Chris Nolan, emotional filmmaker thanks to fatherhood

By Zaki JufriMovies - 05 November 2014 4:39 PM | Updated 5:09 PM

Chris Nolan, emotional filmmaker thanks to fatherhood

If there were anyone who could create a science fiction film with a heady mix of gritty realism, confusing plot twists, and a liberal amount of scientific mumbo jumbo, it would have to be Christopher Nolan.

The London-born writer-director’s latest film ‘Interstellar’ is a near-futuristic tale of deep space exploration starring Matthew McConaughey as a former space pilot drafted to travel into the farthest reaches of space to find a new home for humanity. 

MORE: 'Interstellar' is a stirring movie you'd want to rewatch

The film is based on a combination of a script that Nolan's brother Jonathan, a frequent collaborator, had been working on for years, as well as several ideas that the director had in mind.

The team worked very closely with theoretical physicist and wormhole-science expert Kip Thorne in order to imbue their film with a sense of realism.

Even though this is a do-or-die mission to the stars, Nolan revealed that the film is an intimate human story at its core. 

He tells inSing more in an interview.

‘Interstellar’is a big space adventure, but a substantive portion of the filmis a very intimate family drama, and we’re curious if you see blending the two to be a way of rooting this space odyssey figuratively in the dirt of Earth? 

I don’t think of it as two separate things. When I first looked at Jonah’s (Jonathan Nolan) draft on ‘Interstellar’, it was very clear that at the heart of the story, there was this great set of characters, this great family relationship. 

We found that the more you explore the cosmic scale of things, the further out into the universe you went, the more the focus came down to who we are as people and what are the connections between us.

I feel that the magnitude and grandeur of space is most interesting as a backdrop for exploring relationships, which are so strong and me­aningful for us, and how that relates to our place in the universe.

When you were writing the script, where did you find the hope and optimism that runs through it?   

To me, space exploration has always represented the most hopeful and optimistic endeavour that mankind is ever really engaged with. And I think I was certainly struck when they flew the space shuttle in on the 747 on its way to the California Science Center here in LA. Emma (Emma Thomas, film producer and his wife) and I were up at Griffith Park with hundreds of people, who were waving flags and watching this thing fly down. 

Christopher Nolan (left) on set with Matthew McConaughey

It was a very moving moment, actually, and a little melancholic at the same time, because what you felt was that sense of that great collective endeavour – the hope and optimism of that – that feels like something we’re in need of again. I feel very strongly that we’re at a point now where we need to start looking out again and exploring our place in the universe more. 

There is a lot of mind-bending science in this film, which you explored with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne. How important was it for you to get it right or as close to right as you can get to something like a black hole or wormholes? 

Well, Jonah spent a long time working with Kip Thorne, who’s an executive producer on the project. He’s a great resource in terms of knowing everything there is to know about the real physics of what’s theorised and what’s known about those sorts of issues.

I found working with Kip to be very liberating, because it wasn’t so much restraint as, ‘Well, science says you can’t do this.’ It was more an exploration of ideas with him, ‘Well, okay, what’s plausible? Where could we go here? Where could we go there?’ I found it very, very exciting to work with him on that. 

MORE: Matthew McConaughey enjoying his 'Interstellar' career heights

Were there any environmental themes you wanted to explore in the story, in terms of the blight that affects the crops on Earth in the film?

Well, I don’t like to talk about messages so much with films, simply because it’s a little more didactic. I mean, the reason I’m a filmmaker, really, is to tell stories. So you hope that they will have resonance with people. But what I really loved about Jonah’s original draft, and we always retained it, was the idea of blight, the idea of there being an agricultural crisis, which has happened historically, if you look at the potato famine and so forth.

Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck in a scene from the movie

We combined this with ideas taken very much from Ken Burns’ documentary on the Dust Bowl (an ecological disaster involving dust storms that hit the US in the 1930s). I spoke to Ken at great length and we availed ourselves of his resources. What struck me about the Dust Bowl is it was a manmade environmental crisis, but one where the imagery, the effect of it, was so outlandish, we actually had to sort of tone it down for what we put in the film. 

The real point is that it’s non-specific. We’re saying that in our story, mankind is being gently nudged off the planet by the Earth itself. And the reason it’s non-specific is that we didn’t want to be too didactic or political about it. That’s not really the point.

My excitement about the project was addressing a potentially extremely negative idea that is out there in the sense of the planet having had enough of us and gently suggesting we go somewhere else – but that (is also) a great opportunity, and an exciting adventure to be on. That’s something I found very winning about that. 

You’ve had so many successful, amazing movies. What do you look for in a next project? 

For my part, I look for a great story. What I found in Jonah’s draft was a very relatable situation, a great opportunity to challenge myself as a filmmaker in terms of various technical issues, but also emotional issues. 

I’m a father myself and I related to the character as a father and wanted to really push that in the telling of the story. I couldn’t tell you any more specifically than that. I look for something that just grabs me and holds me emotionally.  

Anne Hathaway with Matthew McConaughey all suited up for sapce

ince ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, it seems like you’ve been working on bigger canvases with each film. Is that something you feel most comfortable with now?  Will you go back to (shooting) two people in a room? Do you feel most comfortable on a big screen arena?

I try not to be particularly self-conscious in my choices, but with this film, I felt I had the freedom to try and put a lot of different elements together and try out a lot of different things that I’m interested in. 

In terms of scale, what that resulted in was getting to do huge things and large, outlandish things. And then getting to do very, very intimate, personal things. For me as a director, that’s sort of the best of both worlds.  

‘Interstellar’ opens in cinemas 6 November 2014

Interview courtesy of Warner Bros. Singapore

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  • Rated
    PG13 /
    Science Fiction
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