Following Christopher Nolan's superb direction, movie stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, and Marion Cottilard bring us Inception -- an action, sci-fi mystery that will bend our minds. The three celebrities sat down with Buzzine to talk about dreams, working with Ken Watanabe, and how they interpret their characters and this film...
Leonardo DiCaprio: It was interesting, being part of this film, because I’m not a big dreamer — never have been. I remember fragments of my dreams, and I tried to take a traditional approach to researching this project and doing preparation for it. I read Freud’s book on the analysis of dreams and tried to research it in that form, but I realized that this is Chris Nolan’s dream world; it has its own structure and its own set of rules. And doing that, it was basically being able to sit down with Chris for two months every other day and talk about the structure of this dream world and how the rules apply in it… The only thing I’ve extracted from the research of dreams is that I don’t think there’s a specific science you can put on dream psychology. I think it’s up to the individual; obviously we suppress things, emotions, during the day — thoughts that we obviously haven’t thought through enough, and in that state of sleep, our subconscious or mind just sort of randomly fires off different surreal story structures, and when we wake up, we should pay attention to these things.
IH: Ellen, your character, Ariadne, has a great intellectual curiosity that gets her involved in some pretty heavy stuff. What subject matter would turn you on and maybe even make you risk your life because you’re so interested in it?
Ellen Page: Probably the environmental movement and the sustainability of our planet, which freaks me out. [Nervously laughs] It definitely scares me, but I try not to be scared and just be present.
IH: There’s a moment where Ellen’s character expresses a little bit of confusion about where they are and whose dream they’re in and so forth. In terms of shooting this film, were there ever any moments where you were thinking, “Okay, can we recap where we are and what’s going on here?” Were there any moments where it was so complex and involved for the actors that it was confusing at all to you?
LDC: What was very interesting for me was reading the original screenplay, and obviously this story structure was extremely ambitious in the fact that, simultaneously, you had four different states of the human subconscious that represented different dream-states, and each one affected the other. What Chris talked about very early on with us was being able to go to these six different locations around the world, [and what] was startling to me in how complicated the screenplay was was seeing it in a visual format — that’s the magic of movie-making. You clearly identify one scenario with the other and it’s a completely different experience. The snow-capped mountains of Canada, or whether you’re in a van or an L.A. elevator shaft, or Paris or London — you experience it and you have a visual reference. It was a lot easier to understand than I ever thought it would be, and that’s a testament to how engaging movies are and the visual medium is.
IH: Ken Watanabe is the second-billed actor in this film. How was it working with him?
LDC: Ken should be a national treasure in Japan because he is an unbelievably talented actor — you couldn’t find more of a gentleman. He’s sweet, he’s kind, and he’s extremely thoughtful in the work he does. One of the best actors around; I can’t say enough wonderful things about this guy.
Marion Cotillard: I had to base my character on different inspirations that I had — different kinds of human beings; it can be someone I know, someone I don’t, a girl, a boy…so usually when I start, quite right away, some inspirations come. This time, I was waiting and nobody came, and I thought maybe I should be inspired by the blank page. Then I started thinking about Chris Nolan’s imagination, and that was my inspiration that didn’t take the form of a human being. Then I was also very inspired by Cobb…
IH: Leo, what did you love about this character?
LDC: This was an extremely ambitious concept that Chris was trying to pull off here. He accomplished it in flying colors. There are very few directors, I think, in this industry that would pitch to a studio that they wanted to do a multi-layered almost at times existential high-action, high-drama, surreal film that’s sort of locked in his mind. And then to have an opportunity to do that — that’s a testament to the work he’s done in the past. Watching his work, certainly in Memento and Insomnia, he’s able to portray these highly condensed, highly complicated plot structures and give them emotional weight, and have you, as an audience, feel fully engaged along that process. So for me, it was a matter of sitting down with Chris and being able to really form the backbone of a character that had a real cathartic journey and really create a scenario where it became like a giant therapy session. At the end of the day, these different layers of the dream do represent a psychoanalysis — him getting deeper and deeper and closer to the truth of what he needs to understand about himself. That, in its own right, is immediately intriguing, and Chris and I got to work and talk a lot about the different concepts of that and what Cobb has been through in the dream world, what his past is. I had a lot of wonderful talks with Marion as well about some of the sequences at the end that start to become very surreal and disturbing at times. So as we were talking more and more about the character, it all became more and more exciting. I think all of us mutually felt like this was a journey that we had to be a part of. It was extremely exciting.
IH: What were your toughest action moments?
LDC: I think that the sequence in Morocco was pretty tough because I had to run through a crowd of people. I felt kind of like a pinball because I was bouncing from Moroccan to Moroccan and falling into various vending machines. That was a little bit tough, but at the end of the day, you’d be surprised. We pulled off a lot of stuff in a day’s work that was pretty spectacular. Everyone did. It was a very professional team that took care of us.
IH: This is another chameleon-like character with lots of secrets. Are those the roles you’re attracted to, or is that what’s pitched to you?
LDC: I don’t really question when I read a script. If I feel I can be of service to that role, if I feel like it emotionally engages me, it’s something that interests me, and obviously if the director is somebody that has the capacity to pull off the ambitious nature of whatever they’re trying to do in the screenplay, I never question that. So I guess a lot of my films have been more serious in tone, but that’s something I don’t try to deny. I’m a very fortunate person. I get to choose the movies I want to do. I have a lot of friends in this industry that don’t get to do that. I grew up in L.A. A lot of my friends are actors, so I realize every day how lucky I am to have this opportunity, so while I’m here, I’m going to try to do exactly what I want.
LDC: Bookends? I don’t know. I think these were characters and filmmakers and plot structures that I was compelled to do, and I’m lucky to be able to do, so I jump on those opportunities. I traditionally have always tried to work with the best directors I can. These types of films that are psychologically sort of dark at times, I find extremely exciting to do because there’s always something to think about. There’s nothing more boring than to show up on set and say a line and know that your character means exactly what they say. It’s interesting to have an unreliable narrator in a film, and that’s what both of those films have been. Both of these characters are unreliable to themselves and the characters around them, so that sheer notion was extremely exciting to me.
IH: Are you playing the reprehensible J. Edgar Hoover?
LDC: Yeah, I’m talking to Clint Eastwood about playing J. Edgar Hoover, who had his hand in some of the most sort of scandalous events in American history — everything from the Vietnam War and Dillinger to Martin Luther King and JFK. It’s about the secret life of J. Edgar Hoover.
IH: And his personal life?
LDC: Yes, that will be in there definitely.
IH: Will you wear a dress?
LDC: Not as of yet. We haven’t done the fittings for those, so I don’t think so.
IH: But it spans decades?
LDC: It’s going to span his life, yeah.
IH: Ellen and Marion, how would you describe this movie to your friends?
EP: Actually, I just want them to forget — just please don’t ask questions and don’t look at anything and just please go see it. I’m the last person to tell my friends to go see something I’m in; I couldn’t care less if friends of mine never saw anything I’m in, but this is definitely a film that I’m just so thrilled about, and I’m more thrilled about the fact that everybody seems so excited, and I just feel so grateful to be in a Christopher Nolan film, let alone this film. So typically, yes, I’m of the mind that I love how Chris does the “secrecy,” but I’m so young that I’ve been in a time when everything is on the Internet and sometimes I see a trailer. I’m thrilled to say that I’ve just seen the whole movie without paying for it. [Laughs] So I actually go the route of just don’t ask and don’t sniff around. Just have an absolute blast and an exciting, cerebral time when you see it.
MC: It’s almost the same [for me]. I love to go and see movies where you don’t know anything about it…sometimes not even the actors that are in the movie. So I didn’t say anything. I still don’t, and you can feel that people are excited about this movie, and it’s a good thing. I saw it and I love it, and I’m pretty confident that you don’t have much to say to enjoy it.
IH: Leo, you previously referred to your work in this film and in Shutter Island as a sort of therapy session. When you’re playing a character operating in an imaginary world, how does that change your performance? And when you do two films like that back-to-back, does one influence the other?
LDC: It was something I certainly was aware of, but as far as both of them being locked in this dream world and going on some kind of cathartic journey throughout the course of the film, that’s about where the similarities ended. This film couldn’t have been more vastly different than the other in its execution, so I felt safe and completely aware of trying my best not to repeat any of those themes. But to answer your question about how one acts in that world or that there’s something you need to be aware of or do different, I would say absolutely not, and that’s what was exciting about even attempting… This was my first science-fiction film. The earliest conversations I had with Chris is how both of us have a hard time with science-fiction – we have a little bit of an aversion to it because it’s hard for us to emotionally invest in worlds that are too far detached from what we know. That’s what’s interesting about Chris Nolan’s science-fiction worlds – they’re deeply rooted in things that we’ve seen before. There are cultural references, and it feels like a world that is tactile, that we understand, that we could jump into, and it’s not too much of a leap of faith to make. But emotionally as well, as far as the character’s journey, I took everything as if you have to. Otherwise you’re not invested in the character, you’re not invested in the character’s journey, and you’re not going to make it believable to an audience. Everything is real, in essence.
Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Inception' is released on July 16, 2010.