When it comes to environmental storytelling, there’s several different routes a project can take. Some have opted for scaring an audience into action (like Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up) while others have tried to Trojan horse climate messages into more uplifting fare, or take a more by-the-numbers documentary approach.
For , Apple TV+’s new anthology drama following eight different stories of people’s lives upended by climate change, creator Scott Z. Burns is taking inspiration from another future-looking anthology series, as star Kit Harington recalled how “Scott always described this to me as a kind of Black Mirror of a climate change show, and I think it falls in that.”
“There are thriller elements to it, there are horror elements to it and it should scare you, and it will scare you, but it’s also really thought-provoking,” Harington told at the show’s Los Angeles premiere on Tuesday. The star also commended the extensive research Burns put into the show, saying, “I think in time it’ll become a really historical piece; whatever anyone thinks of it now, when we fast forward in 50 years time, people will be looking at this going, ‘Well, that’s what they thought would happen, they were right or they were wrong,’ and that was irresistible to me.”
Burns, who sees the climate crisis as “the most important issue of our time,” said when the show was greenlit he called up McKay — who has become a climate activist in life as well as through projects like Don’t Look Up — and “he said a really amazing thing, he said, ‘I hope that someday you and I are sitting around and there’s 10 climate change shows like there’s 10 hospital shows or 10 lawyer shows.’ So I really hope that one of the things this will do is tell people there are stories to be made about what is happening all around us.”
As the writer of 2011’s Contagion, which many pointed to as having predicted the COVID-19 pandemic, Burns has somewhat of a reputation for seeing future crises, though he sees the two experiences differently.
“When we worked on Contagion, the scientists I spoke to always said the same thing: it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when,” Burns said. “This is a little different, we’re moving into uncharted territory with the things we’re doing to the climate… It is happening, it’s not a matter of if. What I think is different here is we have the agency and the power to stop it, we really can,” with one of the first steps to stop treating climate change as a political issue.
Along those lines, Harington added, “I don’t think there’s any controversy about this piece, or should be any controversy. What we’re experiencing on our screens is real,” joking that the show “is probably the least controversial thing I’ve ever been involved in.”
The anthology also features a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, Tobey Maguire, Gemma Chan, Edward Norton, Eiza González, Yara Shahidi, Daveed Diggs, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Sienna Miller, Diane Lane, David Schwimmer and Marion Cotillard. Chan said she was drawn to the “brave, ambitious and really necessary” project because “the message of the show couldn’t be more timely, couldn’t be more important.”
“It’s one thing to look at a graph and look at rising carbon emissions and rising temperatures, but that doesn’t tell us how we might feel about it or how it might impact us day to day,” she continued. “We can imagine, but to see it in these intimate human stories is a different thing.”
And with the subject matter on screen, producers took extra steps behind the scenes to be sustainable on set, reducing travel by shooting international-set storylines in New York, opting for vegetarian and vegan meals, and cutting out single-use plastics.
As for Burns’ outlook after finishing the show, referencing when Leonardo DiCaprio was on the Don’t Look Up press tour and said he had very little hope the climate crisis could be turned around, the creator said a strategy and action is needed more than hope.
“Replace hope with courage, what we need is for people to take courage. Hope on its own isn’t going to get us there, Leo is absolutely right,” he said. “What will get us there is the courage to start questioning all of the things that are going on. And again, we’re not stopping all of this, some of it is going on already. But we can stop the worst of it if we act now.”
Extrapolations starts streaming Friday on Apple TV+.