“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,” Esmail, the film’s writer and director, told Vanity Fair. “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 fuck out of me.”
The film is an adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name and is being executive-produced by Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama via their company Higher Ground Productions ― marking the first time the couple have backed a fictional film, according to Vanity Fair. The book was featured on Barack Obama’s 2021 summer reading list.
Esmail said the former president had “a lot” of notes about the characters.
“I have to say he is a big movie lover, and he wasn’t just giving notes about things that were from his background,” Esmail said. “He was giving notes as a fan of the book, and he wanted to see a really good film.”
Obama “was able to ground” Esmail “a little bit on how things might unfold in reality,” the filmmaker told Vanity Fair. But Esmail also said he “was more reassured” when the president and former first lady suggested some of the filmmaker’s “plot points were too bleak or unlikely.”
According to Esmail, credit for the script largely goes to the source material.
“What I think Rumaan did so well in the novel, and what I tried to capture in the film is to ... make the focus be on the characters, and their reaction,” Esmail told Vanity Fair. “The spectacle of the disaster is secondary and off in the distance.”
“Leave the World Behind” is set to premiere at AFI Fest next month and comes to theaters on Nov. 22 before appearing on Netflix on Dec. 8.