Scott Z. Burns proved too prescient for comfort when he wrote Contagion — the 2011 pandemic thriller that became one of the most streamed movies in the first few weeks of the real-life COVID-19 lockdowns nine years later.
It’s scary, then, to think about how accurate your crystal ball could be with extrapolationsthe new star-studded Apple TV+ anthology series that presents a highly plausible (and, according to Burns and collaborators, very scientific) vision of what the near future could look like with the global effects of climate change worsening.
The projects share some of the same DNA, Burns told us during a recent virtual press day.
“I think the process that we explore as writers and creators is very similar,” says Burns, who was also a producer on the 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary an inconvenient truth featuring former Vice President Al Gore. “We started with science. We talked to experts. We asked them what could happen. Obviously, with the pandemic, there have been those in the past. And then everyone we spoke to said it’s not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when’.
“I think dealing with the future and climate change is not a question of ‘if’ because you are seeing climate change every day now, in fires, storms, extreme heat. So it’s not a question of ‘if’. But for us, it was a matter of ‘what’. What will we tolerate and what will we face and fight? And those are really the similarities and differences in the process for us.”
Starting in 2037 and going to 2070 in eight episodes, extrapolations imagine a world where wildfires engulf large areas of the globe, rising sea levels sink Miami buildings, and elephants and whales are nearly extinct.
The matter caught the attention of Hollywood. The cast list reads like an award ceremony: Meryl Streep, Edwards Norton, Sienna Miller, Kit Harington, Diane Lane, Tobey Maguire, Forest Whitaker, Matthew Rhys, Heather Graham, Gemma Chan, David Schwimmer, Keri Russell, Daveed Diggs and more more.
“The leaps that Scott is taking aren’t really leaps, this is the trajectory we’re taking,” says Diggs (Hamilton, Blindspot), who plays a Florida rabbi whose temple is at risk of flooding. “Not that we need to, but we are. Neither could we. But this will have to be active. We’re not going to be able to sit here and let that not happen.
“What I think is so great about Scott’s mission here is to give us as much information as he can give us over the course of the show, but also to inspire us to be a little bit more active in how we think about climate change and, in then go out and find the resources on our own to be more effective in fighting it.”
Diggs’ castmates agree: We’re past the point of cautionary tales. extrapolations it is a call to action.
“It’s a crucial time for something like this to be done,” says Michael Gandolfini (The Many Saints of Newark). “Scott has a real ability to educate in a way that is not boring but informative and kind and also grounded in humanity… You’ll want to say, ‘What can I do?’ I can be part of protests or marches, I can have my reusable water bottle, I can educate myself.”
“These are not predictions anymore,” says Rhys. “It’s all happening now. We’re seeing it in real time… We’re seeing the beginnings of everything portrayed in this show right now.”
Lane has already done his part of the protest. the infidel actress was arrested in 2019 during a climate change protest in Washington, DC
“I was willing to be arrested, protesting,” she says. “You want to know which zip code you’re doing this in. And I wouldn’t do it outside the US… But being active helps with depression [about climate change]. And I think this show shows that we’re going to be proactive and we’re not going to go down without a fight. Whether that means fighting ourselves or fighting our own nature.”
The cast also emphasizes the show’s clear entertainment value, not just educational or social value.
“I think when you personalize things and make them visceral it can make a difference,” says Graham. “As an actor, you also want to entertain people.”
“It’s scary, but it’s real,” says Indira Varma (Luther, Game of Thrones). “A lot of times you hear about climate change and what’s going on, what you’re doing. And it can seem meaningless unless you’re living it. But we hope that when we tell stories we can reach more people, because it’s about how we feel.”
“The images stay, the stories stay”, agrees Tahar Rahim (the mauritanian). “Movies and TV series have a special power.”
Says Burns, 60: “I grew up in an era where there were all these movies that really built context around the Vietnam War, and that was the big story of America at that time. Gone apocalypse now or deer hunter or Fields of Executionor Born on the 4th of July. All these films helped me understand as a child what happened.
“Well, that’s what’s happening now. This is the greatest existential story of our time. And I think as a writer, and I think our fellow contributors felt the same way, that this was an opportunity to help give context to that. And I think it’s by giving people context that you allow them to find their own path to action.”
extrapolations is now streaming on Apple TV+.