Inception is Nolan's first big-budget film based on an original idea, something the visionary writer/producer/director commented on at the Los Angeles press day for the Warner Bros Pictures action drama.
"The interesting thing about an original concept is that, particularly with the sort of 10 year gap it took me from my sort of initial set of ideas and finishing the screenplay, by the time you get there, you’ve lived with those ideas for so long that it really isn’t that different from working from somebody else's story, for example," explained Nolan. "As with Memento, when I adapted my brother’s short story, the same thing happens – you take this story on as your own, and because the screenwriting process is a very long one for me, it takes years really to put a script together, by the time you get there at the end, it starts to feel a little bit irrelevant as to where you started from. So the experience has been quite similar, in fact."
Nolan joined his Inception cast to talk about the film, the action, and bringing the story to life on the screen.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Tom Hardy Inception Press ConferenceHave you been fascinated by dreams and have you thought differently about them since working on this film?
Christopher Nolan: "I’ve been fascinated by dreams my whole life, since I was a kid, and I think the relationship between movies and dreams is something that’s always interested me. I liked the idea of trying to portray dreams on film. And I’d been working on the script for some time, really about 10 years in the form that you’ve seen it in, where this idea of this kind of heist structure. I think really, for me, the primary interest in dreams and in making this film is this notion that your mind while you’re asleep you can create an entire world that you’re also experiencing without realizing that you’re doing that. I think that says a lot about the potential of the human mind, especially the creative potential. It’s something I find fascinating."
Leonardo DiCaprio: "You know, it was interesting being part of this film because I’m not a big dreamer - never have been. I remember fragments of my dream, and I try to take a traditional sort of approach to researching this project and doing preparation for it. Read Books on dream analysis, Freud’s book on the analysis of dreams, and tried to research it in that sort of 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 sort of obviously 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 that it’s up to the, obviously, the individual. Obviously we suppress things, emotions, things during the day - thoughts that we obviously haven’t thought through enough, and in that state of sleep when 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."
Christopher, the storyline was kept a secret for so long, is there a danger that a certain point even secrecy becomes a form of hype? How do you balance that with what you want people to know about this film?
Christopher Nolan: "Well, it’s certainly difficult to balance marketing a film and putting it out there to everybody with wanting to keep it fresh for the audience. My most enjoyable moviegoing experiences have always been going to a movie theater, sitting there and the lights go down and a film comes on the screen that you don’t know everything about, and you don’t know every plot turn and every character movement that’s going to happen. I want to be surprised and entertained by a movie, so that’s what we’re trying to do for the audience."
"Obviously, we also have to sell the film. It’s a balance that I think Warner’s is striking very well. I suppose that at a point, keeping something secret does lend itself to its own degree of hype, but I don’t really think of it as secrecy. You know, we invite the audience to come and see it based on some of the imagery and some of the plot ideas and the premise, but we don’t want to give everything away. I think too much is given away too often in movie marketing today."
There’s a moment where Ellen’s character expresses a little bit of confusion about where they are and who’s dream they’re in. Were there ever any moments where it was so complex and involved that it was confusing for 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! I know which dream I’m in.'"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: "And, also, if you’re doing it right you spend a lot of time thinking about every scene in every movie you do. I enjoy putting some thought into it before we roll camera."
Leonardo DiCaprio: "What was very interesting for me was reading the original screenplay, and obviously this story structure was extremely ambitious in the fact that it was 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 moviemaking. 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 a 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."
Can you tell us a little more about the Fred Astaire fight sequence and the training that went into it, and about the zero-g situation in the elevator?
Christopher Nolan: "I’ll leave Joe to tell you the bad stuff, but, really, the thing I just want to point out that people might not be aware of is that we had a stunt guy who looks exactly like Joe made up perfectly - and he stood there three weeks on-set and didn’t do a thing because Joe insisted on doing absolutely everything himself apart from, as I’ve been reminded one shot - one shot where the stunt guy performed. Everything else he did himself, and he just did the most incredible job with these bizarre rigs and these bizarre sort of torture devices."
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: "Thanks. 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. Like in the way I guess athletes must get when they have to put on their pads and they tape up their ankles and they get a little beat up throughout the day. But that’s just part of slamming yourself into walls and jumping around all day. I was really grateful to the whole stunt team - Tom Struthers, who Chris has worked with before. He and his guys really took me in and taught me a lot and let me do it, because I’ve had the opposite experience where stunt teams can be a little demeaning. Not demeaning, but exclusionary towards actors."
"To speak to your Fred Astaire comparison, I get a kick out of that because she’s talking about there’s this dance sequence in a Fred Astaire movie from 50 years ago? Okay, longer ago than that where it’s a similar effect, and I was thinking about it and I came up with an analogy. 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."