Young British filmmaker CHRISTOPHER NOLAN has graduated from no-budget filmmaking to directing Al Pacino in just three films. How? Words: Miles Fielder
~\‘e just pill the phone down on ('hristopher Nolan. It’s a
little alter lam on 'l‘ues’day to July. We’ye been talking
about the young British director's second American lilm. a remake ol' the Norwegian thriller Insomnia. I was tempted to ask. ‘What‘s the matter (‘hristopherl’ ('an't sleep'.’~ But that would be churlish I might be tip late. but l'or Nolan. who's in l.os Angeles. it's yesterday ltmchtime. That in itsell‘ is a litllllt)‘ thing: my questions to Nolan are trayelling down the phone line. across the Atlantic and backward in time. l-‘unny because Nolan got to make Insomnia on the back ol' the success of his preyiotis l‘ilin. .llemento. a reyenge thriller abotit a man sull'ering lrom short term memory loss which benelited lrom the brilliant twist of plotting his story in reyerse.
‘What are you working on next. (‘lu'istophei".” I ask.
‘l’m writing a script about Howard Hughes and .lim (‘arrey’s going to starf Nolan replies.
‘l)oes the lilm haye a title'."
‘Not one I‘m willing to discuss. yet.‘
‘()K. well thanks lot' your time. (‘hristopherf l ptit the phone down.
.\"olan started making stop-motion ﬁlms at age sei'en. using ltis‘latlter's super 8mm eamera and Aetion .llan dolls. While studying Iz'nglisli literature at I'nii'ersiti‘ ('ollege Ixmdon (ltis liome eity). Nolan graduated to [(HHIII'IIIHI. IIis sliort. lel't't’ll_\‘. was sereened at the ('ambridge l‘ilm I'estit'al in NW).
Nolan‘s new lilm deriyes its thrills lrom a deadly cat—and—mouse game played out between a VCIL‘I'lel l.os Angeles homicide detective and a killer in the remote northern Alaskan backwater township ol' Nightmute. While in pursuit ol‘ the criminal. the cop. accidentally kills his partner. The killer witnesses the event. which he turns to his advantage by blackmailing his nemesis. Al Pacino plays the cop. Robin \Villlams the killer. and Nolan’s canny casting decisions l'or Insomnia call l'or both actors to play against type.
‘Who could play this iconic cop ligure. this legendary Veteran cop‘." says Nolan. ‘l’acino seemed perl‘ect. l’eople look at him and immediately l‘eel a certain al‘linity with him: cop as hero. ln casting the Villain. the problem was how to
balance the iconic presence ol‘ l’acino'.’ We were looking lor
a presence on screen that would command similar attention. but l'or completely dil'l‘erent reasons. Robin Williams was perl‘ect. The audience im'ests a lot in him as a sympathetic
58 THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 7." ion; 7' f;. .’ ii’
‘We created an American cop movie, the kind of film that the studios used to make really well’
presence. It‘s harder l'or them to ligure out what they should think about the character: an utterly ordinary seeming guy who‘s only maleyolent. creepy it you will. because ol' what‘s going on behind the eyes.’
Nolan'sfirstleature. I-ollowing. appeared in l‘)‘)(\’. It eoneerns a wannabe writer alto/allows" people about the streets o/‘Ixmdon in seareli o/‘inspirationfor stories. But the
young man makes the mistake ol‘trailing a burglar wlio spots
liim andg/orees him to partieipate in a number o/‘ln‘eak-ins. ’I'lte film made wit/1 \‘II'III(III_\‘ no money. shooting at weekends (tier (1 number ol'montlts played the international
~film testii'al eireuit. ineluding Ifdinlno'gli. and pieked up
numerous awards. Pacino read Hillary Seitx's script l‘or Insonmia and agreed to make the lilm. lollowing a less amendments which play tip
the moral ambiguity ol his character. Will Dormer. The rest ol
the cast Williams. Hilary Swank. Martin Donovan swil‘tly lollowed. Pacino. as Nolan says. is an 'actor‘s actor - eyeryone wants to work with him’.
‘I lillary had done exactly what I wanted to do when I saw the original lilm.‘ says Nolan. who with Insomnia directs lrom someone else’s script l‘or the lirst time. ‘1 loyed the original lilm. but I l'elt like in narratiye terms you could do a l'ascinating thing by retaining the set ol' eyents btit changing the audience‘s l‘eelings towards the characters. You'd create quite a dil'l'erent narratiye. something you could set within the idiom ol‘ American cop moyies. the kind ol' lilms that the studios used to make really well. We came tip with an old-lashioned morality tale with a deceptively simple structure.’
()II the bru‘k’ of. I'ollott'iltg. .Voltttt s'et'ltl‘t’d landing for .llemento. liis relatively low-
t/Iat budget was seeured directly/rota an audienee at the Hong Kong I-ilm I'estii'al. wliere .\'o/an sereened liistirsttilm and then asked t'ieit‘et's‘ to (I()II(II(’ money to .llemento.
All three ol’ Nolan’s lilms use crime as a device for storytelling. I-o/lowing concerns priyacy. or the lack til it: .llememo knowing onesell'. lnsonmia personal responsibility. "l‘he crime or lilm noir as a genre is attractiye to me because l'm looking for the kind ol' stories which allow me exaggerate my own lears.‘ says Nolan. ‘l‘m looking tor a truth. but within a genre in which you can be taking these lears. and hopes too. into the realm ol' melodrama so they haye uniyersal appeal.‘
budget .-lmeriean ﬁlm debut. In .Iaet. some of
Back to the futur
Christopher Nolan (main picture) casts Al Pacino and Robin Williams against type in a movie set in the land of permanent daylight and midnight sun