Ten years ago, Christopher Nolan took a seemingly dead and buried franchise and, with a careful eye on tone and realism, brought it back to life. Christian Bale, a notoriously disciplined actor, took the multifaceted character of Bruce Wayne and his masked vigilante alterego and revitalized the superhero genre.
With film icons Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman in nuanced supporting roles, Nolan and Bale created something that has changed film history. In the epic conclusion of Batman's trilogy, Anne Hathaway joins the team as Selina Kyle - a feat not many could aspire to, let alone accomplish. Together, the actors who make up The Dark Knight Rises share how this incredible series has changed their lives and acting careers forever.
Q: Christian Bale, when you played Batman for the first time in Batman Begins back in 2005, I’d like to know the difference between the first time you saw yourself in the mirror in the costume versus your last day filming as Batman.
Christian Bale: I think the very first time I ever had the costume on was at the audition. I think it was Val Kilmer’s.
Christopher Nolan: Yeah. It was.
CB: It didn’t fit very well. But the first time that I ever put on the actual one myself I thought, oh, Chris has to recast, because the claustrophobia was just unbelievable. I stood there and I thought, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t think, this is too tight. This is squeezing my head. I’m about to have a nervous breakdown or panic attack right this second.’ I said, ‘Okay, breathe deeply,’ and asked for 20 minutes by myself. I said, “Could everyone just leave me alone for 20 minutes?” Because generally, people are around you asking what does it feel like. I can’t breathe right now.
So, they left me alone for 20 minutes and I just stood there. I thought, I’d really like to make this movie. I’d like to be able to get through this moment here. So, I just stood for 20 minutes by myself and then called them back in and said, “Okay. Let’s just talk very calmly and quietly and maybe I can get through this.” And then became very similar with the comfort of 20 more months of having worn that cowl.
And it became in the same way Bruce Wayne improves the suit, we improved the suit for ourselves and it became actually far more comfortable. Primarily, also that panic-attack aspect was lost because I was able to rip it off myself, if I ever did start seeing stars and couldn’t breathe.
But a very similar thing, you know, I realized; we wrapped it and we were doing a scene. It was as Batman. It was with the bat. It was with Anne [Hathaway] as Catwoman on the roof in New York, in Manhattan. I was wrapped. The whole movie wasn’t wrapped. They had a number of days to go yet. But I just went down and sat in a room and realized this is it. I’m not going to be taking this cowl off again.
Again, I said, “Can you please leave me alone for 20 minutes?” and sat. But with that moment it was with the realization of everything we’ve done and the real pride of having achieved what we had set out to. It was a very important moment for me. It’s been a very important character. This is the only time I played a character three times. And the movies themselves have changed my life and changed my career. So, I wanted to just appreciate that for a little while.
Q: Charles and Emma, think about this movie and the last one. Most other comic book movies use superpowers, a lot of CGI, and even aliens coming to Earth. The last three Batman movies have been grounded in reality. How do you bring a sense of realism to a movie like this while still making it a fun summer film?
Emma Thomas: Good question. I think that for audiences to be engaged they need to really feel safe in many ways. If you’re not engaged in the film either… emotionally…you know, you’re scared of what happens to these characters that you love, then you’re just not ever going to really feel it in the way we were hoping people will feel this film.
Charles Roven: Well, actually I think that that really comes from Chris’ desire to execute the films that way. We talked about if we could do things with more CGI or less CGI. Obviously, over the 10 years CGI has sort of been the default way to go because of economic situations. But Chris has always felt, and I think that we feel the same way, that… even if you have some CGI in there, but it’s predominantly real, it’s going to feel real. If you have too much CGI, at a certain point the audience begins to be aware of it, even if it’s not 100 % in their face. There’s a subliminal reaction to it in that way. So, Chris wanted to make it real. It was our job to figure out a way to give him the tools to make it real.
CB: Can I add something to that? There’s also something that I’ve always found uncanny with Chris’ ability to make good movies very topical. There is something that happened with Occupy Wall Street, which actually happened a couple of blocks away from where we were filming in New York, which he had no way of knowing it was going to happen, you know, when he wrote the script and when we started. But by the time it was happening I was looking at him going, “What the hell? How did you know?” It becomes very, very topical.
I think in many ways, correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding is that Bob Kane created this character in 1939, which, being from England, that’s the beginning of World War II. It was an answer to the uselessness that individuals felt against this humongous tragedy and what could you do. So, it was topical in its inception. That’s how Batman began. There’s been wonderful spoofs and Adam West has done it beautifully and spoofed it. But it began as a very topical character. I think Chris returned it to that.
Q: Anne Hathaway, can you talk about the training that you went through to play Selina Kyle? You did a lot of fighting and stunts in the Catwoman suit and high heels.
Anne Hathaway: Well, when I got the part, Chris had called me into his office and he said, “Okay, there’s going to be a lot of fighting.” When they did Inception, Joe [Joseph Gordon Levitt] had gotten in really good shape. Joe went to the gym for months so that way when we did his fight sequence he did all his own fighting. I really liked that. I went, “Got ya. I’m reading between the lines here.” I just went to the gym and came back when we wrapped.
It was a complete transformation. I’ve never done anything like that. It’s not just about looking a certain way. I had to learn to fight. I had to become strong enough to be able to fight for many days at a time. That was actually something that I felt very lucky about because I feel like… in a situation like this and what other actresses have gone through… I feel like sometimes there’s a mandate that comes to you, an ideal of how you have to look.
The way I was treated almost was, ‘learn how to do what you need to do and then however you look, that’s the way the character looks.’ I just felt as a woman, very protected in that way. And let’s see, the second part of the question was… oh, how did I do it in heels? You just do. It’s part of being a woman. You just figure it out. Devil Wears Prada was really good training for that though. I kind of ran up and down Manhattan. So, I just ran up and down Gotham.
Q: Because your character is never actually referred to as Catwoman, it felt like that allowed you to take your own turn with the character that defied being held up to other actresses who have portrayed Catwoman. I never thought about those characters at all.
AH: Oh, thank you. God, that’s a relief. Yeah, it was one of the things…I mean, I would have played a footstool in this movie. But it was pretty cool to get to play such a wonderful character. I loved that the focus was who she was as Selina and that there wasn’t a schism within her and that she didn’t change when she put on her suit. It was kind of her uniform that she had to wear for her job.
Q: It seems like one of the big questions of this film is “Can the Liberal order defend itself against success and excess?” Mr Bale has already touched on the Occupy Movement, but it almost sounds like perhaps you were more impressioned than inspired. Can you explain something of the contemporary, external themes?
CN: To be perfectly honest, we really tried to resist, at the script stage, being drawn into specific themes, specific messages. Really these films are about entertainment. Really, they are about story and character. But what we do is we try and be very sincere in things that frighten us or motivate us or we’re worried about. When you’re looking at what’s the threat to the civilization that we take for granted, and we’re going to frighten ourselves essentially with a force of evil coming into a place. We try to be very sincere about that.
I think resonances that people find or that happen to occur with what’s going on in the real world… to me they come about really as a result of us just living in the same world that we all do and trying to construct scenarios that move us or terrify us, in the case of a villain like Bane and what he might do to the world.
CB: I also really enjoyed being a part of…you know, for me I’d always wondered, why big movies? I’ve tried doing a couple, which very respectfully I don’t think quite managed what Chris has managed here. They can be this pure entertainment aspect that people can go and enjoy the rollercoaster of the movie and leave and that’s all that they have to think about. But if they wish to, they can see an awful lot more into it. They’re not being smashed over the head with any of these notions. But if they wish to see it, it’s there.
Q: One of the things that we enjoy the most as an audience in the sequel is to see familiar faces. Did you have any problems with some of the cast when you asked them to be part of this amazing movie?
CN: I don’t want to speak for Michael and Morgan. I think they can answer that… When you got the call, did you play hard to get? [Laughs]
Michael Cane: No. I was at home one Sunday morning about nine years ago and there was a knock on the door. It was Chris standing there. I recognized him from the man who directed two films that I like, Memento and the other one. What’s the other one?
MC: Insomnia! He had a script. I thought, oh, it’s going to be a lovely little thriller we’re going to do. So, he came in and I said, “What’s the name of the movie?” He said, “Batman Begins.” I said, “Batman Begins?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “You’re doing Batman?” He said, “Yeah.” He’s going to do some great, big movie. I thought I’m too old to play Batman. I wonder who he wants me to be. I knew it wasn’t Catwoman. He said, “The butler.” I thought, I don’t know whether I want to stand there going, “Dinner is served. Would you like another bowl of soup or something.”
He gave me the script. This was on a Sunday morning. I said, “I’ll give you a ring tomorrow.” He said…Chris is very secretive, very secretive... He said, “No. I want you to read the script now and I’m taking it away with me.” He didn’t want me to keep it. So, he had a cup of tea with my misses. I read it. I said, “Yes. I’ll do it.” Because I was stunned by the writing because there was a relationship. It wasn’t just like surface characters that you normally get in these big special effect stunt movies. They were real, real people and they were written like a drama. So, I said yes and I’ve never regretted saying that for one moment.
Morgan Freeman: He didn’t show up at my door with a script. He sent it. It was delivered. But playing hard to get, absolutely not. I’m reading the script it was like ‘wow… WOW!’ I always wonder how people come up with my name for stuff like this.
Q: Christian, in the last fight scene between you and Bane… could you tell us how much you had to rehearse and how that went and how many days it took?
CB: I’m very bad with time. I don’t know how many days it took. It took a long time, you know. But the final fight sequence, you know, we started that in Pittsburgh and then we finished it in New York. So, it took forever. It’s hard to guess. But there was the excitement of…I don’t know how many extras were there.
CN: It was about a thousand.
CB: And everybody punching each other. And it really invigorated myself and Tom (Hardy), who is a bit a phenomenon and a formidable opponent and obviously the first adversary of Batman’s that could probably whip his butt, which we’d never seen before. But the thing that I like so much about the fight sequences with Batman is they’re never just kind of knockdown fight sequences. You learn something more about each character throughout each fight, which is the mark of a good fight.
Q: What did you learn?
CB: Well, you learn about what Batman has had to go through from the beginning of the movie to the end in order to be able to defeat this man. You’re learning about Bane as well and the changes that have come over him. That’s essential in any fight. That’s really what you’re looking for. We’ve seen so many people punching each other non-stop, who cares? But you’re looking for ‘what are the changes? What are the weaknesses? What are the strengths of these characters that allow them to dominate one or the other? What’s going to change the situation here? ‘
Q: This is a two-part question. It was a little jarring to see some of the visuals where New York is a stand-in for Gotham… seeing the skyline, large-scale terrorist attacks, things like that. Was there any trepidation in showing that sort of visual? Was it cathartic, because you’re expressing all the fears we all have post-September 11. Related to that; Joe, you spent time in New York. What were those scenes like for you to watch?
CN: I mean from my point of view it felt to me very (can’t understand). Bear in mind that this is not a real city we’re dealing with. This is Gotham. We did a lot of our play photography in Manhattan. We also did a lot of Pittsburgh and so forth. Every shot in the film is changed in some way. And yet, Gotham has always been…you know, a stand in for New York.
Obviously, there’s resonances of there. For me, it feels important to make films, even the films that we go to for escape as an entertainment, that they’re in some way be moving us in a real way. Making us…as you say about catharsis and its dramatic term about the purpose of drama and why we go to the movies and so forth. I would agree with that. But it is also important to bear in mind, as I say, that Gotham is not a real city. We change it every time it’s portrayed in every way. We manipulate something. So, hopefully there’s a little reminder in there for people as they watch the film that it is an unreal city.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: About New York. Well, I remember when we were shooting in New York I thought it was indicative of how strongly people feel about these movies. In New York City, everything’s amplified. I think partially because just the character of Batman is so deeply entrenched in the American culture and also partially because the first two movies were so damn good. There’s a real reverence and I would say love for these movies. And I think when we were shooting on the streets of New York City that was palpable.
I’ve shot in New York a few times. And you get a lot from the city, the feelings that are coming of people. And in general, you get an annoyance. People are annoyed that you’re in their city. But that was not the case and it was striking. And I think it just goes to show how strongly people feel about these movies and then just made me feel grateful to get to be a part of that.
GO: I think people are very proud that their city is standing in for Gotham and that there’s that community. Pittsburgh was kind of very sort of proud that the film was shooting there. And this time with New York and two times with Chicago. They’re sort of just proud that their city is standing in for Gotham.
'The Dark Knight Rises' is out in theaters Friday June 20th, 2012.
Read Buzzine's Jonathan and Christopher Nolan 'Dark Knight Rises' Interview.