The 'Inception' director talks about dreams and his mind-bending blockbuster.
'Inception' is about dreams. Where did your fascination with dreams stem from?
Christopher Nolan: I’ve been fascinated by dreams, really, my whole life, since I was a kid. And I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that has always interested me. I like the idea of trying to portray dreams on film. I’d been working with the script for some time, really about 10 years in the form that you’ve seen it, with this idea of a kind of structure and all the rest. I think, for me, the primary interest in dreams and in making this film is this notion that your mind, while you’re asleep, can create an entire world that you’re also experiencing without realising that you’re doing that.
The sound design and the score for 'Inception' are phenomenal. It’s almost like another character within the film. What was your inspiration?
CN: Well, I like films where the music and the sound design at times are almost indistinguishable. One of the interesting things that happened early on is that the song that’s in the film ['Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'] was always indicated in the script, long before Marion [Cotillard, who previously played Edith Piaf] came on the film. What I decided to do was to give it to Hans [Zimmer, composer] and let him run with it. We talked in early conversations about the action climax of the film. We knew there was going to be a need for the score to interweave seamlessly with this source cue, which is an extremely difficult, technical thing to do.
Can you tell us about the filming of the amazing Fred Astaire-like zero-gravity fight sequence in the elevator?
CN: The thing I want to point out that people might not be aware of watching it is that we had a stunt guy, who looks exactly like Joe [Joseph Gordon-Levitt, actor in the sequence] made-up perfectly, and he stood there on-set every day for three weeks and didn’t do a thing because Joe insisted on doing absolutely everything himself, apart from one shot. There’s one shot with the stunt guy. Everything else he did himself and he just did the most incredible job with these bizarre rigs and bizarre, sort of, torture devices.
How did you come to the notion that architects and their designs would be so intrinsic to the development of these dreamscapes?
CN: I don’t actually tend to do a lot of research when I’m writing. I took the approach in writing 'Inception' that I did when I was writing 'Memento' about memory and memory loss, which is I tend to just examine my own process - of in this case dreaming; in Memento’s case, memory - and try and analyse how that works and how that might be changed or manipulated, how a rule-set might emerge from my own process. I realised that if you’re trying to reach an audience, being as subjective as possible and really trying to write from something genuine is the way to go and, so, really, it’s mostly from my own process, my own experience.
Were you able to bring this in on time and on budget because you went to so many different continents and you did so many things?
CN: Yeah, we did. We had a very, very efficient crew and with this very, very professional bunch of actors we were able to hammer through it. We finished early and we finished under budget. So, we really brought the thing off very, very smoothly, which was great. I like having the pressure of time and money and really trying to stick to the parameters we’ve been given. So, yeah, it went very smoothly.
This is your first large-scale movie that’s based on a wholly original idea and not pre-existing material. What made you feel you could take that leap of faith and how do you think it will affect your filmmaking going forward?
CN: Well, I think the thing that people sometimes find surprising about source material, if you will - whether it’s a comic book adaptation, a remake of another film, whether it’s a sequel, these are all things I’ve done before, or an adaptation of a short story - the interesting thing about an original concept is that, particularly with this sort of 10-year gap it took me from my initial set of ideas and to finishing the screenplay, by the time you get there, you’ve lived with those ideas for so long it really isn’t very different from working from somebody else’s story, for example.
Does the freedom you must have felt after The Dark Knight embolden you to test the boundaries of what you want to and can do? Or, does that put more pressure on you to in some way fit it into maybe a slightly more conventional structure?
CN: After 'The Dark Knight', I felt a responsibility because it’s not that often that you get to have a large commercial success and then have something you then want to do that you can excite people about. With the success of 'The Dark Knight', we were in a position where the studio was prepared to put a lot of faith in us and trust us to really do something special. Those opportunities are very rare for filmmakers. So, I felt a responsibility to really try and do something memorable with it.
Do any of your own dreams from the past stand out in your mind as being particularly memorable?
CN: As far as the dreams go, really I would only point to that I’ve at various times in my life had the experience of lucid dreaming, which is a big feature of 'Inception' and it’s the notion of realising that you’re in a dream and therefore being able to try and change it or manipulate it in some way. And that’s a very striking experience for people who’ve had it. That’s something that is clearly in the film and a big part of it.
How has your approach to filmmaking changed over the past 12 years?
CN: As far as my filmmaking approach, the thing I always say - which might be hard for people to understand, I don’t know - but, for me, the filmmaking process has always been exactly the same. I think for me, what I’m doing on-set is I’m just watching things happen as an audience member in a way and trying to just look at, ‘Okay, what’s the image we’re photographing? How will that advance the story? And what will the next image be?’ That process really hasn’t changed for me, and it’s strangely similar no matter how big the film gets.
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The name of the main character in 'Inception' is Cobb. What other Christopher Nolan film also featured a character called Cobb?
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