Complete Batman Begins L.A. Junket Roundtable Interview: Christopher Nolan & Emma Thomas

Q: This didn't strike me as a movie that's pitched particularly young—I thought had an adult appeal. A few jokes at the kid level at the end—you know, "Lighten up," that sort of thing—but mostly it struck me that it wasn't going in that direction. Am I right, or am I misperceiving?

CN: No, I think you're right. But I think that over recent years there's been sort of this increasing misperception that kids will necessarily not respond to something that's also for adults, and so forth. When I look at the films I liked when I was a kid, they were—in internal terms—they were sophisticated and grown up. You know, kids my age all loved 'em. And I think that there's often that tendency to underestimate kids.

Q: Coming from doing smaller projects, and having such a successful—because it is going to be a successful film—how do you approach future projects? Are you looking forward to tackle bigger projects now?

CN: To be honest, I don't think they really come much bigger than this one. I would certainly love to do something on this scale again because I've enjoyed it. But I would also be interested to go back to something smaller as well. I mean, I think there are advantages to different scales of filmmaking. You wouldn't want to do just one thing.

G: This film has a lot of relevance to the post 9/11 world, with the fear-toxin anthrax and the terrorism and response to that. How did you hit on that angle, and how helpful is Batman as a model of response to human devastation?

CN: I think we hit on it as a model simply through drawing from the history of the comics and relating thematically to what's most interesting about Batman, which to me was the idea of fear and the use of his symbolism of his greatest fear to turn fear against his opponents. Everything really stems from that. There really wasn't any conscious attempt to reflect the world we live in. I just think that—myself and David Goyer, in writing the script—you know, we all live in the same world, and we're influenced by the same things. But certainly, everything came very much from the comics and mythology of the comics. As far as Batman as a model of response, I mean, I—he's a very dangerous model of response, but that's partly the point of the story. I think that if one were to see the film for a second time or be watching a particular way, there are quite a few drawbacks that are presented to his approach and his response. But that's what's interesting about him as a character. He is flawed. He has very dark impulses, and whilst he's channeling those into something heroic—and there is a great deal of positivity and heroism relating to that—there is a price to be paid for it.

G: The climax with the last bad guy is a very ambiguous moment in that way.

CN: Yeah.

G: How do you read that as—how much of his anger is really under control by the end of this film?

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

Q: Given the historic iconography of this character, what was sort of the creative mandate for you going in and reinventing and reviving him for a new generation—a new audience?

CN: Well, the creative mandate was really to do something fresh and original. And that was coming straight from the studio, and it was the reason I wanted to get involved with the project—because it's pretty rare to have an iconic figure that's now owned and controlled by a studio that's asking you to do something different with it. But that really was the mandate. And for me, what that became was my desire to do something I hadn't seen before, which is a superhero story that is told in a realistic fashion and doesn't step outside itself and acknowledge the form or the medium that it's come from, but one in which the audience is hopefully just immersed in the reality of what's going on.

Q: What was your inspiration for Gotham City? It's so different from what's been in the comics or in the previous movies. Is there anything in particular that—?

CN: We tried not to be too specific—when Nathan Crowley, my production designer, started discussing the look of the film, we immediately rejected any reductive notions. The driving force was not to "Okay, they've done an art deco city; we'll do a modernist city" or anything like that. We wanted something that reflects the reality of a large modern city, which is a tremendous variety of architectures, a tremendous variety of periods in which things are built. We wanted to have a history to the place, as well as a contemporary feel. So what we wound up doing was—the way in which we approached Gotham as an exaggeration of New York, say, or an exaggeration of a modern American city, was to look at interesting geographical features of certain cities of the world—a lot from New York, some from Chicago, a lot from Tokyo—the sort of elevated freeways and monorail systems and things. From Hong Kong, we took the walled city of Kowloon as the basis for the Narrows, which is this kind of walled-in slum. So what we were really doing was putting together a lot of the elements that allow you to exaggerate all the socio-economic factors that feed into Gotham as an exaggeration of a modern American city: stratification and so forth.

Q: Do you see yourself —do both of you guys see yourselves tackling the sequels coming up? Would you like to handle the sequels to this film?

CN: Well, I enjoyed making this film very much. So I would be open to it. But I don't — I wouldn't want to jump into it straight-away.

ET: Again, you know, I also absolutely loved making the film. Um. We're having a baby in July: I'm kind of hoping for a holiday! (Laughs.)

Q: One of the most remarkable elements of this film is how many practical effects are undertaken in this movie. What kind of challenge did that present for you—especially in a franchise where historically it has been prided on doing a lot of overblown, unrealistic action?

CN: Well, I mean the challenge wasn't really to me. The challenge was really to the stunt co-ordinator and the physical effects guys. And they rose to it admirably, and I think they actually—in a day and age where so much is done with computers—they really rose to the opportunity; they really enjoyed the opportunity of getting back to what they're best at, which is performing amazing feats and building amazing things that can actually work in the real world. For me, once I sort of set that all in motion, it was really just a question of filming it and trying to be disciplined about not listening to the little voice in your ear that says, "Well, you could do this with visual effects, you can leave it for now, you can move on and not perfect it." And I was very glad that we held to that discipline because it meant in post-production, when we did get into our visual-effects component, 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 or five times the number of shots that we'd said we were going to do, which is what happens in a lot of these films.

Q: What's the next comic book franchise that you would like to tackle?

CN: Gosh. I don't really—I mean—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 don't really know how I wind up choosing my next project—it just kind of happens. When the time is right.

Q: The actors were very flattering of your role in the movie. Can you talk about your approach with actors? They said you're also kind of quiet, and it was a quiet set.

ET: (Chuckles.)

CN: Yeah. I mean, my approach with actors is to try and give them whatever it is they need from me. You know, direction, to me, is about listening, and responding and realizing how much they need to know from me and how much they've 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 they were very relaxed with the notion that I had a lot of other things to worry about on this film because of the scale of the film. In the past with my films, I've been able to concentrate very, very much on performance and on actors. With this film, there were all kinds of other things to be taken into consideration. But, as very talented actors and very generous actors, they allowed me to do that without feeling shortchanged or whatever. They seemed to accommodate that very easily.

Q: If you were to come back for a sequel, have you given any thought to what the story would be? Obviously the last scene in the movie was a great tease for a possible sequel.

CN: Yes it was. But it's also really just there, for me, to send the audience out of the theatre with a sense of possibility and a sense of excitement about where these characters could go. I certainly share that sense and have certainly talked and thought, in vague terms, about how you could follow on from this film—I mean, absolutely. But at the same time, it's very important that this film stand on its own.

G: Readers linger on comic book frames, but obviously movies are about motion.

CN: Yes.

G: What was your visual agenda for the film, and how much was discovered in the editing room?

CN: Well, you're always discovering a lot in the editing room. Particularly with action, you have to overshoot a lot, and you have to shoot an enormous amount of material because those type of sequences very much have to be discovered in the editing and manipulated in the editing. But for the rest of it, my shooting style was really identical to what it's been on previous films, actually. I don't think there was any accommodation. And for me, one of the trickier things was to have the guts, really, to build colossal sets and then not shoot them—you know, and just shoot the scene the way I felt it should be shot. But, you know, everybody was okay with that. (He and Emma laugh.) It worked out.

Q: In casting Katie Holmes, what do you think is her appeal?

CN: I think she's got a wonderfully warm and generous presence that is very much sort of—very glamorous, but very "girl next door" at the same time. But she also has this maturity beyond her years which the character really needed because Rachel is—you know, she really is Bruce Wayne's conscience in a sense. She has to stand for a couple of things. She has to be this sort of—the life he might have had, you know: that, what he's lost. But she also has to be the voice of his conscience, you know, keeping him on his toes, really. And I think Katie does both those things very marvelously.

Q: Did you and Christian talk about expressiveness through the mask by using his mouth more to be expressive?

CN: Umm, yeah, to a certain extent. But he also—he was very specific in what he wanted to do, and he drew from a lot of the same influences that I had been looking at, in terms of the graphic novels and so forth, and a lot of, I think, what he was able to turn into performance comes from that material....

G: Thank you.

CN: Thank you.