Leave the World Behind‘s Surprising Obama Connection

Leave the World Behind‘s Surprising Obama Connection

preview for Julia Roberts, Myha'la Herrold & Sam Esmail | Leave The World Behind

Leave the World Behind, a tense new drama starring Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke and Mahershala Ali, is based on Rumaan Alam’s novel of the same name, which former President of the United States Barack Obama included in his list of books of the year in 2021.

Barack and Michelle Obama have executive-produced the film adaptation through their company Higher Ground’s deal with Netflix, their first foray into scripted drama. And as director Sam Esmail revealed in a recent interview with Vanity Fair, the former POTUS also had valuable input into the content of the script, offering his real-life expertise on how a widespread crisis scenario might actually occur.

“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,” he 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 fuck out of me.”

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

leave the world behind


Unlike a lot of other movies which depict characters with deeply entrenched differences learning to come together to survive a disaster, Leave the World Behind is intentionally vague in its ending, and does not include any clear moral or message. That was Esmail’s—and by extension, the Obamas’—design.

And we shouldn’t wait around until the catastrophe happens—the work begins now. I think [Obama] would say the same thing,” he said. “Again, a trope of the disaster genre is that you’re set up with a few characters who are divided and then they come together and defeat or overcome or get through what’s occurring. But that is just not true to real life. So the work begins now. It’s not really a message film, it’s more of a reflection on where we’re at as a society. But if there is a message, it’s a warning.”

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Philip Ellis

Philip Ellis is News Editor at Men’s Health, covering fitness, pop culture, sex and relationships, and LGBTQ+ issues. His work has appeared in GQ, Teen Vogue, Man Repeller and MTV, and he is the author of Love & Other Scams.


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