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Leonardo DiCaprio wants new movie 'Don't Look Up' to be 'a wake-up call — an alarm clock'

The Oscar winner joined TODAY with castmate Jennifer Lawrence and director Adam McKay to talk about the "sense of urgency" about climate change in their new film.

Leonardo DiCaprio knows a movie about a comet speeding toward obliterating Earth in a not-so-subtle allegory for climate change might be a little on the depressing side, but he believes it's necessary given the urgent threat the world faces today.

The Oscar winner spoke to Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Friday alongside co-star Jennifer Lawrence and writer-director Adam McKay about their new film, "Don't Look Up," which hits theaters on Friday and will be released on Netflix on Christmas Eve.

DiCaprio and Lawrence, are part of a star-studded cast that also includes Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Cate Blanchett Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi. They play two astronomers trying to sound the alarm about the comet coming to destroy the world.

"If you do a film about climate change, it’s nearly impossible to get people to get a sense of urgency and hold a mirror to our culture and media and politics and all of these things," DiCaprio said. "And I just felt like this was an incredible gift to be a part of a movie that encapsulated exactly what we’re going through at this particular moment in time. But yeah, I am a bit of a Debbie Downer because the clock is absolutely ticking."

DiCaprio plays Dr. Randall Mindy, an astronomer trying to sound the alarm about a comet hurtling to destroy Earth, in the new Netflix movie "Don't Look Up." Niko Tavernise / Netflix

McKay, the man behind movies like "Anchorman" and "The Big Short," tries to use some humor to focus audiences on a serious matter. Savannah called it "the feel-good, feel-bad movie of the year."

"It’s a pretty good description," McKay said. "We made this movie during the pandemic, before there was even a vaccine. So, I think we were all in the mood to laugh because things were so grim. But at the same time, we needed to feel some other feelings as well."

DiCaprio, who has long been an advocate for environmental causes, described the surreal feeling of making the film during the pandemic.

"After seeing the movie last night, something kind of resonated in me," he said. "It’s how we process bad news and how it becomes a debate, how truth and facts can be distorted or politicized. 

"This was originally a metaphor for the climate crisis, and then COVID hit. And then a whole new wave of denial of science. It was amazing to witness what was going on in real time as we were making this movie. We’re sitting there trying to explain science as (Dr. Anthony) Fauci was doing the same thing. It was a bizarre experience."

Lawrence as astronomer Kate Dibiasky can often been seen urgently trying to tell people that the end of the world is coming only to be ignored or laughed off.

"It’s just kind of unleashing that helplessness that I feel as a citizen and a human on the planet," Lawrence said. "It was also so poignant that all of the ire kind of landed squarely on her shoulders because she was saying something that people didn’t want to hear."

There also were plenty of lighter moments on the set, like the time Lawrence, before she was pregnant, decided to really get into character.

"Before the movie started, in the script, Kate Dibiasky was high pretty much the whole time," Lawrence said. "We thought if there was a scene where I wasn’t talking, it could be funny to actually just see that kind of just, like, glassy stare."

"There was one scene where she definitely was like, 'Am I going to speak tonight?'" McKay said. "I was like, 'No, you’re not.' She’s like, 'I’m gonna try it because it does fit the character.' And the whole night, I was so tempted to go on the mic and say, 'Hey, let’s improvise a monologue.' And I realize how mean it would be and I did not do it."

Lawrence also faced a blizzard of Hill's ad-libbed jabs at her character.

"There was one day that was just solely dedicated to him insulting me," she said. "That was tough but it was one of the greatest days of my life."

While not revealing any spoilers, Savannah also asked how the film's dramatic ending was received by the audience at the movie's premiere in New York City on Sunday.

"I think it was incredibly emotional," DiCaprio said. "Had this movie had a different ending, it wouldn’t be the story that it is. And we’re not going to give that away, but it needed to have this ending. It’s a wake-up call. It’s an alarm clock.

"If it didn’t have that ending, there was no way we were going to be a part of it."