What happens when romance meets the Apocalypse? That’s the question writer/director Lorene Scafaria, 34, ponders in her directorial debut, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”

What happens when romance meets the Apocalypse? That’s the question writer/director Lorene Scafaria, 34, ponders in her directorial debut, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”


Nancy Walls Carell has a small – but memorable - part in the film’s opening scene. Walls Carell plays Linda, the screen wife of her real-life husband (Steve Carell, “The Office”). After hearing a radio report that an asteroid will decimate Earth in 21 days, she silently – but powerfully – jumps out of the car and runs away as far and fast as she can, without looking back. Coincidentally, the scene was shot on the couple’s 16th anniversary.


“We ended up getting them a big anniversary cake with an asteroid crashed in the middle of it,” Scafaria said.


“The first time we filmed it she turns to him with such venom in her eyes. I was like ‘Oooooo Nancy,’” Scafaria said. “When she ran away from him, Steve said, ‘I’ve never seen her run before,’”


“I came up with this idea for her to play his wife, but was like, ‘Am I insulting anybody by asking her?’ I’m asking for his real wife to really leave him right out of the gate, but Nancy saw the humor in it.”


A dramatic comedy, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” stars Carell and Keira Knightley (“A Dangerous Method”). The film proffers what people might do if they knew the world was ending.


“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” is thematically opposite from the first feature screenplay Scafaria wrote – “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” That film focused on teens with nothing but time on their hands. She said the idea for this film started to percolate when that film was coming out in 2008.


“There was no ticking clock for Nick and Norah. In this case, what if we gave them the loudest ticking clock of all time? What if you took forever off the table?” Scafaria said.


A native of New Jersey, Scafaria moved to Los Angeles a week before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She remembered being alone and isolated on the West Coast and, like the characters she created in “World,” she was desperate for human connection.


“I was calling up old friends, looking up old boyfriends, every sort of desperate attempt to just reach out to people and not be alone. I was sort of stranded there,” Scafaria said. “But it felt like we were all in it together. I felt that was really beautiful, that out of tragedy comes something like that. ... I just thought in the darkest hours, that’s when people are closest to their humanity.”


That feeling stayed with her and she built the emotion into a screenplay that she pitched to Mandate Pictures with herself attached to direct, but the project was put on hold when Scafaria took six months off to care for her ill father.


“Going through that and coming back to the script after, with this new perspective of time, gave me that sense of urgency and immediacy. I need to start the story. Fifteen minutes was an eternity for my father,” Scafaria said.


From Carell to Rob Corddry to Knightley, the film’s roster of talent is an inspired bit of casting. Supporting players include Patton Oswalt, Melanie Lynskey and Adam Brody.


Corddry (“Hot Tub Time Machine”) plays a hard-partying dude celebrating Earth’s final days. Corddry’s character Warren decides to go out on a high note by hosting an anything-goes, booze- and drug-fueled Armageddon bash. Scafaria said she wrote the role especially for him. Connie Britton (TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) plays his wife.


“I told Rob I was going to put him in a Dunkin’ Donuts T-shirt and he was like, ‘Yeeeeessss. Dunky’s, really?” Scafaria said.


Carell, however, was Scafaria’s biggest get.


“We never would have been able to make the movie without him. I mean I was such a question mark. He had to approve me and once he was on board, it was such a vote of confidence. Steve really responded to the character,” Scafaria said.


Carell plays Dodge, a lonely sad-sack insurance salesman whose wife just left him. With the world coming to the end and a life full of regrets, Dodge sets out to reconnect with his high school sweetheart – his first and only true love. As the second act begins, Dodge takes Knightley’s free-spirited Penny along for the ride.


“We filmed the beginning at the end. What was so interesting was that we had Steve and Keira together for the beginning and then Keira took off. When she left, and we were just filming Dodge’s stuff he was really lonely and it really added to his performance,” Scafaria said.


The film might be about inevitable death, but it’s OK if you feel strangely uplifted walking out of the theater. That’s intended, Scafaria said.


“The point is to appreciate life. If there was no end, life wouldn’t feel as precious,” she said.


And if the world were really ending?


“I would just take my two dogs for a hike of a lifetime, eat as much garbage as humanly possible and be with family and friends, for sure,” Scafaria said.


The movie opens in theaters on Friday.


Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com.