Christopher Nolan talks Interstellar
With the hugely anticipated Interstellar opening in cinemas worldwide, our film writer Van Connor met with acclaimed director Christopher Nolan to get the full low-down on the year’s biggest science fiction extravaganza.
Christopher Nolan is, at present, one of the world’s most acclaimed directors. Effortlessly leaping between franchise pictures with his work on the Dark Knight trilogy, and original properties such as the critically lauded Inception; the 44-year old British director has been the one to watch for some time. “I like movies. I think movies are great” he jokingly declares.
Continuing the ruthlessly efficient streak that has kept his work so valued, Interstellar is the story of a future in which Earth is rapidly becoming less and less inhabitable. The solution: to find a home in the stars, courtesy of a mission flown by a team of scientists and led by optimistic pilot and family man Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey. His first original project since Inception, it’s two in a row for Nolan and science fiction. “I grew up in an era which was really the golden age of blockbusters,” he reminisces, “films like Steven Spielberg doing Close Encounters and the way it addressed the idea of this inevitable moment where humans would meet aliens and address that from a family perspective and a relatable human perspective. I really like the idea of trying to give today’s audiences some sense of that form of storytelling.”
The film’s timing couldn’t be more be more suited, with the worldwide release coming just over a year after Alfonso Cuarón’s seminal Gravity, a film that hardly fit the traditional method of filmmaking. “The success of Alfonso’s movie is very encouraging from the point of view of working in science fiction,” he admits. “The thing you hope for when doing an original project – one that isn’t a sequel or a franchise or isn’t based on something from another medium… the hope is that if it succeeds, it encourages that type of work within the studio system. It’s what we tried to do with Inception and it would be nice for this to work on this as well. But we’ll wait and see.”
As is par for the course with Nolan, Interstellar is built from the ground up to be seen on the biggest format possible. Namely IMAX, for which the director has been a very vocal advocate for many years. With each passing film, Nolan has shot more and more in the larger format; with his last three usurping one another for the record of having the most footage in a Hollywood film captured in the IMAX format. “For me the great thing about movies has always been the large screen – the large audience experience, that’s what you’re always hope for” he reveals. It’s where his filmmaking truly belongs, he feels. “One of my earliest movie-going memories was going to Leicester Square to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was seven years old and I’ve never forgotten the scale of that experience. I saw my first IMAX film when I was fifteen and immediately wanted to make features that way. Really for me, working on this scale, that medium was just a long-held dream of mine.”
IMAX is only part of the equation for the acclaimed director, the film has also seen a noticeable marketing push in being shown in 70mm film, a format that has its supporters amongst notable directors in the industry; with Nolan joining the likes of Tarantino in championing the format. “Certainly it’s fighting a rear-guard action as we’ve been swamped by digital technology. It’s not really a question of whether it should or shouldn’t have a future, it sort of has to. Simply from an archival perspective. The libraries can’t function without it,” he says of the traditional format. “It’s very important to preserve its place in the film-making process and that’s obviously something I’ve done to draw attention to preserve it for future generations.”
Tradition is the name of the game, of course. For one thing, Interstellar owes a visible debt to classic Hollywood science fiction tale 2001: A Space Odyssey – something the director himself willingly cops to – but it’s not the only inspiration. “There are so many influences on the film. You point to 2001, an obvious influence but a huge inspiration for the film. There are quite a few others. The key one in a technical sense and in terms of spirit is The Right Stuff, which I think is an extraordinary film. I screened it for the crew before we started the film and discussing our methodology. I was introduced to Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror which I think had a big influence on certain elemental things in the story with the wheat and the dust. There are lots of different things rattling around in there.”
Science fiction has always been present in Nolan’s works, with even The Prestige owing a debt to the genre with the presence of David Bowie’s Nikola Tesla. The director admits his love of the genre freely (“My favourite character has got to be Darth Vader” he sheepishly confesses), but does it stem from any kind of belief in life beyond our celestial sphere? “There is a lot of probability going in around that. There’s a thing called the Drake Equation which pretty well establishes from a mathematical point of view that it’s extremely likely actually.” It’s apparent he’s given the matter a great deal of thought, as indeed he seems to everything else. “I think to try and make any determination along the lines of probability or certainty is very difficult” he claims, “The idea is interesting to speculate upon and the idea and one of the really important things in this film, that brought it home to me, is the sense of scale…is the perspective of us on our little planet compared to what we already know about the vast universe around us.”
As with every project he undertakes however, Interstellar marks another opportunity for Nolan to reunite with the team he’s so carefully crafted with each new film. From his wife and producing partner Emma Thomas to musician Hans Zimmer, to cast members such as Michael Caine, who have become part of the traditional Nolan ensemble. It’s an aspect of the process that he thoroughly enjoys. “I like working with the same actors again,” he says, having recruited Anne Hathaway last time around with The Dark Knight Rises. “I’m always put in the slightly embarrassing position of being asked what I think of certain ones… well I hate them, of course, that’s why I work with them time and time again!” he laughs.