MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Director Christopher Nolan inverted time in his reverse chronology thriller, "Memento." He burrowed deep into layers of the subconscious with dream stealers in his movie "Inception." He reinvented Batman with his Dark Knight Trilogy. And now Christopher Nolan is venturing to galaxies far away. His new movie "Interstellar" is set in the near future. Planet Earth is close to running out of food. The human race is hurtling to extinction. So a team of explorers time travels through space to try to find a new home.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTERSTELLAR")
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: (As Cooper) This world's a treasure. It's been time to leave for a while now.
MICHAEL CAINE: (As Professor Brand) Your daughter's generation will be the last to survive on earth. You're the best pilot we ever had. Get out there and save the world.
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Cooper) Everybody ready to say goodbye to our solar system? To our galaxy. Here we go.
BLOCK: And director Christopher Nolan joins me now from NPR West. Welcome to the program.
CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: Thank you.
BLOCK: I know you've talked about seeing, "Star Wars" and "2001 a Space Odyssey, " when you were a young kid, about seven-years-old. Did you always have in your mind that you would end up making a space movie?
NOLAN: I think right from the moment that I saw George Lucas's first Star Wars, it was cemented in my mind as being the sort of maximum potential of the Hollywood blockbuster, if you like. I mean, there's a golden age of blockbuster that I grew up in, you had Lucas, you also had Spielberg, you know "Close Encounters." They really spoke to me about the potential of what movies can do in terms of taking an audience on an adventure.
BLOCK: There's one key character on board the spacecraft in, "Interstellar" that I want to talk to you about and that's, the very smart robot named TARS, voiced in the movie by Bill Irwin. And as I was watching and listening to TARS, I always had in the back of my mind, HAL, the malevolent robot from 2001. And I wondering if you were playing with that, you wanted people to be wondering is TARS going to turn bad? - Turn against the people he's on board with?
NOLAN: Well, one of his early jokes, because he's a rather humorist fellow.
BLOCK: Yeah, he is funny.
NOLAN: In one of his early jokes about blowing somebody out the airlock, which to me, it's intended as a pretty clear reference to HAL. But our robot's a lot more friendly and really, actually to say that Bill voiced it is slightly inaccurate because he actually perform in the robot, built the thing and he puppeteered it. It's a marriage of computer graphics and on-set puppeteering.
BLOCK: I've read that you, try to use as little computer-generated imaging as possible In your movies. You like to build stuff, you like to be as real as possible. Why is that? What do you think is lost the other way?
NOLAN: It's not so much about what's lost the way as what's gained by really photographing something. And I think what's gained is a tactile sense. It's a sense of knowing what something would feel like. Seeing the way the light hits something. Computer graphics, the visual effects we can do in that way are incredibly sophisticated, there are a lot of them in the film. But I think when they work best it's when your enhancing something that you photographed.
BLOCK: So when the crew lands on the icy planet, which has this amazing, barren, frosty landscape that goes on forever, I believe you shot that in Iceland. Can I ask for some trade secrets? I mean is that the actual landscape? Is it enhanced? How much of that is real?
NOLAN: A lot of it is real. But I think, yeah, there might be some disappointed sightseers if they're expecting...
BLOCK: (Laughter) I want to go there. Very briefly.
NOLAN: We - basically what people are walking on, what's in the mid-ground is real and then the extensions and other elements are also taken based on real photography because we we're looking at exploring incredibly hostile environments and Iceland represents a very extreme environment. It's an absolutely beautiful place and lovely people there, far from hostile in fact. But it's a place where you do get a sense of man really perching there, just, against the elements and that was very important to us.
BLOCK: I'm talking with director Christopher Nolan. His new movie is, "Interstellar." I want to ask you about the consultant you had on the film, Kip Thorne - Theoretical physicist. And an expert I've read on relativity, he's studied the idea of wormholes that could create shortcuts through space-time. Were there times when Kip Thorne, as the astrophysicist, would come to you and say, you know, that is great for your story but it really doesn't work in science? Would he reign you in on stuff?
NOLAN: Certainly. I mean, mostly the process wasn't one of restraint. It was mostly him saying here are the possibilities of real world science. But there was one example of where he just wouldn't let me go there. I wanted a character to travel faster than the speed of light and he spent about two weeks just beating me down and explaining to me it's absolutely not possible. And I finally had to sort of concede.
BLOCK: So he was saving you from the wrath of astrophysicists who would see that and call you on it?
NOLAN: We never really worried too much about, you know, the idea of Kips peers sort of moaning about the film or whatever. It was more about and it's something that I've apply to all my other films, is I think the audience can feel whether there's a rule set behind what your doing and I think they can feel when you're becoming anarchic and just sort of abandoning and saying it's just a movie. So whether the audience understands the underlying principles or not it was very important to stick with that.
BLOCK: You know what we haven't talked about at all yet is that is also, along with these huge cosmic story ideas, it's also a movie that's very much focused on family and on love. The lead character, Coop, who's played Matthew McConaughey leaves his children behind on earth to go to space and try to save the human race. Let's listen to a scene with his daughter, Murph, before he leaves.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTERSTELLAR")
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Cooper) I'm coming back.
MACKENZIE FOY: (As Murphy) When?
MCCONAUGHEY: (As Cooper) I love you forever.
BLOCK: So Christopher Nolan what's the balance for you, as you merge those two things, this intimate family story and then this big galactic epic?
NOLAN: Intergalactic, technically.
BLOCK: Yes yes.
NOLAN: (Laughter) I think for me it's as much about contrast as balance. I really wanted to look at this moment in time that may be coming one day, where mankind has to reckon with its place in the wider universe. I love the idea of just looking over the shoulder of relatable characters. Just experiencing these first steps out into the universe with people that you could understand and emotionally respond to.
BLOCK: And does it feel to you that now that you've made, "Interstellar" have you gotten the space movie out of your system or look what happened to George Lucas, right?
NOLAN: Well, I mean honestly it's a pretty by definition, I suppose, fairly infinite universe to be explored. But certainly I got to do a lot of things in this film that I've been wanting to do since I was a kid. It's a real sort of childhood dream of mine to do this film and so I feel like I suddenly got a lot of things out of my system.
BLOCK: Christopher Nolan, his new movie is, "Interstellar." Mister Nolan thanks, a pleasure to talk you.
NOLAN: Thank you.
BLOCK: This is NPR.
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