Recently, several members from the cast and crew of Warner Bros. “The Dark Knight Rises” gathered to discuss the film and answer questions from the media. During the event, the group was fairly open, fielding questions about everything from filming in places where onlookers could snap photos of the production to how Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” influenced the movie’s story.
Director and co-writer Christopher Nolan was joined by his brother and co-writer Jonathan Nolan as well as actors Christian Bale (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle/Catwoman), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Michael Caine (Alfred) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake). While the actors answered some of the questions regarding director Nolan’s third and final Batman installment, the director fielded most of them, keeping control of the room without giving too much away.
Early on, the Nolan brothers were asked about the pressure in topping “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” with this third and final installment. Christopher noted that they had to be sure to have a story worth tell. Once they landed on that, he was good to go. “Once we knew we had a story that we really wanted to see, that we really wanted to know what happened to Bruce Wayne next and where his story was going to go and how we were going to finish this, then everything else starts to fall into place,” the director answered. “I think then that you have to forget that pressure and just get on and try to make the best film you can.”
An early question posed to Bale was in regard to how he felt the first time he put on the Batman suit compared to the final time. The actor said that not only was the very first suit he tried on actually Val Kilmer’s from “Batman Forever,” but he needed 20 minutes alone with his actual “Batman Begins” suit to really get used to it. He was initially worried that the claustrophobic nature of the costume would lead to him dropping out of the role. However, he felt much different when filming finished.
“We wrapped, and we were doing a scene. [I was playing] Batman, it was with Anne as Catwoman on a roof in Manhattan,” Bale said. “I just went down and sat in a room and I realized, this is it. I’m not gonna be taking this cowl off again. So again, I said, ‘Can you please leave me alone for 20 minutes?’ and sat with that moment. It was the realization…of real pride of having achieved what we had set out to. It was a very important moment for me. It’s been a very important character…and the movies themselves have changed my life and changed my career. So I wanted to just appreciate that for a little while.”
For her part, Hathaway truly appreciated how the filmmakers not only presented her character, but also made her feel comfortable in the role, letting her build a lot of it herself while she also built up muscle mass and endurance in the gym.
“It wasn’t just about looking a certain way — I had to learn to fight,” Hathaway said. “I had to become strong enough to fight for many days at a time. That was actually something I felt very lucky about. Because I feel like in a situation like this — and I don’t know what other actresses have gone through — I feel like sometimes there’s a mandate that comes to you, an ideal of how you have to look, and the way I was treated on this movie was, learn how to do what you need to do, and then however you look, that’s the way the character looks. And I just felt, as a woman, very protected in that way.”
The actress went on to say that filming “The Devil Wears Prada” actually helped her fight in the heels of her costume, noting that running up and down New York City is much like running through Gotham City.
When told by a reporter said he didn’t think about the previous women who have played Catwoman while watching DKR, partially because she isn’t actually called Catwoman in the movie, Hathaway responded, “I would have played a footstool in this movie, but it was great to play such a wonderful character. I loved that the focus was [on] who she was as Selina [Kyle] and that there wasn’t a schism within her, that she didn’t change when she put on the suit. It was kind of her uniform, which she had to wear for her job.”
Discussing the challenge of bringing realism to the comic movie world, producer Emma Thomas said audiences need to be engaged with the characters and what’s going on with them to really get into the film. Fellow producer Charles Roven added that at least some of the realism comes from Nolan’s desire to use practical effects. “If we’re executing it real, even if you have some CGI in there…it’s going to feel real,” Roven said. “If you have too much CGI, at a certain point, the audience begins to become aware of it, even if it’s not 100% in their face. Chris really wanted to make it real and it was our job to figure out a way to give him the tools to make it real.”
When asked about the film touching on topical themes, as the movie deals not only with its own economic downturn but also civil unrest and mistrust of those with more money, everyone noted that it was more happenstance than an attempt to reflect the trials of the day. Bale remembered Batman’s origins at the hands of Bob Kane who, the actor recalled, created the character as an answer to the feeling of helplessness many people felt at the time. He credits Nolan with bringing that topicality back to the world of Batman by including things like Occupy Wall Street in the film.
“To be perfectly honest, we really try to resist, at the script stage, being drawn into specific themes, specific messages,” Nolan said. “Really, these films are about entertainment, they are about story and character. But what we do is we try and be very sincere in the things that frighten us or motivate us or would worry about when you’re looking at, ‘Ok, what’s the threat to the civilization that we take for granted?’ And we grope at how we’re going to frighten ourselves essentially with a force of evil coming into a place. We try to be very sincere about that, and I think resonances that people find or that happen to occur with what’s going on in the real world, to me they come about really as a result of us just living in the same world that we all do and trying to construct scenarios that move us, or terrify us, in the case of a villain like Bane and what he might do to the world.”
As for this being the director’s final take on the world of the Dark Knight, when it came time to explain to Warner Bros. that he was finishing his time with Batman, Nolan believes the studio understood what he was doing. “Obviously, I’m sure they’d love for us to keep doing this forever, but I think they completely understood that my attraction to coming back for a third time was in finishing the story so we told one big story with three major parts to it.”
Asked if Nolan had any trouble getting some of the actors to return for this film, Bale answered by asking the otherwise quiet Caine and Freeman if they played hard to get. Both actors recalled how Nolan came to them with the script, immediately selling them on appearing in his Batman films.
Several questions revolved around the final battle scene between Bane and Batman. While few details were revealed, Bale did say that sections of it were filmed in Pittsburgh while others were shot in New York. Asked if it was tricky using New York City’s visuals as a stand-in for Gotham’s as Bane — a terrorist — laid siege on the city, Nolan answered, “For me, it feels important to make films, even films that we go to for escapism and entertainment, that they in some way be moving us in a real way. But it is also important to bear in mind that Gotham is not a real city, and we’ve changed it every time…so that hopefully there’s a little reminder in there for people as they watch the film that it is an unreal city.”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a newcomer to Nolan’s Gotham City, took some time to talk about how supportive the sometimes gruff residents of New York were during filming. “I’ve shot in New York a few times and you get a lot form the city, the feelings that are coming off the people,” he said. “In general, you get annoyance because people are annoyed that you’re in their city, but that was not the case, and it was striking. It just goes to show how strongly people feel about these movies and it made me feel grateful to be a part of it.”
Towards the end of the conference, a scholarly reporter noted the film has many similarities to Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” which was apparently something Jonathan Nolan had in mind when he wrote his first draft.
“When [Jonathan] showed me his first draft of the screenplay, and it was 400 pages long or something, and had all this crazy stuff in it…when he handed it to me, he was like, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta think of ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ which of course you’ve read,'” Christopher recalled. “I said, ‘Oh yeah, absolutely.’ I read the script and was a little baffled by a few things and then realized I had never read ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’
“So I then got the book, read it, absolutely loved it, got completely what he was talking about…then, when I did my draft of the script, it was all about ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and, really, just trying to follow that, because it just felt [like] exactly the right thing for the world we were dealing with. What Dickens does in that book, in terms of having all of these different characters come together in one unified story, with all of these great thematic elements and all of this great emotionalism and drama.”
“Chris and David started developing the story in 2008, right after the second film came out,” Jonathan added. “Before the recession. Before Occupy Wall Street or any of that. Rather than being influenced by that, I was looking to old good books and good movies, good literature for inspiration… What I always felt like we needed to do in a third film was, for lack of a better term, ‘go there.’ All of these films have threatened to turn Gotham inside out and to collapse it on itself. None of them have actually achieved that until this film. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was, to me, one of the most harrowing portraits of a relatable, recognizable civilization that completely folded to pieces with the terrors in Paris in France in that period. It’s hard to imagine that things can go that badly wrong.”
The conversation then turned to the difference between shooting in IMAX and 3D, which Nolan had very specific thoughts on.
“‘The Dark Knight’ was a very important movie in terms of getting across the idea of event-izing movies and the theatrical experience,” Nolan said. “We got a lot of mileage out of really making a big deal out of our premiere engagements in a very old-fashioned way, like they used to do in the ’50s and ’60s [with] 70 mm projection. For me, IMAX is all about — it’s the best possible quality image when you film with their cameras and project that film in their theaters on those huge screens. There’s really no other way to do that with any other imaging technology. What I love about it, as opposed to 3D, is it creates a much larger-than-life image. When you watch a 3D film, the parallax makes it more intimate, it shrinks the imagery that you’re looking at. I actually really like, for these characters and these movies, I really like to see Batman larger than life on that enormous screen. The clarity of the image really draws me into the movie, and I enjoy that.”
Asked what he would be working on next, Nolan responded, “I have no idea what’s next,” adding that he’s about to go on vacation to relax with his family and actually enjoys not knowing what his next project will be.
Finally, the director known for being super-secretive commented on the inevitability of people snapping pictures when he’s shooting scenes outside. “Well, I mean, the world we live in now is, if you’re gonna do day exterior scenes in a city, then everybody’s gonna get cell phone photos of it,” he said. “I think what you have to trust in is that audiences understand, or fans understand, that whatever they’re seeing as the movie is being made is not the movie, and then they come to the film with fresh eyes. That’s certainly what we hope.”
“The Dark Knight Rises” opens in theaters July 20