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Must Read: Fascinating Profiles Explore the Mind of Christopher Nolan

by
October 31, 2014
Source: NY Times, WSJ

Christopher Nolan

"At the movies, we’re going to see someone else put on a show, and I feel a responsibility to put on the best show possible." This attitude is one of the many reasons we love him. As much as we adore Christopher Nolan, he still doesn't speak with online press at all. So instead, every time he releases a new movie, he does come out of the woodwork for a few interviews with newspapers/magazines and TV outlets. There's a new profile in NY Times Magazine called "The Exacting, Expansive Mind of Christopher Nolan" coming in at over 7,000 words and it's a must read. The writer goes into an incredible amount of depth and understanding, presenting a rare inside look at the filmmaker and the legendary status that surrounds him.

My best suggestion - read both pieces right away, starting with the NY Times profile and then this WSJ follow-up (that does not have any Nolan quotes). The profile covers his entire life, including his youth and the films that influenced him, as well as quotes from his brother Jonathan and eventually his studio work, from Batman to The Prestige to Inception and now Interstellar. I'm a huge Nolan fan and everyone knows this, but reading this was still eye-opening and exciting, there's still so much more to him and I love hearing about it. What he says is almost exactly what I believe in. Which may explain why I love his movies so much.

To hear Nolan tell it, however, the film’s true origin story begins much earlier, when Nolan was 7; his father, a British advertising copywriter, took him to see, within the span of about a year, the initial release of “Star Wars” and a theatrical rerelease of “2001.” The age of 7, perhaps not coincidentally, was also the year in which he started to make his own movies, on a Super 8 he borrowed from his dad. Those two movies — one that helped inaugurate the auteur-driven New Hollywood, and one that inadvertently ushered in the era of the reinvigorated, blockbuster-based studio system — have remained his touchstones, and “Interstellar” represents his opportunity to repay his debt to both of them at the same time. Jonah, when he came to visit the set and saw the spaceships, said to him, “Of course we’re doing something like this; this was our whole childhood.”

Nolan’s film is set roughly two generations hence, in a grim, shrunken, retrograde era. The plot revolves around the relationship between an iconoclastic space pilot named Cooper, played by McConaughey, and his bright, stubborn daughter, played in her youth by Mackenzie Foy. (“That lovely little girl is going to be a star,” Michael Caine told me.) Armies and technology have been rendered immaterial, and a delusional “caretaker” generation is barely getting by, for the moment, on subsistence agriculture. Cooper was trained as a pilot and an engineer before the great regression, and the broader attenuation of our human drive, forced him into farming. Caine’s Professor Brand, Cooper’s old mentor and now the head of a much-reduced, fly-by-night NASA, persuades him to fly off into the unknown. Future NASA is led by six people around a conference table, one more instance of the professional tranquillity that acts as a necessary prelude and backdrop to his subsequent lunacy.

That’s as much as you get from the trailers, which feature McConaughey’s exhortation to new greatness over stock space-age footage and makes the movie look like so much “Apollo 13” schmaltz. But in fact that covers only the first 20 minutes of an almost three-hour film, the balance of which resembles a George Lucas interpretation of a Borges story. As far as sci-fi goes, it’s closer to Soderbergh’s “Solaris” than to Tarkovsky’s. But even after everything goes satisfyingly bananas, the movie remains grounded in a basic humanism. “Someone, an adult,” Nolan told me, “once told me that the meaning of ‘2001’ was that going into outer space is like going deep into yourself.” He smoothed the folds of his waistcoat and considered that for a second. “I don’t think that’s what it’s about. In fact I have no idea what ‘2001’ is really about. But I tried to make a film now that would be like that, a quest film like ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.’ ”

The rest of the profile is fantastic, one of the best I've ever read, and I'm glad someone went into this much depth. He's usually such a private, quiet guy and it's fascinating to get this kind of inside look at his process.

Christopher Nolan on the set of Interstellar

The second profile is from Wall Street Journal, although oddly it doesn't actually have a Nolan interview. (Instead it states: "Mr. Nolan, through a spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed. Paramount executives wouldn’t comment for this article.") However, the article does have quotes from other Hollywood executives and does present a well-rounded look at his career and the movie's that have earned him the power and respect he now has in Hollywood. Speaking of, here's an except about that exact topic of Hollywood success:

While some uber-directors run rampantly over budget or construct their own mini-empires in Hollywood, Mr. Nolan has a reputation for focusing on his filmmaking. Ms. Thomas handles much of the business dealings for their production company, Syncopy, leaving her husband free to focus on writing, directing or editing.

And in contrast to the frantic last-minute reshoots of so many big-budget movies, Mr. Nolan’s work is reliable. He delivers films that are remarkably close to what he originally pitched to his backers. They come in ahead of schedule and under budget. Last April, a time when many summer releases were still far from complete, studio executives saw Mr. Nolan’s first cut of “Interstellar”—nearly identical to the one hitting theaters now.

“It’s like Hitchcock—he tells you what he’s going to deliver and you decide whether to be his collaborator,” said one studio executive involved in the movie.

Mr. Nolan, who comes off as a brainy introvert, grew up in England and Chicago. He speaks with a British accent, giving him an air of sophistication accentuated by his habit of wearing suits—and often scarves—at a time when many directors prefer T-shirts and baseball caps. Some who have worked with the director describe him as cold and aloof, though none say he is arrogant. But he’s also clear about what he wants.

“I’m continually impressed by his self-deprecation and humility, but with that comes supreme confidence,” said Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios and former president of Warner Bros.

I'm continually impressed by the quality of his work, the quality of his character, and the way he remains on the cutting edge of filmmaking and storytelling even at budgets pushing $200 million. As much as I wish Nolan would speak with more press, there's something mysterious and therefore more intriguing about him when he remains out of reach. So when we finally do get to read about him, it's all the more interesting, and I'm glad someone as talented as Gideon Lewis-Kraus can skillfully tell his story in such an endearing way. Now if only we could sit down and have a two-hour discussion with him about Interstellar, that would be amazing. Nolan's Interstellar arrives in theaters everywhere soon - starting in IMAX/70mm on Tuesday, November 4th before expanding worldwide on November 7th. Suffice it to say, you don't want to miss it.

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  • Franklin Carpio
    He is truly an inspiration. I look forward to anything with his name on it.
  • dvt
    Love Nolan, but couldn't finish the article. The writer sounded like he was trying way too hard to "keep up" with the awesomeness that is Nolan through his writing, and it showed. Oh well xD
  • DAVIDPD
    Wow! Great. Fantastic read. Love Nolan and his brother. They are epic.
  • Armitall
    I didn't read the whole thing yet, because some parts are a bit spoilery, but will do that after I see Interstellar. I was just thinking for his next project I would like to see him do the adaptation of Alamut. That could be an eye candy visualy and conceptualy.

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