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Behind the Scenes of "The Prestige" with Writer/Director Christopher Nolan

Nolan Hopes Audiences are Ready to Believe in Magic


Christopher Nolan and Hugh Jackman together for The Prestige

Writer/director Christopher Nolan and Hugh Jackman on the set of "The Prestige."

© Touchstone Pictures
Writer/director Christopher Nolan admits there were one or two Batman versus Wolverine jokes tossed around on the set of the dramatic thriller, The Prestige. That's to be expected when you cast Batman Begins star Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, the man who donned a set of metal claws to bring Wolverine to life in the X-Men films, in a movie where they face off as rival magicians. Nolan joked that not only did he have Batman and Wolverine on the set, but he also had Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie) and King Kong (Andy Serkis).

Christopher Nolan on the Challenge of Making a Film About Magic: “You make the movie the magic trick, a set of magic tricks. And you ruthlessly expose stage magic and don't worry about it, because I'm not a magician,” explained Nolan. That said, you must give the audience the trick by the end or else there’s no payoff for the viewers. “Yes, you do,” agreed Nolan. “And the real paradox, which is the paradox of magic, but this is to me what's interesting about the subject, is that much as the audience wants to know the secret, the secret ultimately will be disappointing. That's the nature of magic. And that's, to me, the key thing which I'm trying to do in the film.”

Does that mean learning the tricks of The Prestige will disappoint his audience? “I think that depends very much on how you view it,” answered Nolan. “And people watch films very differently. Some people very much enjoy the reveals at the end of the film. Other people prefer one over the other, or understand one more than the other. There's no unifying response, which was always the intention. This kind of film, I think, is fun to make.”

Telling the Story in Three Acts: The three acts of the film parallel the three act structure of magic tricks. “Basically, the idea was always really to address to magic from the point of view of not trying to show magic in the film and impress people with stage magic, because that can't work on film. People are aware of camera trickery and all the rest. The idea was always to create a marriage of that function according to the principles of a magic trick, or a set of magic tricks. That involved conforming to this three act structure.”

The Secret to Understanding Christian Bale: “I think that the most accurate thing to be said about Christian, and one of the reasons he's terrific to work with, is he takes what he does very, very seriously, but he doesn't take himself very seriously. He just has a very grounded approach to life and has a sense of humor about himself, but takes his work very seriously. It's a hard line to straddle. It's a very hard attitude to strike, but it's one that really benefits the work greatly. I've been fortunate to work with several actors like him.”

The Choice of Hugh Jackman to Play Magician Robert Angier: “What Hugh has in spades, really, is he's a terrific movie actor, a terrific film actor, but he's also a wonderful stage performer. This role requires an actor who can convey a comfort level and a power in his relationship with an audience that transcends his abilities as a magician. It's a very difficult thing to put across visually. He absolutely manages to do it, and I think that his stage experience is a big part of that. Christian, on the other hand, is able to convey, quite marvelously I think, the idea of somebody who's tremendously gifted as a magician, but has no understanding of what an audience needs from him to appreciate what he's doing.”

The Return of Michael Caine: Not only did Nolan sign his Batman Begins star up for The Prestige, he also cast Batman’s Alfred –Sir Michael Caine - in one of the film’s supporting roles. Nolan says he was never concerned about casting either actor. “No, because they're such great movie stars. It's like, to me, you just sort of accept it. I might have had more pause if the key relationship was between them. If the relationship was similar to what it was in the last film, that might have given me pause of thought. But Cutter's relationship is very much with Hugh [Jackman’s] character. So no, I think they're just very talented people.”

The Tone of The Prestige: “Generally, in the script stage, we looked at… Particularly when we were trying to figure out how to sell this film to a studio early on, it's like what story paradigm is it? Are very few sort of two-hander story paradigms? The Sting is one of them. There are others where there's no good guy, bad guy, so it's very tricky. I mean, Michael Mann's Heat is another one, actually, in a completely different direction. They do exist, but they're few and far between. The Sting is quite a close one. Sleuth is another one. Actually, Michael's back, they're remaking it.”

Page 2: On Period Films, the Structure of The Prestige, and The Dark Knight

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