The film ‘Leave The World Behind’ on Netflix played a role in dispelling a conspiracy theory.

There was a revelation for some members of the ensemble cast of “Leave the World Behind” that left them astonished. The apocalyptic psychological thriller on Netflix features Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, and Kevin Bacon.

“I recall a moment on set when it struck all of them, and it was like, ‘Wow, we’ve never done this together. Why didn’t that happen before?’ It’s a bit puzzling because they all essentially rose in the industry simultaneously, working on projects that often intersected on the circuit,” explained director Sam Esmail. “I can now modestly claim some credit for bringing the three of them together for a film. I’m happy to take that credit, but it was certainly a realization that dawned on all of us on set.”

He added, “I don’t believe Ethan and Julia have collaborated before. Julia and Kevin worked together once on ‘Flatliners’ decades ago, and Ethan and Kevin have never worked together.”

Esmail considers himself fortunate in assembling his cast, attributing it to the intricacies of the storytelling and the demands of the roles. Reflecting on the process, he remarked, “I reached out to the best of the best, and they honored me by accepting.” He went on to express his admiration for his cast, acknowledging them as the epitome of talent. “I write with great specificity, creating well-defined characters, but then I step back and allow the actors to bring their own magic to it.”

“I can only convey so much through words on a page, and it’s truly the actors and their craftsmanship that breathe life into the characters and add depth to them. That’s where the enchantment unfolds. The material is challenging, and actors wouldn’t take on such roles if they weren’t prepared for the task.”

Esmail, who served as the producer and writer for the adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s eponymous novel, found satisfaction in dispelling an urban myth during the filming process.

“I wasn’t aware, but there’s been a sort of conspiracy theory floating around that Ethan and Kevin were the same person,” he chuckled. “I’m pleased to debunk that myth and actually showcase them together in the same shot. Working with all three of them was fantastic. Being of the same generation, they were my heroes growing up. Watching them in a film I was making, engaging with each other, was truly a great experience.”

“Leave the World Behind,” premiered at the AFI Film Festival in Los Angeles, explores a family’s idyllic getaway turning into a chilling ordeal when a cyberattack severs all their devices, isolating them from the world. As they seek answers, two strangers unexpectedly appear at their door.

For Esmail, having Julia Roberts on board was an obvious choice. Following collaborations on “Homecoming” and “Gaslit,” her portrayal of the Karen-esque Amanda Sandford marked their third project together.

“Julia read the book in one day, then called me and said she was in,” the director shared. “She was someone I envisioned immediately while reading the book, recognizing how it takes her ‘America’s Sweetheart’ persona and flips it on its ear. Casting her for this role was excellent because you don’t have to worry about the likability factor; she possesses an uncanny ability to convey the humanity of any character, regardless of their flaws. It was perhaps the easiest casting decision I’ve ever made. Julia also came on as a producer and has been a fantastic partner on the film.”

“I’ve always considered Julia to be the Michael Jordan of acting. When you have somebody at that level, your project attracts anyone and everyone who wants to work with someone of that caliber. The cast for this film is incredible.”

In addition to Roberts, Hawke, and Bacon, “Leave the World Behind” features Mahershala Ali and Myha’la as the father-daughter duo G. H. and Ruth Scott. Their relationship is a notable alteration Esmail made from the source material.

“Mahershala and Myha’la complement each other because they are so different, and that is what makes excellent drama,” the director explained. “When characters approach certain situations from different perspectives, it enhances the storytelling. That’s one of the reasons why I made the change from the book.”

“In the novel, Ruth was written as G.H.’s wife. I changed it to introduce a Gen Z, millennial perspective that I thought would contrast well with G.H.’s more cautious, measured approach, especially in a crisis like this.”

Apart from the central performances, “Leave the World Behind” stands out for its intricate and sometimes disorienting cinematography.

“The visual concept was largely influenced by Julia, Ethan, and Mahershala,” Esmail affirmed. “During prep, the entire cast visited the set, where we blocked most of the scenes they were in together. This influenced not only the cinematography but also the production design.”

“They were actively involved, contributing to the decision-making regarding camera movements and compositions, even down to the layout of the living room and kitchen. From the outset, I knew that because the story prioritizes characters over disaster elements, the emotional journey of the characters needed to shine. It started with them, and the visuals were crafted around their impact.”

He continued, “Since these camera movements often involve long takes that encompass much of the scene, it felt akin to theater work, which energizes actors. Working through an entire scene while the camera captures various moments creates an infectious energy that the cast loved.”

In addition to Alam’s novel, Esmail provided his cast with a list of movies for inspiration. While maintaining creative originality, attentive genre fans may detect subtle references to classics such as the 1984 British-Australian TV movie “Threads.”

“I take this very seriously,” he chuckled while displaying the comprehensive list on his computer. “When starting any project, I like to align my creative team, and movie references are an effective way to do that. The list included about 20 movies, featuring ‘Threads,’ ‘Earthquake,’ ‘The Towering Inferno,’ ‘The Day After Tomorrow,’ ‘The Shining,’ ‘Miracle Mile,’ ‘High and Low,’ and ‘Vertigo.'”

“There was also ‘Fearless,’ a recommendation from Ethan, who has collaborated with director Peter Weir several times. Other films on the list were ‘2001,’ ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,’ ‘Seven Days in May,’ ‘Funny Games,’ ‘Signs,’ ‘The Thing,’ ‘The Mist,’ and ‘Chinese Roulette,’ the Fassbinder film. Those were the ones we watched for inspiration. Quite a list.”

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