Christopher Nolan Interview

The director talks about getting David Bowie in his film, that other "magic" movie, and the sequel to Batman Begins

Chris Nolan has achieved a lot for only directing six movies. His third film basically revolutionized the way a story could be told on film (Memento). His fifth film reinvigorated the Batman franchise (Batman Begins), and his newest film, The Prestige, seems poised to be one of the best films of the year.

Nolan's newest film is a twisting, turning tale of urgent mystery. Two Victorian-era magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) spark a powerful rivalry that builds into an escalating battle of tricks and an unquenchable thirst to uncover the other's trade secrets. As these two remarkable men pit daring against desire, showmanship against science and ambition against friendship, the results are dangerous, deadly and definitely deceptive.

How do you keep the production on track with a complicated story like The Prestige?

Christopher Nolan: Well, I think the real truth of that is that much as you want to believe that it's you being on top of everything, you're actually relying massively on the people around you. Particularly, the actors, to have analyzed the script in great detail from the point of view of their specific character. So that they have a handle on exactly where the character is in the chronology of things. In that sense the actors become your best check on the logic of the piece, and the way in which it all fits together. They become essential collaborators. The main thing is you have to work with very smart actors.

How important is it for you to lay clues so that on multiple viewings we can see that something really was there all along?

Christopher Nolan: I think it's very important that a film that intends to play tricks on the audience... has to play fair with the audience. For me, any time you're going to have a reveal in the film, it's essential that it have been shown to the audience as much as possible. What that means is that some people are going to figure it out very early on. Other people not til the end. Everybody watches the film differently. I like films that don't have that unonimity of a response; that don't have consensus in the audience. What it is essentially for me is that if you go back and watch the film a second time, do you feel that you've been played fair with? Are all the clues in place? Indeed, sometimes these things are even overstated. Specifically, for that reason.

Was it shocking to know that The Illusionist was coming out three months before this film?

Christopher Nolan: Yeah, I don't know because I haven't seen it. Obviously, genrewise, there are some similarities. It certainly wasn't a shock because I was aware of that film. You know you make the film you make, and you hope people will appreciate it for what it is. There's always some other film out there.

Is there a film from your youth that you obsessed about?

Christopher Nolan: The film that really struck me was Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. That was a film I watched many, many times and found endlessly fascinating in it's density. I think the density of that film is primarily visual density, atmospheric, sound density, moreso than narrative density.

The way you shot the film seemed to sort of make the time...

Christopher Nolan: Yeah, we tried to throw away the period. Period films to me are very often alienating to the audience. There's very often a formality. A staunchy quality to them that comes from the misenscene. It also comes from the performances of the actors, because they're acting Victorian which really means that they're just acting the way they've seen previous actors act Victorian. We don't have any real records of the look and sound of people in the period that aren't in some way performances, because it was a big deal to record a voice or put anybody on film back then.

Our assumption was the world doesn't change that much. Human behavior doesn't change that much, lets approach this film as if it was a contemporary film.

How were you able to get magicians to help with the making of The Prestige?

Christopher Nolan: The bulk of what we did was based on my brother's research, based on what the novel provided. Then a lot of it is invention on our part rather than sort of trying to batter down the doors of magic... or what have you. Later in the day we got Ricky Jay and Michael Weber on board as magic consultants. Primarily for getting the actors comfortable with hand movements and techniques that magicians use. Ricky is very careful about what he will reveal. He wouldn't teach me anything that I didn't need to know. He would just ask me which side will the camera be on. He would literally teach Hugh and Christian half of a trick because there was only half of it in the film.

How did you cast David Bowie in the film?

Christopher Nolan: I was looking for a Tesla who would have an extraordinary and immediate charisma. It's a small part in the film but it's so important, for the audience when they see him, to immediately invest in the possibilities of what this guy could do for Angier (Hugh Jackman). I felt that any movie star would provide that charisma in the wrong way and be distracting somehow. Bowie's charisma, his otherworldly sort of qualities, he comes from a different place. It was a bit of an odd choice in some ways but to me it was essential to get him. Luckily, I managed to convince him by telling him that, basically.

What was it like working on this movie with your brother Jonathan?

Christopher Nolan: It's always a fun collaboration with my brother. I'm very fortuneate to able to work with him. There's an honesty to the collaboration. There's a lack of agenda or ego in our conversations. You can really throw anything around.

How did you get Christian on board for another project?

Christopher Nolan: I tend to, when I'm writing a script, not think of actors at all. Just think of the characters as real characters. For that reason, it wasn't until I was completely finished with the script that I even thought about who would play these parts. As soon as I started thinking about it, the two of them seemed very obvious. The roles seemed written for them. They weren't at all.

Is The Killing Joke going to be source material for the next Batman?

Christopher Nolan: As with Batman Begins we look at the entire history of the Batman comics, and sort of really the great asset you have is in this terrific work; through the years of these terrific writers. So we really make everything available to us.

How natural is it to you in your films to play with the sequences and the order of time in your films?

Christopher Nolan: The structural notions to me always have to be worked out very carefully in the script stage. Whatever a particular structure is. Whether it's chronological or non-chronological. To me that's always about what point of view are we trying to address in the film? The Prestige uses a non-linear structure to express multiple points of view as strongly as possible. That all has to be figured out in the script stage. Then, in the edit suite, we all have to try and make it the best version of that that it can be.

Christian Bale has said he's not a fan of all the extras that come with DVDs, do you think you'll be able to break him down and get him on this?

Christopher Nolan: Well, we'll have a go. I share his reservations in some regards, in terms of, you don't want to completely demystify things for some people when you go to such pains to create a piece of fiction. The Memento DVD is good point because I think the DVD itself, although packed with hopefully interesting things, it sort of expanded the world of the film without exposing it too much.

Did you object to the film being recut in a linear fashion?

Christopher Nolan: I wouldn't let them put it on as a standard feature. It had to be something that people had to find for themselves.

Where are we in the timeline for the next Batman?

Christopher Nolan: Well, we're in early preproduction. The film should be ready for Summer 2008. It takes a long time to make film.

The Prestige opens nationwide on October 20 from Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros.