Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster is really an intimate tale in disguise, he tells Film Critic Tony Earnshaw.
Sir Michael Caine has become the touchstone for Christopher Nolan. He’s appeared in all of Nolan’s increasingly bigger blockbusters, from Batman Begins and its sequels to The Prestige and Inception.
Now in Interstellar he plays the world’s greatest physicist – a man trying desperately to save the human race by sending astronauts through a space wormhole to find a new world.
Nolan came to the project after his brother Jonathan had been working on the script for years. He effected some changes, such as making the astronaut’s youngest child a girl, not a boy. Thus the film became both an epic tale of interstellar travel and an intimate drama about a father and daughter.
“I’m a father myself and I related to it. I liked combining it with this story that speculates about a potential moment in human evolution where mankind would have to reckon with its place in the wider universe. I grew up in an era which was really the golden age of blockbusters... films like Steven Spielberg doing Close Encounters and the way it addressed the idea of this inevitable moment where humans would meet aliens. I really like the idea of trying to give today’s audiences some sense of that form of storytelling.”
Nolan is open about his inspirations. Spielberg is one. Stanley Kubrick and his mighty, timeless 2001: A Space Odyssey is another. “I like movies,” he says simply, by way of explanation. “For me the great thing about movies has always been the large screen – the large audience experience. That’s what you’re always hoping for. One of my earliest movie-going memories was going to Leicester Square to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was seven years old. I’ve never forgotten the scale of that experience. I saw my first IMAX film when I was 15 and immediately wanted to make features that way. Really for me, working on this scale was just a long-held dream of mine.”
Matthew McConaughey came to Interstellar fresh from Dallas Buyers Club, the film that nabbed him an Oscar as Best Actor. It was a smaller film, shot quickly and, he points out, “very earthbound”. But, he says, there were similarities.
“Even though this one went on for five months and there was a larger scope and set-pieces it felt just as intimate, raw and natural as most independent films are forced to feel because you don’t have the time or the money.
“I never felt overwhelmed by the scope. I’ve talked to actors who have been on big action films and they’ve felt a little lost in the experience. I didn’t. Each day felt good even though we were in the midst of all this stuff.”
McConaughey laughs when he recalls shooting intense scenes whilst wearing a spacesuit. “I tell you what was great about wearing the suits in Iceland… we were more hot than cold. We were not cold in Iceland. The crew was pretty jealous.”
His cast collectively describes Nolan as “awesome”. Caine, the 58-year veteran of more than 100 movies, agrees.
“Awesome? I’ll say! I’ve done six pictures with Christopher and every one was a hit.
“He came to me with a script at my house. He told me it was Batman. I thought, ‘Well, I’m too old to play Batman!’ He said he wanted me to play the butler. I wondered what I was missing. And it wasn’t the butler; it was a foster-father for Batman. Nothing is what it seems with Chris.”
• Interstellar is on saturation release.