Leonardo DiCaprio a 'Sweet Guy,' Says Scientist Who Inspired 'Don't Look Up' Role

Leonardo DiCaprio has become the talk of the holiday season thanks to his role as astronomy professor Dr. Randall Mindy in the Netflix movie Don't Look Up.

And the man who inspired his lauded performance—Michael E. Mann, Ph.D., distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University—has praised the actor, describing him as a "sweet guy" from the years they have known one another.

In the satire, DiCaprio's Mindy is seen warning the government—and the world—that an asteroid is on course to destroy planet Earth in six months. However, thanks in large part to a reckless President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), Mindy finds himself exasperatedly shouting the message to a willfully misled public.

While the reactions shown in the Adam McKay-directed black comedy can be equated to those who shoot down climate change studies, Mann told Newsweek how DiCaprio has also faced "bitter attacks" in real life for his unwavering drive to raise awareness on environmental issues.

"I very much support Leo and his efforts in this space," said Mann, who is also director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. "He has faced bitter attacks from climate denialists and inactivists precisely because he has such wide reach and is such a powerful and influential voice. But he continues to use his platform to inform the public about the climate crisis despite the grief he receives for doing so."

Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio attends the Japan premiere of "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" on August 26, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. The actor has been lauded by the real-life professor who inspired his performance in the new Netflix movie "Don't Look Up." Christopher Jue/Getty Images

In promotional material for Don't Look Up, DiCaprio directly named Mann when he spoke about the challenges climate scientists face on sharing their findings.

"It was a much different character than anything I have ever had the opportunity to play at," the actor told Netflix. "It really reminded me what it's like for climate scientists, scientists like you know, Michael Mann for example when they're put in the mainstream new circuit and told to talk about you know, the catastrophic events of the climate crisis.

"And here they are trying to be media-savvy and not politicize the issue but just try to articulate the facts the best they can."

An "honored" Mann reacted by tweeting a link to a Newsweek article on December 26, as he wrote: "Honored to be name-checked by @LeoDiCaprio in this interview about the must-see new film #DontLookUp."

In his recent book The New Climate War, Mann detailed the resistance DiCaprio has faced from critics, after the two got to know one another several years ago. Thanks to their numerous interactions since, Mann said that it was "pretty natural" of DiCaprio to incorporate some of the professor's story in his screen performance.

"I've known Leo for a number of years," Mann told Newsweek. "I was featured in his climate change [documentary] Before The Flood some years ago, and we had a very lengthy conversation.

"I'm probably the one climate scientist he knows personally—and with which he's most familiar including being familiar [with] the challenge and struggles I've faced. So it was pretty natural for him to draw upon all of that in playing this character.

"When he stated recently that the character was in part inspired by me, I think that's what he was talking about. In particular, the challenges of being both a scientist and a communicator and communicating the science and its implications in a way that is both accessible to the public but faithful to the science.

"I think he was also capturing the evolution that one goes through from being a scientist to being a science communicator and public figure, how one becomes more skilled and polished as a communicator with more experience. It's a transition that some of us have undergone, and I think Leo has had an opportunity over the years to observe that transition in me."

Professor Michael Mann
(L-R) Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State Michael Mann, Marine Ecologist Jeremy Jackson, and moderator Thom Hartman attend the "Before The Flood" premiere during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. Mann told Newsweek that Leonardo DiCaprio is "smart" and "thoughtful." Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

The similarities between Mindy and Mann stop when it comes to some of the self-destructive decisions that the former makes as his star rises.

"He makes personal choices that I would like to think differ greatly from the choices I would have made," Mann noted. "He allows himself to fall victim to the glitz and glamor of being a public figure and he becomes compromised—in every way: professional, ethically, and personally.

"He betrays his friends, his family, his students, himself, and indeed his species, as he becomes compromised by the forces of delay and inaction. He regains his moral bearings before the bitter end.

"I think Leo and Adam wanted to explore the challenges of being both a climate scientist and a public figure in the very contentious public arena of the climate crisis. It was natural for Leo to draw upon someone he knows well who has faced those challenges and struggles."

While astronomer Amy Mainzer, a professor at the University of Arizona, officially advised the cast, Mann noted that DiCaprio had much to draw on from the two's encounters.

"I've advised him and corresponded with him now for a number of years. So he knows me quite well," Mann told Newsweek.

"Leo has often consulted with me about the science and its implications," he went on. "I find him to be smart, thoughtful, and intellectually curious. And unassuming. One on one, Leo is just a sweet guy."

With both Mann and DiCaprio sharing a clear mutual admiration, one would have to wonder who was the most star-struck of the two when they first met.

Finding the question amusing, Mann said: "Judging by the number of selfies taken, I would say that's me! But I also think that Leo has great respect and admiration for those of us who work on the basic science and seek to communicate it more broadly, and that really comes across when you speak with him one on one. So, yeah, I suppose there is some mutuality to the bromance!"

Mann, who said that he's willing to work again with DiCaprio "any time, any place," acknowledged that there's a fine line when it comes to Hollywood's drive to spread awareness of climate change and the human effect on the environment.

"Like anything, there's the good and the bad," Mann said. "There are those who are helpful, and those who are less so.

"But I can tell you that I've met a number of directors, producers and actors—many of whom I would consider friends—who are extremely concerned about matters of environmental sustainability in general and the climate crisis specifically, and who have used their platform to help educate the public and spur the needed actions. Leo and Adam McKay are at the very top of that list."

Noting that Don't Look Up has sparked conversation surrounding environmental issues, Mann said that he gives the hit film "two thumbs up." He has also penned glowing reviews for The Boston Globe and Red, Green, and Blue.

Don't Look Up Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy in "Don't Look Up." Netflix