His cinematic style is distinct, with complicated narratives, often featuring the oscillation between different time frames—all this is the reason why Christopher Nolan has taken the modern day cinematic landscape by storm and earned a much deserved fan base. While his oeuvre is impressive, he credits it to his amazing team and shares how it is a “process that takes a lot of time”. The filmmaker, whose recent film Tenet released in India, understands that packing so much information in his films tend to get overwhelming for the audiences but adds, “hopefully we put things there which people might notice in the second or third viewing.”
You shot portions of The Dark Knight Rises in Jodhpur and shot in Mumbai for Tenet, what brought you back to shooting in India?
“I have been to India when we were shooting for The Dark Knight Rises and we had a fantastic experience working with local crew. Then I got an opportunity to come to Mumbai a few years ago where we did a forum about future of cinema and I was struck by Mumbai and the look of the place. Textural and architectural styles and the history that is there in every angle of the city. As a filmmaker it really excites your imagination and it left me wanting to come back with a camera and crew. I think the aerial view and the whole landscape that we added of the city in Tenet are one of the most fantastic visual of the film.
Your films have complicated ideas, how challenging is it to adapt those idea for celluloid and make it simple for the audiences?
The process for me is a lot of time. I do a lot of diagrams. For me, I need to know what the genre is. I need to know what I am telling the audiences about the type of story. In Tenet, the important part was looking at the spy film genre, looking at the James Bond films I grew up watching and loving. I thought to myself, ‘okay how can I use the genre and how can they help me take the audience on this journey and how can they help me explain what I want to.
A Nolan film typically means one watch is never enough and people have to go back again and again to join the dots…
“I think for me it is very exciting that people go back and re-watch my films again and again to get them. As long as I have done my job of giving the first time viewer an exciting and entraining experience, I am happy. If can’t entertain people the first time around then I don’t think they would be interested in coming back to it. The reality is that I take years to work on the stuff and I have a lot of people helping me do it. There are a lot of ideas that go into my films and the audience has only two and half hours to take away. I suppose to give them value for money, we try to put in as much in the two and half hours we can. So if achieve a degree of density or a wealth of things that may need multiple viewings to re-examine, then I think I have done my job. We have a lot of thoughts put together and the audience has to watch it very, very rapidly, so it overwhelms and takes them on a ride. Hopefully, we put things there which people might notice in the second of third viewing.
The casting in your films continues to be intriguing and novel, how do you zero down on your cast?
I try to not write with actors in mind as that would be limiting for actors. You would be writing something that they had already done before, so I try to really write the character on page and don’t let real actors be a factor. When I finish the script, I have this amazing moment of looking at the performances of so many talented actors out there and think about what this actor or that actor could bring. It is a process of getting someone who can put more than what you have put on the page. Be it John David Washington, Dimple Kapadia, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, these are all people I knew would take what I had written and make it so much more real and layered and that is the collaboration I look for.
You did a cohesive and successful job with the Batman franchise, would you go back to directing another superhero film?
No, I don’t think so. There are just different types of films that I would want to make. I had a fantastic time working on Batman . It was a great privilege of mine to work with that character but it was 10 years of my life. I have other types of stories to tell and as filmmaker, I am really glad I get to do it.