INT: Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan didn’t want to be typecast as a comic book director, so he made a film in between BATMANs to remind us of his other typecast: psychologically manipulative thrillers. THE PRESTIGE is a story of dueling magicians, but of course the trick is on the audience as nothing they do is actually what it looks like. Not the narrative devices, not the linear plot, nothing.

Amid a hectic rotation of star power at the Ritz Carlton Pasadena hotel, Nolan maintained his chill British style. Muttering his answers under the clamor of nearby Hugh Jackman interviews, Nolan told us how he did it.

Christopher Nolan

The big thing about magic is you can't give away the secret, but to do a movie about it, you kind of have to give away secrets. So how do you deal with that in a movie about magic?

Well, you make the movie the magic trick, a set of magic tricks. And you ruthlessly expose stage magic and don't worry about it, because I'm not a magician.

You still have to ultimately give the audience the trick at the end.

Yes you do. And the real paradox, which is the paradox of magic, but this is to me what's interesting about the subject, is that much as the audience wants to know the secret, the secret ultimately will be disappointing. That's the nature of magic. And that's, to me, the key thing which I'm trying to do in the film.

So do you think the answer to this magic trick is disappointing.

I think that depends very much on how you view it. And people watch films very differently. And some people very much enjoy the reveals at the end of the film. Other people prefer one over the other, or understand one more than the other. There's no unifying response which was always the intention. This kind of film I think is fun to make.

The magic tricks in the film are described as three acts. The film is three acts. Did you intentionally structure it to parallel the pledge, the turn, the prestige?

Yeah. Basically, the idea was always really to address to magic from the point of view of not trying to show magic in the film and impress people with stage magic, because that can't work on film. People are aware of camera trickery and all the rest. The idea was always to create a marriage of that function according to the principles of a magic trick, or a set of magic tricks. And that involved conforming to this three act structure.

When the novel was published in the UK it was perceived as a science-fiction novel. And it's interesting that there's been quite a lively debate going on on the Internet as to what the film is. What is your perception of it?

I think one of the things that I was very interested about making this film-- Well, one of the things that fascinated me about this subject and this story is I don't believe it is possible to categorize it very specifically. I think that undeniably there's an element of science-fiction in it that has to be apparent to the audience from early in the film. But at the same time, I think it's probably better described as a thriller of some kind. But I don't know exactly, which for me is the most interesting kind of film to work on, something that doesn't quite fit in to any one box.

Christian is obviously a very serious actor, and you know him quite well. What did you see in him that made you cast him?

Well I think that the most accurate thing to be said about Christian, and one of the reasons he's terrific to work with, is he takes what he does very, very seriously, but he doesn't take himself very seriously.

How so?

He just has a very grounded approach to life. And has a sense of humor about himself, but takes his work very seriously. And it's a hard line to straddle. It's a very hard attitude to strike. But it's one that really benefits the work greatly. And I've been fortunate to work with several actors like him.

Can you talk about casting Hugh and why you thought he'd be right for this?

Well, what Hugh has in spades, really, is he's a terrific movie actor, a terrific film actor, but he's also a wonderful stage performer. And this role requires an actor who can convey a comfort level and a power in his relationship with an audience that transcends his abilities as a magician. It's a very difficult thing to put across visually. He absolutely manages to do it, and I think that his stage experience is a big part of that. Christian, on the other hand, is able to convey, quite marvelously I think, the idea of somebody who's tremendously gifted as a magician, but has no understanding of what an audience needs from him to appreciate what he's doing.

Do you have a comedy in you?

[Laughs] I think they're all comedies. But I mean, for me, comedy is best expressed through drama, actually. I actually find funny moments in serious films to be the most rewarding kind of comedy. Yeah, I think doing specifically a comedy, as a genre, is unlikely.

This movie reminded me of THE STING, because that's unraveling a con game and this is basically unraveling a con game. Did you see any parallel at all to that?

Well, yeah. Generally, in the script stage, we looked at [it] particularly when we were trying to figure out how to sell this film to a studio early on. It's like what story paradigm is it? And there are very few sort of two-hander story paradigms. THE STING is one of them. There are others where there's no good guy, bad guy, so it's very tricky. I mean, Michael Mann's HEAT is another one, actually, in a completely different direction. They do exist, but they're few and far between. THE STING is quite a close one. SLEUTH is another one. Actually, Michael's back, they're remaking it.

Were you concerned about casting Michael Caine again with Christian right after doing Batman?

No, because they're such great movie stars. It's like, to me, you just sort of accept it. I might have had more pause if the key relationship was between them. If the relationship was similar to what it was in the last film, that might have given me pause of thought. But Cutter's relationship is very much with Hugh's character. So no, I think they're just very talented people.

Even though it’s a period film, were you trying to keep it modern?

Yeah, very much. I really wanted to avoid the sort of alienation factor with period films, this barrier that often exists because of the formality or the sort of starch quality of period films. And a lot of that is in the cinematography and the style in which the film is shot. A lot of it is also the performances. And a lot of what actors do, and we talked, Christian and I and everybody, we talked about this in rehearsals, a lot of actors' ideas of how Victorians behaved is simply having watched other actors who simply watched other actors doing this kind of process of compounding artifice in a way. We don't have much usable film, or recording of people of that era, where there is film recording it's not spontaneous, it's not casual, it's not real life, it's performance. And so we decided to take the approach of just treating it as a contemporary story.

How much of a challenge was finding the right structure for it with the flashbacks and narrators?

It was quite challenging to find the right structure. And it took a lot of time. We really spent years working on the script. And it required interlocking framing devices and interlocking voiceovers combined with the notion of structuring using the three act structure of the trick. Yeah, it took a long time. The key being the need to express multiple points of view purposefully and clearly. It was a difficult script to write.

Do you have any tricky ideas for the DVD, like your Memento menus or the Batman comic books?

To be honest, I've not really addressed that yet, because I've just finished the film. But yeah, certainly we'll try and do something appropriate to the film.

Were there any accidents or close calls on set with Hugh and Christian?

No, I mean, safety on set is something that's extraordinarily important to me. Whatever the actors tell you, everything's done in the most boring way possible, truthfully. And when you work with very talented stunt professionals and special effects professionals, it's possible to make everything very, very safe.

Have there been any magic shows that you've seen that have just really blown you away?

Yeah, I mean awesome. I mean, specifically in regards to this film, Ricky Jay is in the film, does extraordinary slight of hand tricks and card tricks and things. Also, my production designer and I went out to Las Vegas and watched David Copperfield.

So you still think Copperfield is one of the best of his generation?

Yeah, on that grand scale of magic. It's the polar opposite to what Ricky does. In that show, we sat in the front table right by the stage and he made a, I think it was, an old Lincoln appear like two feet in front of us, like that. And that's an extraordinary thing to see. I think a lot of what magicians did for audiences in the Victorian era has simply traveled into film. But I think that magic, live magic, particularly close-up magic, the magic that's done at your table, still has the same appeal that it always had, and I think it always will.

Were there any Batman versus Wolverine jokes on the set?

One or two. Yeah.

What was the good one?

There's Batman and Wolverine and we've also got Ziggy Stardust and King Kong.

Your supporting cast is extraordinary. Can you talk about Bowie, Scarlett, Andy?

Yeah. I mean, they were an incredible bunch. I mean, Bowie, particularly, was very essential figure in that casting, because Tesla's a small part, but a very important part in the film. And you have to, the audience has to see him on screen, and immediately invest a tremendous amount of belief in his abilities as some kind of, well, magician, wizard. And I felt that to get a movie start to do that would be very distracting. Bowie's sort of presence and charisma comes from a different place. It's harder to define, but very palpable. So I'm very lucky to have convinced him to do it.

How nervous are you starting the new Batman film?

Yeah, I mean it's a pretty dumb thing of me to do, to go back and try and do it again. But you like the challenge. I just found the world and the characters pretty fascinating. And we felt that you just wanted to push with on the story really. But it'll be a huge challenge. We were very happy with the way the first film worked out and then was perceived. So yeah, it's an enormous risk. That's really what you have to be doing as a filmmaker, I think, is taking enormous risks.

How close is Jake Gyllenhaal to being cast?

[Laughs] Not very close at all. I mean, I haven't thought about casting at all. Other than Heath was a particular case in point because he just became a possibility and I jumped on that because he was the guy I needed. But I haven't finished the script yet. There'll be plenty of time for that.

Is pre-production going any easy because you have most of the main actors cast already?

There are certain things that obviously you're not having to worry about and spend time on. We've already made the Batmobile. We already have the main members of the cast. So, yeah. But frankly, the new film poses all kinds of new challenges so it'll be just as tricky in its own way.

When you say Heath became a possibility, is that because BROKEBACK made him a huge star?

I didn’t particularly think he’d be interested but I asked him and he luckily really got it. Really got what we were trying to do.

Source: JoBlo.com



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