After two wildly successful Batman films, Christopher Nolan and his brother, co-writer Jonathan Nolan, close an epic chapter on their dark knight. Heath Ledger created a Joker so unique, so captivating, that his performance earned him a posthumous Oscar for The Dark Knight. At the close of what will most certainly become a legendary trilogy, both Nolan brothers reminisce about the process, all three films, and working with such a remarkable cast.
Q: After The Dark Knight made such a big impact, what sort of pressure did you and Jonathan feel when you sat down to write the sequel? Did you feel this tremendous weight on your shoulders with trying to even equal that film, let alone top it?
Christopher Nolan: Well, I think for me I would say that most of that, that pressure that you get with a sequel where you know you’re going to have to try and give the audience a reason to come back to Gotham City, you feel it in the very beginning when you’re just going over the story. So, myself and Jonathan [Nolan] and David Goyer, our other writing partner, at the early stage felt a lot of pressure. A lot of, ‘okay, why would we do this? Do we have the story to tell?’
Once we knew that we had a story that we really wanted to see, that we wanted to know what happened to Bruce Wayne next and where his story was going to go and how we were going to finish this story, then everything else starts to fall into place. I think you have to then forget that pressure and just get on and try and make the best film that you can.
Q: John, do you want to elaborate on that?
Jonathan Nolan: I was consistently an advocate for ‘Let’s do it one more time.’ Chris and David suggested that this would be climactic… this would be a walk away. It’s a little bittersweet because it’s been an amazing privilege writing the film for this amazing group. But it was the right way to do it.
Q: This film amplifies and resolves the main themes of the trilogy, one of which is mythmaking and the discussion of the Batman Gotham needs. Chris, can you talk a little bit about your own mythmaking and making Batman relevant in the post-9/11 world?
CN: One of the things I’ve enjoyed about working with these characters is they are, as Christian says, they have a potential to be topical. The reason for that is, is they’re not real. It’s not real life. You’re dealing with a heightened reality. You’re not dealing with Chicago or New York. You’re dealing with Gotham. That gives you a very interesting world to be able to play with in a very heightened way, in a very operatic way.
These are larger than life characters. I very much enjoyed tapping into the sort of operatic sensibility of that and really trying to push the audience and the audience’s emotions in extreme directions using the extremity of those characters. I think naturally from that you’re aiming for a sort of mythic status. I think, there is a nice correspondence between that impulse and why you want to make the film and why audiences hopefully are going to enjoy the film and what Bruce Wayne’s doing.
There’s a very important scene between Michael Caine’s character, Alfred, and Christian’s character in Batman Begins where they’re on a plane and they talk about…before he’s come up with the idea of specifically the symbolism of the bat. He talks about what he’s going to do. Alfred, as somebody who looks out for him and cares for him, the only reason he goes along with it is there’s a logic to it.
The logic, which we found as we worked on the character, was it had to be about symbolism, it had to be about, as you said, myth-making and about offering Batman as a symbol of positivity, a symbol of hope for the people in a very corrupt society that’s looking for some kind of tipping point to come back to, to good. So, that’s really always been at the heart of Bruce Wayne’s story and why he gravitates towards this extremely symbolic character.
Q: The multi-dimensional aspects of the women in the film are impressive. They were neither too sexy, too much of a loyal subject, too much of the sinister type. Talk about the decision to do that with the females in this film.
CN: I think Anne’s way too sexy in the film. [Laughs] Well, certainly at the script stage…I mean one of the products of doing a second sequel is you know you’re going to have to expand your story in one direction as you introduce characters. And there are some notable new female characters in this film. You’re very aware that you don’t want to be diluting what the story is. You want those characters to be real people. You want them to be people you’re going to care about, people you’re going to believe in.
So, at the script stage Jon and myself, we tried very hard not to draw new characters in, in a superficial way. We really wanted them to have some kind of inner life you could invest in. Certainly, I know Anne and myself spent a lot of time talking and thinking about Selina’s backstory and where she would have really come from and who she was. I know now that Anne went into it with a very fully formed idea of the characterization.
So, some of it comes from the script. But a lot of it really is in getting Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard, really I lean on them and rely on them a lot to construct a very credible, psychological basis for the characters just as I have with these guys.
Q: Given the massive success of the second film, and the projected success of this movie, could we talk about the decision to stop at a trilogy – and for that trilogy to end here. Was that decision hard for the studio to hear?
CN: Well, the point of which I was saying to the studio it would be a trilogy was the point I was telling them, yes, I would do a third one to follow up on The Dark Knight so they were thrilled. Obviously, I’m sure they’d love us to keep doing this forever. I think they completely understood that my attraction coming back the third time was in finishing our story so that we told one big story with three major parts to it. And that really is the reason we’re here and the reason we’ve done this. So, it was kind of part and parcel of what we were doing.
Q: Speaking of cities, there are quite a few parallels to A Tale of Two Cities to the point it’s accurately referenced at one point. How and when did that enter the writing stage, and did it inspire you?
Christopher Nolan: I mean from my point of view, when Jonathan showed me his first draft it was free play and it was 400 pages long or something. It had all this crazy stuff. I was part of a primer, if you like. When he handed it to me he was like ‘You’ve got to think of like Tale of Two Cities”, which of course he’d read. I said, “Absolutely,” read the script. I was a little baffled by a few things and then realized I’d never read Tale of Two Cities.
You know, it was just one of those things I thought I’d done. So, I then got the book, read it, absolutely loved it. Got completely what he was talking about. He’ll have to answer as to what entered his process. But for me then, when I did my draft on the script it was all about A Tale of Two Cities and really just trying to follow that because it just felt exactly the right thing for the world we were been dealing with.
What Dickens does in that book in terms of having all of these different characters come together in one unified story with all of these great thematic elements and all this great emotionalism and drama, it felt like exactly the tone we were looking for. But Jon will have to answer as to his process.
JN: I don’t remember exactly, but Chris and David started developing the story in 2008 after the second film came out, so before the recession, before Occupy Wall Street, any of that stuff. Rather than being influenced by that, looking to old, good books, old, good movies, literature for inspiration, and at some point started thinking about Tale of Two Cities.
I think what was captivating to me about it and what I always felt we needed to do in film was to go there. I mean, all these films threatened to turn Gotham inside out, to sort of pull it, and none of them really have actually achieved that until this film. Tale of Two Cities to me was the most sort of harrowing portrait of a relatable recognizable civilization that had completely fallen to pieces. The terrors in Paris, in France in that period, it’s not hard to imagine that things could go that bad and wrong. So, that was source of inspiration.
Q: Chris, your film looks fantastic on IMAX as the previous ones have. You’ve kind of been the advocate of film and IMAX as opposed to digital and 3D. If you can expand on the realtionship you have with that medium...
CN: Yeah, I mean what we did on The Dark Knight, which I think was a very important movie in terms of getting across the idea of eventizing movies in a theatrical experience. It was prior to the 3D wave that’s come since. But we got a lot of mileage out of really making a big deal out of our premiere engagements in a very old fashioned way… like they used to do in the ’50s and ’60s with 70mm projection. We put the prologue out six months ahead of time, that kind of thing.
For me, IMAX is all about it’s the best possible quality image when you film with their cameras and project that film in their theaters, on that huge screen. There’s really no other way to do that with any other imaging technology. What I love about it, as opposed to 3D is it creates a much larger than life image. When you watch a 3D film, the parallax makes it more intimate, it shrinks the imagery of what you’re looking at. I actually really like for these characters in these movies, I like to see Batman larger than life on that enormous screen. The clarity image really draws me into the movie and I enjoy that.
Q: Tom Hardy’s not here, so I wanted to ask, Christopher, what were the challenges of having that mouthpiece on him. I know earlier in the year when there were early trailers shown, some fans were complaining they couldn’t hear what he was saying. Was that fixed in ADR and what were the challenges of that?
CN: To answer your question about Tom, if he were here I think what he would be talking about is when I called him up and I basically said to him, “Look, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is I have a terrific part for you. The bad news is your face is going to be completely covered for the whole film. So, you’re going to have to get across whatever it is you want to get across for this character through just your eyes and your voice.”
What Tom did, which I completely love but it takes audiences time to get used to, is there’s an incredible disjoint between what he’s doing with his voice and what he’s doing with his eyes. His eyes have this extremely threatening stillness to them. His voice has this extremely expressive and different voice. I’ve never really seen anything like it.
The first time I saw him perform a scene with Christian I was shocked by it. I really was like, okay, I’ve just never seen this. That’s what you get from a great actor like Tom Hardy. That’s what I got from all these guys working with them, there’s a total characterization. They’re just there giving you something you’ve never seen before and something that’s beyond what you put on the page. For me that’s really the joy of working with great actors. I’m sorry Tom can’t be here to answer that question for himself but he’s working.
Q: Did you re-record at all? I was actually very interested in her question about people had complained after they’d seen the trailer that they couldn’t quite understand him. I was curious if he was rerecorded at all or how the changes made.
CN: Not really. I mean there’s ADR you do with every character as you go. It takes us about two months to mix the film from beginning to end. So, some things are clarified and cleaned up. We try to be true. I’m not really a big fan of ADR. So, we try to be as true as possible to the recordings we do at the time. As these guys all know, I don’t generally get into loop a lot because I think you always lose a little something.
So, for the IMAX scenes, because the IMAX cameras are incredibly noisy, you’re then really in a position where what we would do on set is immediately do a take without running the camera. That way you get a fresh performance, everyone’s still in costume. They’re in the physical positions that they’re actually in when they perform the scene. Those you can sync up very well to picture. So even with the IMAX cameras we don’t have to do too much ADR.
Q: Chris, you’ve had quite the ride from AD to blockbuster. Can you talk about that a little bit and maybe what’s next. Is it back to basics?
CN: Just start with the end. I have no idea what’s next. I’m going on a holiday and just relax and quite enjoy not knowing what I’m going to do next, which is fun. As far as the ride from doing the smallest level of filmmaking, which is where we started and these big films… what I like to say about it is the process has always been reassuringly familiar to me. It’s always been this thing of; you’re there on set but really your job as a director is to ignore the scale of things. I really just try and look at the shot that you’re going to put on the screen and how is that going to further the story. I found that process to be more similar on different scale films than it is different…
'The Dark Knight Rises' is out in theaters Friday June 20th, 2012.
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