Interview: Christopher Nolan talks about Insomnia and other future projects

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Dean Kish: Can you tell us anything about your upcoming film, Insomnia?

Christopher Nolan: It's a psychological thriller centering around a veteran cop who is sent up from Los Angeles to a town in Northern Alaska to help the police solve a murder involving a young girl. He goes up there with his partner from L.A. and basically becomes very involved with the prime suspect in the murder who is a local writer played by Robin Williams. The two get into a pretty intense situation and the writer presents the cop with a very moral paradox.

DK: The script went through a couple different drafts, right?

CN: Oh, sure. I first approached Warner Bros. about the project before any script was written. I hadn't made Memento at that point so I really wasn't in a good position to get involved. Hillary Seitz was just about to start writing and had decided to do much the same things in adapting the film as I would have. It was important to where the film was set because we needed 24-hour daylight to make sure the protagonist is very disoriented and follow his progression through the story. When I finally finished Memento, I came back to Warner Bros. and showed them the film and was able to get on to the Insomnia project as the director. I then collaborated with Hillary Seitz on several drafts.

DK: How do you think audiences will react to seeing Robin Williams in such a villainous role in this film?

CN: Well I think they will come away feeling like they have seen a "new" Robin Williams. Seeing Robin Williams doing something they would have never imagined that he would or could do. He is a very exciting presence in the film because he is both extraordinarily surprising in the role and very frighteningly realistic.

DK: Was the chemistry between him and Pacino what makes the film so intriguing?

CN: I think the chemistry between them is two fascinating presences that are on the screen together for the first time. For me it was very exciting to watch these two great actors working together.

DK: George Clooney is listed as one of the producers on the film. How hands-on was he in regards to that?

CN: George and Steven Soderbergh are executive producers on the film and their production company "Section Eight" is involved. They have been extraordinarily helpful in guiding me through my first studio film experience. It has been a tremendously valuable collaboration.

DK: Adding to that collaboration, what is it like?

CN: Oh, I have had a wonderful experience. I really can't complain, but I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. But I found the studio environment to very productive. That does come from working with the right producers and executives. I felt very supported in everything we tried to do with the film. Importantly, they never tried to make the film something that it wasn't and we agreed early on to what film we were making.

DK: Back to Clooney for a second, did he want to be in this film at any point?

CN: George never saw himself in the role and it is pretty specifically written for somebody like Al Pacino. There were no real doubts in our minds that Pacino was the right casting.

DK: You didn't put on as many hats on this film as opposed to Memento. What was that like?

CN: Well I did work with Seitz on developing the script and I did write little bits into my own words. But I found it very liberating as a director to have the benefit of someone else's characterization and words on the page to build on. It is very liberating because you come to it very fresh. When you are writing your own material you are living with it a year or two longer so it is harder to remain objective.

DK: I am already looking forward to seeing Insomnia. I have been reading on Variety that you are going to be doing a Howard Hughes biopic with Jim Carrey.

CN: Not a biopic is what I keep saying. *laughs* I am working on a script based on the life of Howard Hughes for Jim Carrey to play Howard Hughes. I am just getting into that in writing.

DK: How much is Jim collaborating on that?

CN: Oh, quite a lot. Just in terms of my imagination of knowing who is going to play the part. It is different sitting down to write, and sitting down to write (while) already knowing who is going to play the part. We have met several times to discuss the specifics of the direction we were going in and Jim has some fantastic ideas which are close to my ideas. We are having quite a bit of fun.

DK: Why Jim to play Howard?

CN: He is just perfect. He was born to play him. *laughs* He just really is. This film has been discussed to be made for years in various forms but never has. The casting is one of the things behind that. When you have that and you hear Jim's take on the characterization and you look at his extraordinary gift for channeling individuals like in his portrayal of Andy Kaufmann, you can see that Jim Carrey is a very unique talent. What I need is an individual who can play all the unique aspects of the character of Howard Hughes.

DK: When you speak to Jim, you will have to tell him I loved him in The Majestic. What drew you to write about Howard Hughes?

CN: I will tell him. Howard Hughes is just an astounding figure. Most people know a little bit about his life but not that much which makes him an ideal subject for a film. He embodies so much of the American concern with material wealth and the effect that it may have on you. And how do you deal with extraordinary success and fame. He is an extraordinary individual from that point of view. He has the extremes in which he lived. He was on top of the world and the first real American billionaire and then he spent decades shut away in small hotels. He is just fascinating.

DK: Are you and your brother working on anything right now?

CN: We are working on something right now. He is working on the first draft.

DK: You have been quoted as being a huge fan of the films Blade Runner and The Matrix. Do you ever plan on delving into the science-fiction genre? What kind of story would you love to tell in that genre?

CN: Absolutely. I am currently working on a couple things along those lines. But I think the key with any genre piece, (whether it) be science-fiction or horror or thrillers, like I have been doing, (is that it) would require a fresh take and a fantastic script. I am biding my time waiting for the right thing in the science-fiction genre.

DK: Is there any specific kind of science-fiction story you would like to tell?

CN: For me, it's the more conceptual end of things because I find that to be more relevant to present day life. Those are the kinds of stories that interest me. It's more about the ideas of science fiction than the hardware.

DK: You mean a more cerebral-type picture than a special effects-oriented picture?

CN: I think so. Every now and again you have a film like The Matrix which blends the two very nicely together.

DK: This is sort of a personal question. When you were a child did you read "2000 AD" at all?

CN: Oh yeah absolutely. I loved them. It was a fantastic magazine or comic. It was probably the only comic book I probably did read when I was a kid.

DK: Thank you so much for joining me, Chris. I am really looking forward to Insomnia and I really hope I can talk to you again in the future.

CN: Yeah absolutely. Thank you.

During my conversation with Christopher Nolan, I learned a little more about the visionary process. Chris has a very in-depth and almost magical approach to filmmaking as he is able to hone his visions into projects. I so hope I get to see what he does with a science-fiction film because the "unique take" he talks about is surely to come from this man. Thanks again, Chris.

Insomnia -- starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank -- opens in theatres May 24, 2002.

Tags: Christopher Nolan, Insomnia, Al Pacino, Robin Williams, George Clooney, Hillary Seitz, Howard Hughes, Jim Carrey, Momento

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