The release of Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar is finally within arm’s reach, and as the date looms closer we’re starting to hear much more from Nolan himself and his impressive cast about how the project came together, the experience of making it, and the extent to which Nolan grounded the space-centered film in reality. All of this and more is touched on during a lengthy roundtable interview with Nolan, Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway in the latest issue of THR, and we’ve taken the liberty of gathering up some of the highlights from the fascinating and somewhat revealing conversation.
Hit the jump to see what they had to say about Nolan’s long-standing fascination with sci-fi, his first meeting with McConaughey, tackling large-scale CG effects, and more. The film opens in 70mm IMAX and 35mm on November 5th and everywhere else on November 7th.
While the full THR profile is a great read, we’ve compiled some of the more revealing bits below. Here’s what we learned:
Nolan Has Always Wanted to Make a Big Sci-Fi Film
It’s no secret that Interstellar was initially developed as a directorial vehicle for Steven Spielberg by Nolan’s brother and The Dark Knight screenwriter Jonah Nolan, and the filmmaker says he jumped at the chance to direct when Spielberg fell off the project:
“Pretty much everything my brother and I do, we tend to bounce off each other. So I’d been hearing about Interstellar for years while he was working with Kip Thorne. I always thought it sounded like a very exciting project — certainly it’s a good sign if your brother’s working on something [with Spielberg]. When I saw the opportunity to get involved, I didn’t hesitate. I always loved science fiction. One of my earliest movie memories is my dad taking me to see 2001 in [London’s] Leicester Square on the big screen. It was such an extraordinary feeling: to be taken off this planet and to the furthest reaches of the universe. It has really been an ambition of mine: If I ever had the opportunity to get involved in a large-scale science fiction project, something about exploring our universe, I would try to seize the opportunity.”
Once Nolan came onboard, he waded through the research that Thorne and his brother Jonah had done and chose which aspects he wanted to focus on:
“Kip’s research into the mathematical possibility of wormholes, the fact they can exist, gives you a way that this could happen and was essential to the jumping-off point in the story. When I came to the project, [Kip] and Jonah had worked on a vast array of ideas involving a lot of the different things you’re talking about. And one of the most important parts of my job was to say: ‘OK, we can’t use all of this. I’m going to have to choose.’… It was, choose a couple of things that I think as a director I can get across to the audience and hopefully not lose them.”
Nolan Strove to Ensure the Film Was Wholly Unique
Through all of his films, Nolan finds a way to turn conventional filmmaking on its head whether it be how he executed the hotel hallway fight in Inception or built a functional Batmobile for his Dark Knight trilogy. That inventive spirit carries over into Interstellar, with McConaughey singling out how Nolan created a dust storm as particularly unique:
“One of the things I noticed very early on was that he’s always on to something original. I remember the dust storm. What dust storm do you have that’s actually in a downpour? We were shooting the dust storm and saying it was raining! I was like, ‘[That’s hardly] ideal for a dust storm.’ He goes, ‘No, but I don’t think it’s been done before. It’s original.’”
Nolan revealed that he actually turned to Ken Burns’ documentary The Dust Bowl for inspiration in the dust sequences:
“There is some CG involved as well, but I wanted the shot to be real. Because that’s where you most sense the artifice, if you’re not getting the proper interaction, if the actor’s not able to be in it. So we spent days and days in this dust cloud. It looked like the Ken Burns film about the Dust Bowl that he did for PBS, which was really a remarkable piece of work. We really had to scale back from the reality of what those things were actually like in the Dust Bowl because you look at the photographs, and it actually seems too crazy. I was always fascinated with the idea of presenting what seems like a science fiction doomsday scenario on this sort of big scale that’s actually less than [what] really happened in America.”
McConaughey and Nolan Didn’t Discuss Interstellar at All During Their First Meeting
“We go in his office and we talk for three hours. Not one word about the film, not what it was about. I came away knowing nothing else about the film. We talked about who we are as 43-year-old men, talked about who we are as [fathers], talked about our kids. We talked about some other films and work and just got really a sense of each other. And so when I walked out, I had a little bit of, ‘OK, what was that?’ I think he wanted to see who I was.”
Nolan explained that in putting together his casts, he’s first looking to make sure the personalities are compatible:
“The only reason I didn’t talk about the project specifically is, it’s important to just get a sense of how you’re going to get along as people before you worry about specifics. I was interested in figuring out how we would get along. I mean, these are people at the top of their game. So really it’s about trying to put together an ensemble.”
When McConaughey finally read the script, he took his time digging into the material:
“[The script] comes delivered to my house when I was in New Orleans. Handed through the gate [by a] Mr. Jordan. And he said, ‘I’m not leaving.’ And I [said], ‘I’m going to take my time reading this, and I’m also a slow reader.’ I stuck with it for five and a half hours, wrote a bunch of things down and had a whole lot of questions. I could not have had a perception of what it was beforehand. And what it was on the page took me a while to digest, and I had a lot of questions, but they were sort of all inspiring questions. At the heart of it, I saw this character, a father who had children, who had a choice, the most extreme circumstances: to go off, live a dream — not only a personal dream but also something that could also salvage humanity. But that would mean it’s a one-way ticket without a return flight, necessarily. I saw all this part being this bloodline of the man that he was coming to me for.”
Nolan’s Biggest Challenged Was the Amount of CG Necessary to Bring the Film to Life
All of Nolan’s films have been heavily grounded in practical effects, but in dealing with wormholes and space travel, Interstellar would see the director tackling huge amounts of CG for the first time. Nevertheless, he maintained a focus on practical whenever possible:
“I’m always very uncomfortable portraying anything in a film that we can’t achieve practically to some degree. I don’t fully use CG [except] for what it’s most useful for, which is enhancing things that you’ve been able to shoot in camera. And so I’ve found taking on a subject matter that inevitably involves fully CG shots is a huge challenge. One of the things we did was, we screened a print of The Right Stuff, an amazing film. And we looked at what they had done technically in 1983 with reflections of visors and things like that. And we said, ‘Let’s try to fully realize the interiors of the spaceship, so that Matthew and Anne, when they’re sitting in the ship, they can look out the window and see what’s actually out there, so it’s not just a set, it’s more of a simulator.’ And these guys really rose to it.”
Head over to THR to read the full interview, which includes behind-the-scenes stories from Chastain and Hathaway as well. It’s a great read.