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June 2005
Batman Begins: An Interview with Director Christopher Nolan

Batman Begins: An Interview with Director Christopher Nolan

By Wilson Morales

With so many films being done on comic books in today's film market, folks are asking, "Why do we need another Batman film? Hasn't it been done four times already? Yes, and no is probably the best answer to that question. Yes, the story of Batman has been before, the most memorable one being the 1989 version in which Michael Keaton played the Caped Crusader, BUT also where Jack Nicholson stole the film as The Joker. And that's where the problems began. Once Nicholson became the star of the film, the studio then felt that star of each sequel should be the villain, and that any actor can play the role of Batman. Hence, the real story of who Bruce Wayne/Batman is was never told in a proper way. This is where director Christopher Nolan comes in. This accomplished director pays attention to details and characters. From his first film, Following, to his indie hit film, Memento, and his last film, Insomnia, Nolan's films comes complete with substance and originality. That's what he's looking to do with the latest Batman film, Batman Begins. He's looking to give the audience the origin of the Caped Crusader and why he does what he does, as it was written in the comic books. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Nolan goes over the film and talks about what Christian Bale brings to the role.

Is this the only Batman film that you will direct?

Nolan: I enjoyed making this film very much and we try to leave the film very open with a real sense of possibilities in the audiences' mind as they leave the theater. As far as I doing another film, that will mostly be defined by how people react to this one.

If there is a sequel, would you want to direct it after spending two years of your life on the first one?

Nolan: Well, I definitely intend to do something else first. I want to do something smaller after having done such a big film.

Do you know what you want to do?

Nolan: No, not specifically.

In making this film, what did you learn from other comic book movies?

Nolan: I'm not a real big fan of comic book movies generally because I felt like I really wanted to see a film that conveys the experience of reading a comic book. That is to say the mental pressure you go through when you get into the stories. You are not looking at the page as a flat surface. You are actually in the action and that's what I was trying to do with this film. The only time I have seen a film do the right thing was the 1978 "Superman" film that Richard Donner directed. They treated that film like an epic scaled film and this amazing cast like Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty and Glen Ford. I thought that was a spectacular film and I felt that Batman deserved that type of storytelling.

Can you talk about why chose Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul as opposed to other mainstream villains?

Nolan: In really came about as a result of talking to David Goyer, the screenwriter, about which villains would fit the tone and the themes of what we were doing. Scarecrow, because of his use of fear as a weapon, presents an interesting parallel to Bruce Wayne's fear as a weapon. Ra's al Ghul felt like an appropriate villain for us, not because of motivation, which seems contemporary and relevant right now, but because the tone of him as a fictional character; I think he's based very much on (James) Bond villains of the 70s and that felt like the tone of villain we needed. A memorable interested frightening villain.

According to the press kit, Gothan City is described in a way that terrorist would described New York. Were you thinking that?

Nolan: Well, in the comic books, Ra's al Ghul is often described as a terrorist. I would put him down as an extremist. What was important to me in creating an incredible frightening villain is that everything he says is true and at some level reasonable that also makes sense. The extremes to which he is prepared to go; to achieve what he believes is very threatening and very frightening.

Your casting for this film makes a statement as to how serious you want this film to be.

Nolan: Yeah, definitely. We wanted to give Batman the treatment he really deserves; as epic as we could make it. When you speak of the word epic, it's not about size or explosions, but about the characters you seen on-screen.

How did you want to approach the actors with their characters?

Nolan: My approach with actors is to try and give them whatever it is they need from me. Direction to me is about listening and responding to about how much they need to know from me and how much they have figured out for themselves really. And this was a very, very talented bunch of actors and they were very specific in what they wanted to do. What was nice about that is that they were very relaxed with the notion that I had a lot of other things to worry about, because of the scale of the film. In the past with my films I've been able to concentrate very, very much with the performances of the actors. With this film there were all kinds of other things to take into consideration. But as very talented and generous actors, they allowed me to do that without feeling shortchanged. They seemed to accommodate that very easily.

Was Christian Bale a tough sell to the studio?

Nolan: No. They made sure that we did our due diligence and we weren't going to get away with just meet Christian and saying, "The part is yours." They were numerous contenders for the role. We had to screen test a number of actors. I think about 5. Christian wasn't a tough sell at all. When you are making "Batman Begins", Batman is the star. They were very open to letting me cast the best actor for the role.

What made Christian the best choice?

Nolan: In taking on a realistic telling of the story, I needed someone who could play Bruce Wayne; somebody whose eyes the audience can relate to and believe that there is this absolute dedication and discipline and drive to making himself an extraordinary icon. He has no superpower. He's just a human being. He has this rage inside himself and desire to do something emotionally and extraordinary. I can't think of anyone but Christian who this fire in his eyes to be this character.

Do you think he personifies Bruce Wayne and Batman?

Nolan: Yes, to a certain extent, but he was also very specific in what he wanted to do and he drew from a lot of certain influences that I agreed with in terms of the graphic novels. A lot of what he was able to turn into performance comes from that material.

You directed Hilary Swank, an Oscar Winner, in your last film. Katie Holmes has done some films, but not at the level of Swank. Why choose Holmes?

Nolan: I think she's got a wonderfully, warm and generous presence that's very glamorous. Very girl next door at the same time. But she also has this maturity beyond her years which the character really needed. Because Rachel really is Bruce Wayne's conscious in a sense. She has to stand for a couple of things. She has to be the life he might have had, what he lost, but she also has to be the voice of his conscious and keep him on his toes. And I think Katie did those things very well.

Do you think her recent romance with Tom Cruise will affect the movie's chances of being successful?

Nolan: No, I don't think so. I would like to think that film stands on its own merit.

Were you concerned about the humor in the film? Do you think added a bit much in the film? The story of Batman is meant to be dark.

Nolan: No, I wasn't concerned about going over the edge with it because I sort of stripped it all away from the film in the beginning. Then I thought, as well as the studio, that everybody always wants a little of lightness to balance with the darkness. I wanted things to arise from realities of the situations and the way it's interpreted. In watching Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, you get a great level of humor from their performances. They were able to build from the script and make it much more.

Will kids like the movie?

Nolan: I think there has been this increasing misperception that kids will not respond to something that's also for adults. I think that often tends to get underestimated.

How much of Batman's anger is really under control by the end of this film?

Nolan: Well, I think when it's harnessed, and that is a form of control, that doesn't mean it's not there and it doesn't mean it's suppressed - it's channeled and it's harnessed. And that to me is what keeps him as a character frightening to his opponents and all of us to some extent.

After 4 previous Batman films, why the need for an entire new franchise?

Nolan: The main goal was really to do something fresh and original. And that was coming straight from the studio. And if it wasn't, I wouldn't have gotten involved with the project because it's pretty rare to have an iconic figure that's owned and controlled by a studio that's asking you to do something different with it. That really was the mandate. For me, what that became was my desire to do something we hadn't seen before, a superhero story told in a realistic fashion. And step outside itself and acknowledge the form and the medium it's coming from, but one in which the audience is just immersed in the reality that's going on.

Did you really want Gotham City to look so dark and gloomy?

Nolan: We tried not to be too specific. When Nathan Crowley, my production designer, started discussing the look of the film with me, we immediately rejected any reductiveness. The driving force was not to, "OK, they've done an art deco city, we'll do a modernist city," nothing like that. We wanted something that reflects the reality of a large modern city which is a tremendous variety of architecture. A tremendous variety of periods in which things were built. We wanted a history to the place as well as a contemporary feel. What we ended up doing , is that the way that we approached Gotham as an exaggeration of New York, an exaggeration of a modern American city was to look at interesting geographical features of the cities of the world. A lot from New York, some from Chicago, a lot from Tokyo because of elevated freeways and monorails. From Hong Kong we took the walled city of Kalhoon is the basis for the narrows which is this kind of walled in slum. So what we really did was putting together the elements that let you exaggerate all the socio-economic factors that feed into Gotham as an exaggeration of the modern American city drastication and so forth.

How many batmobiles did you start out with?

Nolan: Well, there were four in Chicago, and seven overall.

How hard was it to co-ordinate all the practical effects in the movie?

Nolan: The challenge wasn't really to me, it was to the stunt co-coordinator and the physical effects guy. And they rode to this admirably. In a day and age when so much is done with computers they rose to the opportunity. They really enjoyed the opportunity which is performing amazing feats and building amazing things that can actually work in the real world. To me, once I set that all in motion it was really just a question of filming it and trying to be disciplined about listening to the little voices in your ear that says, "Well, you could do this with visual effects. You could leave this for now." And not [be] effective. I'm very glad we held to that discipline, because it meant in post production when we did get into our visual effects components we had all the right materials to make that stuff look great and not have to do too much of it. And we had the time to do what we did do. We had the time to perfect it, because we weren't doing four to five times the number of shots we said we were going to do which is what happened on a lot of these films.

Were you ever concerned as to how much information was leaked on the internet in terms of the plot?

Nolan: To be honest, we managed to keep the secret long enough that it was unlikely to derail our process so we fortunate in that regard. We were fortunate that it was well received. At one point I was worried. It would have been troubling for us to have the fans very concerned to what we were doing at that stage.

Will the DVD feature deleted scenes?

Nolan: There are no deleted scenes. Everything's on screen.

Do you have an idea as to what's next on your plate? I read that you and producer Emma Thomas are developing two films, The Prestige and The Exec.

Nolan: I don't know what I want to do next. My brother is actually working on a screenplay that is based on a comic called "The Exec" that you know we're quite excited about. But I really don't know how I'll end up choosing my next project it just kinds of happens.


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