Lorene Scafaria attends the premiere of "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" in Los Angeles.
PHOTO: Getty Images
Lorene Scafaria attends the premiere of "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" in Los Angeles.

Story highlights

Screenwriter Lorene Scafaria makes directorial debut with 'Seeking a Friend'

The film follows two neighbors as they prepare for an asteroid to wipe out life on Earth

Scafaria saw the film as a way to explore human emotions

(CNN) —  

In “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” the plot is simple: An asteroid headed for Earth is ready to wipe out life as we know it.

But the film isn’t just a rehashing of the doomsday plots you might be familiar with from movies like “Deep Impact” or “Armageddon.” Instead, the film follows Dodge (Steve Carell) on a last-minute road-trip with his neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), as they drive from New York to Delaware in search of Dodge’s high school girlfriend – “the one that got away.”

Along with Carell and Knightley, the film has a stellar supporting cast, including Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Rob Corddry and Patton Oswalt, to name a few. The story mixes a range of emotions – regret, spite, fear and love – through this backdrop of pending doom, balancing humor and sadness with dread.

Written by Lorene Scafaria, whose work includes the 2008 adaptation of the novel “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist,” “Seeking a Friend” also marks her directorial debut.

CNN spoke with Scafaria from her home in Los Angeles about the origins of “Seeking a Friend,” directing Carell and who would be the first to let loose in the world’s last days.

CNN: “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is about the annihilation of Earth by an asteroid. Is the doom of the human race something you’ve pondered a lot?

Scafaria: I’ve definitely been thinking about it a long time (laughs). Most of my nightmares that jolt me awake either involve the cosmos or something completely out of human control. In reality, I worry more about nuclear war, or war in general. I’ve been more “world weary” in the last 10 years than before.

But even still, in a way, I saw (the film) as a way to explore human emotions. I wanted that epic backdrop, but to keep the storytelling very intimate and character driven.

CNN: The beginning of the film is very funny and sarcastic – but it becomes sad. How do you find the balance between those sentiments?

Scafaria: When you go through something like this, if it is a death or divorce, you have to find ways to cope with it – to see humor in the worst situations. I do think there’s a fine line between comedy and (tragedy), and sometimes both are happening at the exact same time. It’s something I’ve lived through and I’ve always tried to laugh through those dark times.

In writing the script, it was something I kept in mind. Steve Carell has always been one of those people who’s great at finding that tone. (His “The Office” character) Michael Scott was a tragic-comic character. So much pain behind the smile.

CNN: When watching this movie, a lot of questions go through one’s mind about what they’d do in this situation. Some people act crazy, and some people continue to have yard sales, or work their job at the deli.

Scafaria: Right, right. I do think people would go about their business. Routine is part of coping. 9/11 was something where we all had to go back to work on Monday. … Some people would do it because they’re creatures of habit, some people would do it because it’s what they love.

CNN: The other theme that’s prevalent, and is utterly devastating throughout, is regret. Are you a regretful person?

Scafaria: I’m not, but I have them anyway. I try not to dwell. I feel very much like (Knightley’s character) Penny in that sense, where I try to live my life to the fullest. But by doing that, you still end up missing out and spreading yourself very thin. I’ve spent holidays with ex-boyfriends and felt like I missed out on Christmas Eve with my family. Those were huge regrets. I’m a person that thinks time is very precious and our only commodity. … It’s so upsetting when I feel like something has wasted my time.

CNN: You hate the DMV don’t you?

Scafaria: I haven’t had to go there too many times in my life, so it’s not the worst place on Earth. I’d say the Rite Aid on Sunset and Fairfax, where I live, is hell on Earth.

CNN: This was Steve Carell’s first film that he did after leaving “The Office.” What did you notice about how he works?

Scafaria: He never stops working. He’s always thinking, always present. He’s really collaborative. He trusted me for some reason, which was so lovely, and yet we’d watch playback together – he’s the kind of guy who looks at his tapes and learns from it – and for the most part, we just agreed on what we both liked. He isn’t the kind of comedian who is “on” all the time. And in that way, he’s so funny and comfortable to be around.

CNN: The apocalypse has been a serious news topic lately. Did you research how different cultures view the end of the world before writing this?

Scafaria: I looked a little bit into it. I’ve been obsessed with doomsday for a long time – the idea that different cultures respond to it differently, and religions will change people’s outlook on it. There is a bit of that in the film – different cultures, different classes of people represented. A lot of thought was put behind how different people would react to the news.

CNN: In the beginning of the film, there’s a lot of straight-laced adults letting loose because they have nothing to lose. Is there a type of person who’s going to be doing heroin in their final days?

Scafaria: In the script I wrote, “the most normal-looking couple enters with heroin.” I think (it’s) the most buttoned-up (who) would want to cut loose the most.