Star Leo DiCaprio and director Christopher Nolan weigh in on the dream state, hyping a movie shrouded in secrecy, and making a movie with smarts, for a change.
If recent reviews are to be believed, Christopher Nolan’s (The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento) new Inception is the Second Coming, in theaters anyway. The head-spinning action drama, whose trailers may have made you mental trying to figure out exactly what the heck the movie’s about, opens this week. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the leader of a group of dream infiltrators who can literally join people inside their sleeping fantasies and influence their waking lives.
A whopping group of some 10 folks involved in the film, including DiCaprio, Nolan, costars Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ken Watanabe collected for a press conference discussing the heady, exciting and sometimes, yes, confounding film that’s got critics in a tizzy.
Q: Mr. Nolan, you first pitched Inception around the time you made Insomnia. Can you share that pitch with us, and how did that change once you had the script written?
When I first pitched the studio the project, it was about 10 years ago, and I’d just finished Insomnia
. Really, the pitch was very much the movie you see, although I hadn’t figured out the emotional core of the story – and that took me a long time to do. When I look at heist movies (and I wanted it to feel like a heist movie), they tend to be almost deliberately superficial. They tend not to have high emotional stakes. So what I realized over the years was that doesn’t work when you’re talking about dreams, because it has to have emotional consequences and resonance. That was really my process over the years, finding my relationship with the love story, the tragedy of it.
Q: Have you always been fascinated by dreams?
Nolan: I’ve been fascinated by dreams my whole life, and I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that’s always interested me. The primary interest in dreams and in making this film is this notion that your mind can create an entire world that you’re experiencing without realizing it. I think that says a lot about the potential of the human mind, especially the creative potential.
Leonardo DiCaprio: I’m not a big dreamer. I never have been. I remember fragments. Obviously, we suppress things, emotions, during the day that we haven’t thought through enough, and in that state of sleep our subconscious randomly fires off different surreal story structures, and when we wake up we should pay attention to these things.
Q: You’ve been able to keep a real sense of secrecy around the movie’s plot. How do you balance keeping the secret with getting the word out?
Nolan: Well, it’s certainly difficult to balance marketing a film and wanting to keep it fresh for the audience. My most enjoyable moviegoing experiences have always been going to a movie theater, sitting there as the lights go down, and a film comes on the screen that you don’t know everything about. I want to be surprised and entertained by a movie, so that’s what we’re trying to do. I think too much is given away too often in movie marketing today.
Q: Is it somewhat perilous to release a movie with “smarts” in the summer season?
Emma Thomas (producer, and Nolan's wife): I think that audiences aren’t given enough credit, for one. People do like to be challenged. If you’re the sort of person who wants to really think about the plot and how the technology works and the dream levels, then you can do that. But there’s also an enormous amount of fun and action and emotion. It’s a great love story.
Q: There’s a moment where Ellen’s character expresses a little bit of confusion about where they are and whose dream they’re in. Were there ever any moments where it was so complex and involved that it was confusing to you?
Tom Hardy: For me, personally, it was easy to orientate which dream sequence I was in because of my costume. If in doubt, I could just look at my shoes and say “Oh!” (Claps) “I know which dream I’m in.”
DiCaprio: You clearly identify one scenario with the other, and it’s a completely different experience. The snow-capped mountains of Canada, or a van, or an L.A. elevator shaft or Paris or London -- you have a visual reference. It was a lot easier to understand than I ever thought it would be.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about the action and stunts? Like the Fred Astaire-like fight sequence and the zero-g situation in the elevator?
Gordon-Levitt: It was just about the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie set. It was also, probably, the most pain I’ve ever been in on a movie set, physically, but you know, pain in a good way. To speak to your Fred Astaire comparison, I get a kick out of that…because Inception does contain a similar technique, and it’s sort of how Sesame Street and Star Wars both use Jim Henson puppetry? It’s similar technique, but to very different effect.
Hardy: The pleasure was that there wasn’t actually that much, with me. I’d just come off a cage fighting film and I’d been pretty badly beaten up. I was a bit broken. I had broken toes and ribs and wrist. It was nice to wear nice suits and have a tan and slippers and cardigans.
DiCaprio: 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.
Q: Did you consider 3-D?
Nolan: Sure, I mean, we looked at shooting on various different formats, including 3-D technology but also Showscan, 65 mil, which we eventually fixed on. Then when we edited the film, we looked at the post conversion process and did some very good tests. But, when I really looked at the time period we had and where my attention needed to be in finishing the film, I decided that I didn’t have enough time to do it to the standard I would have liked.
I like not having to wear glasses when I watch a movie and I like being able to see a very bright, immersive image. So I think at the end of the day, I’m extremely happy to be putting the film out with 35 mil film prints very brightly projected with the highest possible image quality. That’s really what excites me.
Q: Chris, do any of your own dreams stand out that you don’t mind sharing with us?
Nolan: As far as the dreams go, there are times in my life where I experienced lucid dreaming, which is a big feature of Inception – the idea of realizing you’re in a dream and therefore trying to change or manipulate it in some way. That’s a very striking experience for people who have it.
Q: Emma, is your husband [Nolan] a good sleeper? [Laughter]
Thomas: He’s a very good sleeper. Yes, sometimes I wish he’d wake up earlier and…you know. But yeah, he’s very normal!