Hollywood star Julia Roberts dishes on new apocalyptic film produced by Obama

 December 8, 2023

Following the conclusion of his tenure in the White House, former President Barack Obama and his wife entered the entertainment industry with the creation of Higher Ground Productions and a deal with Netflix.

One recent project is an apocalyptic thriller film adaptation of a best-seller novel that stars Hollywood A-lister Julia Roberts, who just gushed about working with the former president to late-night talk host Jimmy Fallon, according to the Daily Mail.

That conversation provided the comedic host with an opportunity to make a humorous impression of Obama as a film producer.

Roberts and Fallon discuss working with Obama on film

In "Leave the World Behind," the Obamas' Higher Ground Productions teamed up with director and producer Sam Esmail, the creator of "Mr. Robot," to adapt to film the best-selling 2020 novel of the same title by author Rumaan Alam.

The movie stars Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke as a couple with two teenage kids who rent a vacation property on Long Island during an unspecified apocalyptic event and then have to deal with the property owner, played by Mahershala Ali, and his teenage daughter seeking refuge with them in the rental home.

During her appearance Tuesday on "The Tonight Show," Roberts was asked by Fallon about the collaboration with former President Obama and whether the former first couple worked closely with others to make the movie. Roberts said, "Yes. Well, this was on President Obama's reading list, you know, he puts out his cool books and cool songs."

"So this book was on his list and he's a big fan of 'Mr. Robot.' And so I think he and Sam, you know, collaborated with the notes in the beginning and the notes when we were done filming and the post-production," she added.

Fallon then drew laughter from Roberts as he emulated Obama's voice and vocal patterns to imitate how the ex-president might sound in the "editing room," and said, "If you're knocking on the door, I would hide. It's his Airbnb. It's his Airbnb. He can do what he wants. He's allowed to live there, it's his house."

Obama contributed notes to keep film realistic and true to the novel

In September, Vanity Fair interviewed Esmail about "Leave the World Behind" and, among other things, discussed his collaboration with former President Obama on not just the production of the film but also on writing the script and screenplay.

"In the original drafts of the script, I definitely pushed things a lot farther than they were in the film, and President Obama, having the experience he does have, was able to ground me a little bit on how things might unfold in reality," Esmail said. "I am writing what I think is fiction, for the most part, I’m trying to keep it as true to life as possible, but I’m exaggerating and dramatizing. And to hear an ex-president say you’re off by a few details … I thought I was off by a lot! The fact that he said that scared the f--k out of me."

"He had a lot of notes about the characters and the empathy we would have for them," the director said of Obama. "I have to say he is a big movie lover, and he wasn’t just giving notes about things that were from his background. He was giving notes as a fan of the book, and he wanted to see a really good film."

Now streaming on Netflix

According to Vanity Fair, "Leave the World Behind" is the first work of fiction produced by the Obamas' Higher Ground company, which previously had only worked on an assortment of programs for children, documentaries, and historical dramas.

The Daily Mail noted that the film successfully debuted at the AFI Fest last month and had a limited run in select theaters in late November ahead of its premiere on Netflix on Dec. 8.

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