Any new movie from Christopher Nolan is going to sit right near the tippy-top of our “most anticipated” lists. Even if you didn’t like his take on Batman, this is a guy responsible for Memento, Inception, and The Prestige — his films are always ambitious, and top notch more often than not. So the prospect of a sprawling epic involving space travel, wormholes, and (possibly) time travel? Open our veins and we will gladly sign on the line which is dotted. But just to kick our salivary glands into even higher gear, Nolan has revealed that he built all the interior spaceship sets for Interstellar practically, to help immerse the actors in the world of the story.
That’s a far cry from the all-too-common approach of tossing actors into an unbroken field of green and telling them to talk to a baseball on the end of the stick, which will eventually become an alien that they’re not sure what it will look like yet. Speaking at CinemaCon this week (as reported by io9), Nolan said:
We wanted to have the real environments the actors were going to be seeing out the windows. We built closed sets of the scale that this ships would be at, we put the reality outside for the actors so we could shoot it like a documentary, like you were really there.
The film will certainly include CGI as well, but, just as Peter Jackson has done with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, Nolan sounds like he’s committed to using every technique available, from CGI to miniatures to practical sets, in order to make a more cohesive and convincing whole. That’s something to cheer for in this era where some filmmakers rely on CGI as an easy crutch, rather than considering what approach would work best for the creature, effect, or scene in question. Nolan says that use of real-life sets and props also helps strengthen the performances the actors can deliver.
…if you’ve given them something in camera, then [you receive something of a] much higher quality than if you just shoot a green screen stage, and just throw it to them make it beautiful. You get a lot more out of that with visual effects if you really put the work in.
Beyond the subject of how he’s making it, Nolan played coy when it came to providing any details about Interstellar’s story or characters. The film is based in part on theoretical physicist Kip Thorne’s work on the subject of wormholes, and there have been rumors that the story will involve time travel somehow. When asked about that, however, Nolan seems quick to downplay that possibility, although he doesn’t flat-out deny it. Instead, he emphasizes that Interstellar is, as the same suggests, about interstellar space travel.
Kip [Thorne] is an executive producer on the project — he’s a very brilliant scientist whose dealt with the modern science of wormholes, in particular. He was in from the beginning of the project and he’s been an incredible ally. Really it’s about wormhole travel to other places we can’t reach through normal travel through space, because their time spans far beyond anything you can do.
So it sounds like it may not be “time travel” as it’s typically presented in fiction, but rather the notions of playing around with relativity and using wormholes as shortcuts to reach places that would require hundreds of thousands of years to reach otherwise, even if we could travel at the speed of light.
Interstellar’s cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Ellen Burstyn…the list just goes on. This being a typically secretive Nolan project, we don’t know much of anything about the characters they’ll be playing. And unsurprisingly, Nolan didn’t seem keen to change that. When asked about McConaughey’s role as “Cooper,” Nolan kept things vague:
I can’t say too much about the plot of the film. But the character that he’s playing playing, I needed someone who is very much an everyman. Very much somebody who the audience could experience the story with, be right there beside him experiencing these very extraordinary events in the film and seeing it through his eyes. Somebody really relatable. And I think Matthew really has those qualities — he’s just a phenomenal character and presence in the movie. The performance is shaping out to be something extraordinary.
Nolan also says with Interstellar he’s hoping to evoke the sort of classic blockbuster family films like the ones he grew up with. While he doesn’t name-check any in particular, it seems like he may be going for something in the vein of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T., movies that were “fun for the whole family,” but which didn’t temper their ambitions or talk down to their audience.
I grew up in the era that was really a golden age of the blockbuster, when something being a family film didn’t have any pejorative connotations. It could be broad-based and very universal in its appeal. I feel like that’s something I want to see again, something I want to explore in the tone of this film. Something that really looks at where we are as people, where we might go and how the universe balances the human experience, and really try to not be a film, and try and be an experience people carry with them. And for me it’s about harkening back to the films I grew up with and took me to places I’d never imagined.
Interstellar will voyage into theaters later this year, on November 7.