Barack Obama ‘scared’ director of new Julia Roberts movie with ‘a lot of’ script notes

Former US president Barack Obama sent “a lot of [script] notes” to Sam Esmail, the director of the forthcoming disaster film Leave the World Behind.

The thriller is an adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel of the same name, which Obama had included on his 2021 summer reading list.

Starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali and Ethan Hawke, it will mark the first fiction film to come from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions company.

In a new interview with Vanity Fair, Esmail discussed the process of preparing the book for the screen.

“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,” the Mr Robot creator explained.

“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 dramatising. 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*** out of me.”

Leave the World Behind follows a family whose vacation on Long Island is interrupted by two strangers warning of a blackout. Both families must then come up with a plan on how best to survive as the crisis escalates to a monumental scale.

Esmail added that he was reassured when the Obamas argued that some of his “potential plot points were too bleak or unlikely”.

Barack Obama, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke (Getty Images and Netflix)
Barack Obama, Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke (Getty Images and Netflix)

“He had a lot notes about the characters and the empathy we would have for them,” the director recalled. “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.”

Higher Ground Productions is also the company behind Rustin, in which the Euphoria actor Colman Domingo stars as Martin Luther King Jr’s advisor, Bayard Rustin.

Leave the World Behind will have its world premiere at Hollywood’s AFI Fest in October before it becomes available to stream on Netflix on 8 December.