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Inside 'Inception' with the Cast and Writer/Director Christopher Nolan

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio phot from Inception

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'Inception.'

© Warner Bros Pictures

Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe and Tom Hardy Inception Press Conference

Christopher, what was your research into dreams and science? How did you come up with architects and their designs?

Christopher Nolan: "I don’t actually tend to do a lot of research when I’m writing. I took the approach in writing Inception that I did when I was writing Memento about memory and memory loss, which is I tend to just examine my own process of, in this case dreaming, in Memento’s case, memory, and try and analyze how that works and how that might be changed and manipulated. How a rule set might emerge from my own process. I do know, because I think a lot of what I find you want to do with research is just confirming things you want to do, if the research contradicts what you want to do, you tend to go ahead and do it anyway. So at a certain point I realized that if you’re trying to reach an audience, being as subjective as possible and really trying to write from something genuine is the way to go. Really it’s mostly from my own process, my own experience."

Did you bring this in on time and on budget?

Christopher Nolan: "Yeah, we did. We actually had a very, very efficient crew and this very professional bunch of actors. We were able to hammer through it and we finished early and we finished under budget. We really brought the thing off very, very smoothly which was great. We try to be as efficient as possible because I think in my process, I think that actually helps the work. I like having the pressure of time and money and really trying to stick to the parameters we’ve been given. Yeah, it went very smoothly."

Did this get a Bond movie out of your system?

Christopher Nolan: "Quite a bit of it, yeah."

Did you consider 3-D? What was the decision process?

Christopher Nolan: "Sure. I mean, we looked at shooting on various different formats before we went to shoot, 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 think the question of 3-D really is one for audiences in a sense. The tests we looked at, it’s perfectly possible to post-convert a film very well. I like not having 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."

Ken, what was the toughest challenge for you?

Ken Watanabe: "First of all I made the character basically, he is a CEO and smart and powerful, but the most unique point of this movie was when the characters enter other people’s dreams. So I tried to emphasize different aspects of my character in each level of the dreams, the layers of dreams. And then one of the scenes – the first sequence in the castle – I picked up some hidden personality [traits] of Saito, just some more radical and powerful, and the second sequence in the old hotel with Leo talking about secrets, then I picked up that his character is smart and sharp, and it’s a totally different kind of personality. And it’s really interesting. And of course it was tough shooting when we were in the water the whole day and [with] no gravity for a whole day. My wife visited the set in London, where I shot [a scene] where I float above the floor for a whole day, and she asked me, 'What’s kind of the movie [about]?'"

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?

Christopher Nolan: "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. That took me a long time to do. I think I sort of grew into the film in a sense. I had the heist theme, I had the relationship between architecture and dreams, the idea that you would use an architect to design a dream for somebody else and all of that. All of those things were in place for several years, but it took me a long time to sort of find this idea of emotionally connecting with the story. Because 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 and the thing I got stuck on was that doesn’t work when you’re talking about dreams, because the whole thing about the human mind and dreams is that it has to have emotional consequences and resonances. And so that was really my process over the years, finding my relationship with the love story, the tragedy of it with the emotional side."

For the actors, what was the collaborative process like for you once you came aboard?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: "One thing I’ll say is that one of my favorite parts of working for Chris is that as well thought-out as everything was, he leaves room for spontaneity on the day, both from the side of the camera, that he and Wally [Pfister] work together in this very kind of organic way, and as well as from the actors. It’s nice to not feel like you’re just re-enacting a preconceived moment, but there’s room for an organic feeling to develop while the camera is rolling. Even amidst these enormous technical productions, Chris always prioritized making sure that sort of spontaneous and organic feeling could happen at the moment."

Ellen and Marion, how would you describe this movie to your friends?

Ellen Page: "I say that actually just want them to forget [everything]. '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 could 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. 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 quote-unquote secrecy, but I wish... I’m so young that I’ve been in a time when everything is on the internet and trailers are, sometimes I see a trailer and I’m thrilled to say that I’ve just seen the whole movie without paying for it. [Laughing] 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."

Marion Cotillard: "It’s almost the same. I love to go and see movies where you don’t know anything about it. Well, sometimes not even the actors that are in the movie. So I didn’t say anything. I still don’t, and yeah, you can feel that people are excited about this movie and it’s a good thing. I mean I saw it and I love it, and I’m pretty confident that you don’t have much to say to enjoy it."

This feels like a film that seems it only could get made because of that commercial success you’ve enjoyed. But does that freedom to get it made empower you to push the boundaries of what you can do, or does it put more pressure on you to fit it into perhaps a slightly more conventional structure or shape?

Christopher Nolan: "I was asked after doing The Dark Knight whether I felt any particular pressure on the next film, and it’s not really the case. I put it this way: I felt a responsibility. It’s not that often that you get to have a large commercial success and then have something that you want to do that you can excite people about, so it’s a great opportunity. The responsibility we felt in doing that was to make what we felt was to make the best film possible, the most interesting film possible, because obviously with the success of The Dark Knight we were in a position where the studio was prepared to put a lot of faith in us and trust in us to really do something special. Those opportunities are very rare for filmmakers, and I felt a responsibility to really try and do something memorable with it."

Leonardo, are you playing the reprehensible J Edgar Hoover?

Leonardo DiCaprio: "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."

And his personal life?

Leonardo DiCaprio: "Yes, that will be in there. Definitely."

Will you wear a dress?

Leonardo DiCaprio: "Will I wear a dress? Not as of yet. We haven’t done the fittings for those, so I don't think so."

But it spans decades?

Leonardo DiCaprio: "It’s going to span his life, yeah."

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