather gatherings.

Q: How did you initially get included as the science adviser for Really do not Look Up? Did the filmmakers approach you?

A: So [director] Adam [McKay] actually acquired in touch with me about far more than two years back. It’s been fairly a even though. He achieved out and explained to me he’d been wanting for anyone to chat to about this film so he seemed me up. He achieved out to me by means of a speak to at NASA that I experienced, who set us in touch. I’m a substantial supporter of his other do the job, for the reason that he’s these kinds of a careful thinker and he’s of training course genuinely amusing. But we just experienced a excellent discussion about generating a film that tackled all of these subjects — about science denialism and the significance of understanding and agreeing what is genuine and what is simple fact. As before long as we experienced that discussion, I was like, ‘That’s it. I’m marketed. I want to do whatsoever I can to support out below.’

Q: What was it like functioning with the solid and crew? Have been you on set all through filming at all or was it digital for the reason that of the pandemic?

A: Matters had been so unique for the reason that of the pandemic. Netflix was super careful about the whole procedure. And I was not able to journey, for the reason that this all took place when vaccination was genuinely scarce and hadn’t been commonly deployed in the U.S. So I was there on set on an iPad. They just kind of wheeled me about, which was genuinely amusing. [Laughs] But it labored genuinely very well. Meryl Streep stood for a very extended time in entrance of my iPad. I assume they experienced to ask her to move at just one point.

But it was a excellent encounter. These are genuinely famous actors for a motive they’re genuinely smart and able at portraying the humanity in the people they participate in. I experienced a lot of genuinely excellent discussions above the couple of years with all of them. In particular, I expended a lot of time chatting with Leo [DiCaprio] and Rob Morgan about their people. As the scientists, they experienced a genuinely important part to represent science, and to represent how scientists assume. I believed they did a excellent work.

Leonardo DiCaprio as astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy in ‘Don’t Look Up.’ (Credit score: Netflix)

Q: Yeah, I have read through that you expended a lot of time chatting with DiCaprio in particular. What was the emphasis of all those discussions?

A: One particular of the issues we talked about a lot is that scientists will knock them selves foolish hoping to get the term out. Mainly because that is what we do. A genuinely major element of science is replicability and peer-review you are going to hear that outlined above and above again in the film. Researchers genuinely want men and women to glance at their do the job and verify it that is a major element of science. We
talked about approaches that you can see the people battling to be apparent and get the term out and chat to other scientists.

And it doesn’t generally go very well. In some cases issues can materialize that can subvert that procedure. We talked a lot about how scientists can get marginalized by particular interests by conspiracy theories and how irritating that is — when you have news that is important that you have to share for the reason that you know you can address issues if you can just get the term out about it and get other men and women to choose action. We experienced dozens and dozens of discussions about this about how scientists come to feel when they are dismissed.

Q: Can you see the remnants of any of all those discussions in the actors’ dialogue or performances?

A: All of all those items of dialogue that you see, we went above and above and above. You see Leo or Jennifer [Lawrence] or Rob hoping to … there is a couple of genuinely major times in the film for them as scientists the place they have their major speech the place they genuinely get to say what’s on their minds. There’s a lot of me in there.

Q: From a scientific or specialized viewpoint, was there just about anything you wanted to make positive the solid or crew understood appropriately? Say, when it arrived to the correct way of looking for comets, or the terminology, or just about anything you wanted to make positive was represented properly on display?

A: Leo, in particular, did a amazing work with some very complicated specialized content. They experienced to understand fairly a little bit about how asteroid discovery is effective and how to characterize orbits and all of that.

But, fundamentally, I assume the detail that they did very very well, and that I was genuinely intrigued in generating positive that they realized, is that science tries to convey to the real truth. We genuinely test. We test to convey to the real truth about the way that we see the world functioning about us, primarily based on empirical proof. In any presented condition, scientists are going to test to get the real truth out there. They’re going to test to convey to what we know. They’re going to test to make positive that other scientists can replicate the do the job. That is a power of science. And that is a special way that science operates — it self-corrects.

And it may possibly be messy. We may possibly not generally get the right answer the initially time, but we’re going to get far more info and that is going to permit us to refine our answers. To me, it was genuinely important that they all understood that. And they all acquired that instantly and genuinely infused it into their people.

Q: Is there just about anything that director Adam McKay or the actors asked you about? What thoughts did they have for you as science adviser?

A: One particular of the issues we talked about a lot is science denialism — what do you do? If you are a scientist, and you have info that requires to be shared, and men and women disregard you, what’s the right detail to do? So you are going to see that debate played out in the film, and there are a couple essential scenes the place this transpires. You’ll see the scientists debating [issues like], ‘Do we go out and protest in the streets? Or do we test to engage with men and women who are in
electric power?’ Mainly because very often, scientists are not empowered to make modify primarily based on the know-how that we acquire. We can understand about what’s occurring, and we can make recommendations, primarily based on the science, that we know are probable to do the job. But we, individually, are not the men and women who are empowered to be able to do this.

Q: Are you happy with what ended up on display in phrases of the movie’s adherence to scientific precision and the general messaging? Exactly where does it diverge from true-lifestyle?

A: We very quickly veer into the realm of science fiction. We don’t know of any big comet hurtling towards Earth, and that is a genuinely fantastic detail. Suitable off the bat, we’re in sci-fi territory.

That mentioned, there are a couple spots the place you are going to see that the film is naturally science fiction, and it postulates technologies that we don’t have nonetheless and that isn’t fairly there. But it is also not the major point the major point is that I hope men and women see scientists portrayed as human beings, in all of our flaws and all of our glories. And I hope they appear absent from it figuring out science a minor little bit far better. That know-how, with any luck ,, will support in creating trust in science as a procedure. Sure, it is obvious science fiction, but I assume it has some important points to make about the benefit of science in our lives.

Q: The filmmakers and actors haven’t been shy about the simple fact that the film was conceived as a parable for local weather modify. There are also some placing similarities to the past couple years all through the pandemic. With that in mind, what else do you hope audiences choose absent with them after the credits roll?

A: I hope men and women choose absent from this film that the condition is not hopeless. And what transpires subsequent, with regard to local weather modify, or the pandemic, or a host of challenges, is up to us. If we make fantastic, science-primarily based decisions, the two in our lives and as a culture, we can have far better results. We can instantly effects the long term in a favourable way we don’t have to pick the unfavorable path. We can pick a far better way. That is up to us.

This job interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.