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Julia Roberts calls Leave the World Behind a 'fascinating puzzle' about humanity

The actor, her co-star Myha'la Herrold and director Sam Esmail speak to Yahoo UK about the post-apocalypse film

Watch: Julia Roberts shares what she liked best about Leave the World Behind's approach to the apocalypse

Leave the World Behind is Netflix's latest blockbuster film, and star Julia Roberts tells Yahoo UK that she loved the way in which the film gives a "fascinating puzzle" for viewers about humanity and what its capable of when pushed to the brink.

The movie is based on the book of the same name by Rumaan Alam, and it follows a family — Amanda (Roberts), Clay (Ethan Hawke), Rose (Farrah Mackenzie) and Archie (Charlie Evans) — who go on holiday only for two strangers — G.H. (Mahershala Ali) and Ruth (Myha'la Herrold) — to appear on their doorstep as the world begins collapsing around them.

"It is a little this Jenga metaphor," Roberts reflects. "We played this game in the movie and you feel like you have these people's lives and they seem very solid, and then as each little piece comes away and things are revealed, the lack of balance starts to come into play within the house [for] these characters.

"Then the bigger scheme of what's going on outside the house is a whole other element that keeps coming into play, so it's really a fascinating little puzzle."Julia Roberts

Leave the World Behind (Netflix)
Julia Roberts called Leave the World Behind a 'fascinating puzzle' about humanity. (Netflix)

This was something that appealed to director Sam Esmail from a story standpoint, he tells Yahoo UK, because it explores what could happen in an unpredictable and chaotic world.

"The big theme is really this idea of how we quickly lose sight of our common humanity in the face of a crises, which I just find so relevant," Esmail explains.

"I read the book in the early days of the pandemic and it was obviously incredibly relevant then, it's really manifesting itself right in front of my eyes, and then even today with everything going on in the world it feels equally relevant.

Leave the World Behind (Netflix)
The film follows a family who go on vacation only for two strangers to appear on their doorstep as the world begins collapsing around them. (Netflix)

"And that was really the umbrella that everything else — from the racism, to classism, to our reliance on technology — they're underneath all of that."

The narrative is quite different to what viewers may expect from a post-apocalyptic film, as it focuses the story not on the disasters but the characters, leaving the audience in the dark as much as them by keeping details of what is happening to a minimum until the very last moment.

Of this, Esmail reflects: "The book was just so beautifully written, and I was really struck by the characters, typically when you read a disaster thriller like this the priority of the story is on the disaster elements and, Rumaan, what he did so beautifully was really make it about the characters and push the disaster elements off into the distance.

Leave the World Behind (Netflix)
Director Sam Esmail enjoyed making a post apocalypse film of a different kind, one that shows 'how we quickly lose sight of our common humanity in the face of a crises'. (Netflix)

"I never had seen it done that way before and so it just excited me and I'm such a fan of the genre that I wanted to take that opportunity to invert that formula, and really explore a disaster through uncertainty.

"I think typically when you watch a disaster film it is upfront and you're waiting for the character to navigate around it.

"But here you're with the characters in the dark and that's driving the divisions between them, and I just found that really, utterly fascinating and unique."Sam Esmail

Developing the characters

The filmmaker found it 'utterly fascinating and unique' to make a film where the audience is as much in the dark as the characters. (Netflix)
The filmmaker found it 'utterly fascinating and unique' to make a film where the audience is as much in the dark as the characters. (Netflix)

Roberts found it an interesting challenge to create and play Amanda, a woman who struggles to like people in general and whose inner racial bias comes to the forefront when she meets G.H. and Ruth for the first time and sees them as a threat to her family.

"I love the opportunity to make it really clear from the jump of a movie exactly who the person is that I'm playing," Roberts says of her character.

"I have this great speech in the beginning and so that's really fun because you've built everything in the first three minutes and then you get to work on nuance for the rest of the time."Julia Roberts

"And I think for Amanda she's just so sure about who she is and what she believes, and it's kind of myopic.

"To be put into this circumstance that she thinks she's created this sort of paradise weekend for her and her family, but everything that makes her unsteady starts to come into play, with people and places and [how in] the middle of the night [there are] people at the door. To watch each one of those threads unravel was fascinating."

Leave the World Behind (Netflix)
Leave the World Behind had to feature characters that 'felt very human'. (Netflix)

Herrold's character Ruth was equally as confrontational a character, she tells Yahoo UK, which was something that the Industry actor was keen to examine closer in the movie.

"Sam and I together were really specific and intentional about which moments we would reveal something else to the audience that Ruth was feeling because she does come on super strong, she does come off very confident and very sure, but to me that was a mask and also how she was coping with the situation," Herrold says.

"There had to be moments where you see deep fear, you see deep loss, you see anxiety and insecurity."Myha'la Herrold

"But they were peppered in and really, really specific and not too much because that's sort of her schtick."

For Esmail it was most important to trust his cast to bring the characters to life, adding: "To me all the characters felt very human and they felt human because they were complicated and flawed, not necessarily heroic, sometimes cowardly and they were all pushed to their worst instincts.

"When you have an A-list cast like I had you trust that they're going to find the humanity in all these people, so that as an audience member you're just not so disconnected, you're able to see yourself in them even while they're making mistakes and failing their family, or themselves."

Leave the World Behind premieres on Netflix on Friday, 8 December.

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