Seeking a Cast
With complete faith in Lorene Scafaria's script and her ability to realize it as director, Mark Roybal notes, "The first thing that we asked Lorene about was the casting. She told us that she didn't want to veer toward broad comedy, and that the actors had to be able to maintain a balance between humor and pathos."
Joy Gorman Wettels adds, "The lead role of Dodge is that of a man who, with the world now coming to end, realizes that he regrets his entire life. An insurance salesman by trade, he hasn't taken risks in his existence. He thinks of his long-ago love - and is moved to act on that yearning.
"In order for this to play believably on-screen, Dodge has to be someone that you can see yourself in, or your dad, your brother, your husband. Steve Carell engenders so much goodwill and conveys such warmth; he is an Everyman. People relate to him; he was the only choice for Dodge."
Carell remarks, "I read the script and could not stop thinking about it. It haunted me, to an extent. It was funny, sweet, emotionally intense at times, and a story that I hadn't seen. This is the flip side of Armageddon; there's no president with a hot line to the astronauts who are going to blow up the asteroid. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is what's happening while all of those things are going on; how ordinary human beings respond, and the choices they make when they know that everything is going to be over in a matter of days.
"Lorene delicately maneuvers the comedy and the subject matter together. What I think makes it very funny is the characters being put into a life-or-death situation so that they are stripped down to their essence - it's really amusing when you see them trying to continue their lives under extraordinary circumstances."
With that in mind, the actor honed in on his character straight away, noting, "Initially, Dodge doesn't want to deal with what's happening; he continues to go to his job. But then he decides to come to terms with his impending demise and with the end of the world; he is going to make a pilgrimage, to visit his high-school sweetheart Olivia and try to reconnect with her. He's always idealized her as the love of his life, and before it all ends, he wants to be with her."
"I think this, in a big way, is what our movie is about: people connecting with one another, or attempting to, when faced with something momentous. Your perspective changes," says Carell.
Scafaria compares Carell to "actors who could do comedy with pitch-perfect timing but also be subtle and still, like Peter Sellers or Jack Lemmon; Steve can do so much with a look.
"We were ridiculously lucky to have him. When making a movie, he is a collaborative, generous, kindhearted gentleman."
For the role of the more free-spirited Penny, the filmmakers sought out Keira Knightley. The actress recalls, "My agent sent me the script. I thought it was one of the most strangely optimistic pieces that I'd read, and I instantly said, 'Yeah, I want to be a part of it.' It was one of the best scripts I'd seen in years - and so unique.
"I got on the phone with Lorene and we had a great chat for about an hour. I don't think we even actually talked about the film. We talked about our mothers, and about family."
Roybal notes that "there's a profound depth Keira brings to Penny even when her character's behavior is whimsical, spontaneous, or flighty. There's a light in her eyes that reflects her inner light, which is why Penny is Dodge's beacon."
Steve Golin adds, "Keira is a lot of fun to watch as Penny. She is well-known for making movies set in different time periods, so playing a funny modern girl - in sneakers! - is a fresh turn for her."
Knightley admits, "I love doing modern-day movies - because I'm able to get up later in the morning."
"I knew she'd be amazing and stunning and super-smart," says Scafaria. "But here's the surprise; she is so damn funny. So there's this refreshing blend of Keira, known as a dramatic actress, being more of a comedienne; and Steve, known as a comedic actor, doing a more dramatic role.
"Steve and Keira play off each other so well and have such great chemistry. Getting to hear my words said by these two actors? I couldn't have asked for more."
Carell's real-life wife, actress Nancy Carell, makes a very brief but memorable appearance opposite him in the first scene of the film - as Dodge's wife Linda, who abandons him upon hearing a breaking news report; namely, Earth has less than one month left because the attempt to obliterate the 70-mile-wide asteroid ("Matilda") has failed. As Scafaria remembers it, "Since she was so right for the part, I suggested it to Steve's agent; would his wife be interested in playing his wife? I was secretly a little worried, but Nancy saw the humor in it.
"It was the last scene we shot, and we filmed it on their actual anniversary, which was both very appropriate and very inappropriate."
A key sequence further dramatizing people coping - or not - with the world ending soon follows with the dinner party hosted by Dodge's closest friends, Warren (Rob Corddry) and Diane (Connie Britton). Scafaria wrote the set piece as one "which would normally put Dodge in a safe place, but it's not quite as safe any more. There are couples, and individuals, acting out. Some debauched behavior ensues, which is not what Dodge is looking for even at this critical time."
Dodge's journey is jump-started after he and his barely acquainted neighbor Penny are set on their course - by a full-blown riot. "I've always found the mob mentality to be so strange," says Scafaria. "I don't know how people get so caught up in it and lose sight of the fact that they're human beings and not animals. But if the world were ending, I do think some people would get violent.
"So, in the story, people are rioting but it's like, for what? Against what? For what possible result? I wanted it to feel not only scary but also ridiculous."
Roybal sees the sequence as "crucial, because Dodge and Penny reach their decisions to trust each other. The presence of Adam Brody as Penny's very-soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Owen brings comic absurdity to a dangerous situation."
Knightley found filming the sequence rewarding, above and beyond what it meant for her character's evolution. She reports, "Penny has parked her car in a small space and can't get it out easily, so I got to bash these other cars! I don't know that Steve Carell enjoyed it so much, but I really did."
Carell confirms, "I'm not a big mayhem guy. Now, I do think it was highly cathartic for Keira, because she's not much of a driver back in the U.K. and she readily admits that. Here was a good learning experience for her, actually feeling a car smashing into another car, giving her a sense memory of reality for that day when she does in fact start to drive."
"Our amazing crew got the scene done, with stunt work and pyrotechnics and vermin, as how I had envisioned it," enthuses Scafaria. "Which was, basically, as a mini-version of a sequence I admired in Children of Men.
"I also had fun filming our Friendsy's [restaurant] scenes, where things get chaotic for Dodge and Penny. Our Friendsy's extras should win MVP awards."
Knightley laughs, "Penny thinks it's excellent at Friendsy's, then all of a sudden it goes a little bit wonky…T.J. Miller and Gillian Jacobs are so funny - completely brilliant - in this crazy sequence."
Scafaria notes, "Every few days, we'd have new 'special guest stars!' It was a wonderful group of actors."
Many of these performers had adjusted their schedules so that they could be part of the highly original story. As Connie Britton, who was contacted directly by Scafaria to be in the movie, remarks, "For an actor, it's great to have it on the page - who and what your character is, and with Lorene you get that.
"The sequence I'm in is hilarious and provocative, and during filming of one scene Steve Carell and I turned to each other and said, 'This is heartbreaking.'"
Britton adds, "The environment on the set was welcoming and comfortable because Lorene is a great collaborator."
Carell states, "You would never have known that this was Lorene's directorial debut. She knew what she wanted to achieve, and set a tone of support and grace."
Roybal remarks, "Lorene is a confident filmmaker with a distinct voice. She inspires everyone to work at a high level."
Production got underway in mid-May 2011 - with one date, believed by some to be the set date of the end of the world, among the first shooting days of the 34-day filming schedule.
"We were all curious that whole day," admits Scafaria. "We stopped in our tracks around 9:00 PM because someone did the math and said that was 'the time.' Everyone stood there and nothing happened, so we went on to the next shot."
Golin muses, "It was a good omen. Our movie will be released not long before the Mayan calendar runs out and the world is supposedly ending, so we have another 'stop date' to, well, look forward to."
They're All Sorry
Even before Dodge and Penny band together as traveling companions, Dodge encounters someone else who positively impacts his life. "Sorry," reads the note attached to a canine's collar, which has been affixed to Dodge's leg during his overnight blackout following a failed suicide attempt. Upon awakening, Dodge reads the note and takes it literally, addressing the Terrier as Sorry; Sorry is portrayed by Aleister.
"Sorry enters the story right when Dodge has reached his lowest low and given up hope altogether," explains writer/director Lorene Scafaria, herself a longtime dog owner. "He wakes up that morning and finds he has been given someone else's burden, which becomes a responsibility that gives Dodge's life meaning again.
"When I saw Aleister and his wonderful scrappy snaggletooth and wiry coat, I loved him and felt, 'Here's our hero dog.'"
In keeping with a story that is about last chances, Aleister was a shelter dog. Dog trainer Sarah Clifford of Animal Savvy reveals, "He was adopted from the shelter a couple of years ago, and ever since then he's been acting in TV commercials."
Dogs' lives were saved anew for Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, by virtue of the fact that "when a dog has a movie role as large as the Sorry one, you have to have a couple of different dogs at the ready," comments Clifford. Accordingly, she scouted local animal shelters and found doubles for Aleister. She named one Mulligan, meaning "second chance," or "do-over," and he served as Aleister's stunt double.
"Mulligan was rescued from the shelter on the morning he was scheduled to be euthanized," reports Clifford. "He learned the ropes, and was doing takes only two weeks after we took him out of the shelter. Mulligan did the scene where Sorry is crawling down the fire escape, and anything else that required a lot of action.
"Rita, another double, was loaned to us from I Care Dog Rescue, which pulled her out of an animal shelter. All of these dogs were lucky."
"There was another Terrier on-set, a fourth Sorry," adds Scafaria. "They just make the set better. Or maybe I'm a crazy-dog-lady-in-the-making..."
As first among equals, Aleister won hearts early and often; he was particularly enamored of Keira Knightley, meeting her just before production began. "He went up to her and nestled on her dress," recalls Clifford. "It was so cute, and right away she thought he was charming."
But it was his on-screen interaction with Steve Carell that was crucial to the story. Clifford says, "Steve is good with dogs, so he was a natural with Aleister.
"We would take a little bit of time every day before we started filming for what we called a bonding session; we'd get Steve and Aleister comfortable together. Steve gave him treats, and kissed and cuddled him. That way, when Aleister worked with Steve on camera, there was already a bond."
The writer/director was relieved to see that bond. Regarding Dodge and Sorry, she notes, "When you know that you have a responsibility to someone who is more in need than you are, that forces you to stand up and take care of them. That starts changing Dodge's outlook and giving his life purpose, leading him towards more human contact - beginning with Penny and then going further for him on his journey.
"I like to think that Sorry also represents our capacity for forgiveness."
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