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‘This is the greatest existential story of our time’

Matthew Rhys, Heather Graham, Alexander Sokovikov, Noel Arthur Extrapolations. (Photo: ©Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Scott Z. Burns proved far too prescient for consolation when he wrote Infection – the 2011 pandemic thriller that nine years later became one of the most-streamed movies in the early weeks of the real COVID-19 lockdowns.

It’s scary, then, to think how accurate his crystal ball could be Extrapolationsthe new star-studded Apple TV+ anthology series that takes a highly plausible (and according to Burns and collaborators, highly scientific) look at what the near future might look like with the worsening global effects of climate change.

The projects do share some of the same DNA, Burns tells us during a recent virtual press day.

“I think the process we explored as writers and creators is very similar,” says Burns, who also produced the 2006 Oscar-winning documentary. An inconvenient truth with former Vice President Al Gore. “We started with science. We spoke to experts. We asked them what could happen. It is clear that with the pandemic there were those in the past. And so everyone we talked to said it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a “when.”

“I think when it comes to tackling the future and climate change it’s not a matter of ‘either’ because you see climate change every day now, in fires, in storms, in extreme heat. So it’s not a question of ‘if’. But for us it was a matter of ‘what’. What are we going to tolerate and what are we going to fight against? And those are really both the similarities and the differences in the process for us.

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Beginning in 2037 and running through 2070 over eight episodes, Extrapolations imagines a world where wildfires engulf large parts of the world, rising sea levels sink buildings in Miami and elephants and whales are nearly extinct.

The subject caught the attention of Hollywood. The cast list reads like an awards show: Meryl Streep, Edwards Norton, Sienna Miller, Kit Harington, Diane Lane, Tobey Maguire, Forest Whitaker, Matthew Rhys, Heather Graham, Gemma Chan, David Schwimmer, Keri Russell, Daveed Diggs and more.

“The jumps Scott is doing aren’t actually jumps, this is the trajectory we’re following,” says Diggs (Hamilton, blindspot), playing a Florida rabbi whose temple is in danger of flooding. “Not that we have to, but we are. We couldn’t either. But that must be active. We can’t sit here and let it happen.

“What I love about Scott’s mission here is that he gives us as much information as he can give us on the show, but also hopefully inspires us to be a little more active in how we think about climate change and then go out and find the means to be more effective in combating it.

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EXTRAPOLATIONS, Daveed Diggs, (Season 1, Episode 103, aired March 17, 2023).  photo: Zach Dilgard /©Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

Daveed Diggs in Extrapolations. (Photo: Zach Dilgard /©Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection)

The Diggs castmates agree: We’re well past the point of cautionary tales. Extrapolations is a call to action.

“It’s a crucial moment to make something like this,” says Michael Gandolfini (The Many Saints of Newark). “Scott really has the ability to teach in a way that isn’t preachy, but informative and kind and also rooted in humanity… You’re going to want to say, ‘What can I do?’ I can participate in protests or marches, I can have my reusable water bottle, I can educate myself.”

“These aren’t predictions anymore,” says Rhys. “It’s all happening now. We are seeing it in real time… We are now seeing the beginning of everything that is portrayed in this show.”

Lane has already done the protest part. The Unfaithful actress was arrested in 2019 during a climate change protest in Washington, DC

“I was ready to be arrested, protesting,” she says. “You want to know what zip code you’re doing that in. And I wouldn’t do it outside of the United States… But being active helps with depression [about climate change]. And I think this show shows that we’re going to be proactive and we’re not going to go down without a fight. Whether that means fighting ourselves or fighting our own nature.”

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The cast also emphasizes the show’s clear entertainment value, not just educational or social value.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 14: (L-R) Michael Gandolfini, Michael Ellenberg, Mia Maestro, Eiza Gonzèlez, Neska Rose, Tara Summers, Tobey Maguire, Joaopaulo Malheiro, Sienna Miller, Maame Yaa Boafo, Kit Harington, Bella Patel Sauer, Gemma Chan, Ben Harper, Scott Z. Burns, Yara Shahidi, Indira Varma, Tahar Rahim, Devika Bhise, Heather Graham, Gaz Choudhry and Lindsey Springer attend the Apple Original Series

Michael Gandolfini, Michael Ellenberg, Mia Maestro, Eiza González, Neska Rose, Tara Summers, Tobey Maguire, Joaopaulo Malheiro, Sienna Miller, Maame Yaa Boafo, Kit Harington, Bella Patel Sauer, Gemma Chan, Ben Harper, Scott Z. Burns, Yara Shahidi, Indira Varma, Tahar Rahim, Devika Bhise, Heather Graham, Gaz Choudhry and Lindsey Springer attend the Extrapolations red carpet premiere at the Hammer Museum on March 14, 2023 in Los Angeles, California (Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

“I think when you personalize things and make it visceral, it can make a difference,” says Graham. “As an actor you also want to entertain people.”

“It’s scary, but it’s real,” says Indira Varma (Luther, Game of Thrones). “Often you hear about climate change and what is happening, what it is doing. And it can feel pointless unless you live it. But if we tell stories, hopefully we can reach more people because it’s about how we feel.”

“Images remain, stories remain”, agrees Tahar Rahim (The Mauritanian). “Movies and TV series have a special power.”

Burns, 60: “I grew up in a time when there were all these movies that really built context around the Vietnam War, and that was kind of the big story of America at the time. Whether it was Apocalypse now or Deer hunter or Killing fieldsor Born July 4. All these movies helped me understand as a kid what just happened.

“Well, this is what is happening now. This is the greatest existential story of our time. And I do believe, as a writer, and I think our fellow collaborators felt the same way about this, that this was an opportunity to give context to that. And I think it’s by giving people context that you empower them to start making their own path to action.

Extrapolations now streaming on Apple TV+.

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