Entertainment & Arts

Interstellar epic tests brain and stamina

Interstellar Image copyright Publicity
Image caption Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey's characters go in search of new habitats for humankind after Earth is devastated by an agricultural crisis

Director Christopher Nolan's films have made more than £2bn worldwide, while the themes of his directing - time, memory, non-linear storytelling - have maintained his reputation as an auteur with films such as Memento and Inception.

His reworking of Batman - the Dark Knight trilogy - has also earned him a popular fanbase. The British film-maker seems to be able to do no wrong in Hollywood so can his latest release Interstellar help him sustain that lofty status?

Interstellar is a three-hour space epic, set both in distant galaxies and on a devastated Earth.

It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and a Nolan regular, Sir Michael Caine, marking the sixth time the pair have worked together.

As Hollywood's most commercially successful director since Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, Nolan, whose production company Syncopy is still based in Britain, was handed a budget of £100m to make Interstellar - with almost no studio input into the final product.

As on past productions, the director co-wrote the original screenplay with his brother Jonathan, and produced it with his wife Emma Thomas.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Christopher Nolan may have studios rushing to fund his projects but the director remains frugal with the way he spends his budget

Anne Hathaway, who also worked with Nolan on 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, says "this is treatment that very few directors receive these days. But Chris Nolan, to me, is the perfect marriage of blockbuster and independent film-making.

"There was a large amount of money behind us, but there was no waste. Every choice that was made was intelligently and carefully considered by Chris and Emma.

"There were no extra frills, we all had to share trailers, and nobody got luxury accommodation when we went to shoot on location in Iceland.

"Chris has his own way of doing things, there's no green screen, he builds sets instead; he prefers to shoot on IMAX film and doesn't care for digital; but every dollar he's given ends up on screen.

"In the end, we wrapped on Interstellar two weeks early and I believe he came in under budget. Who else does that?"

McConaughey, who won the best actor Oscar earlier this year for The Dallas Buyers Club, says Nolan's independent film-making background has stood him in good stead.

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption Interstellar was filmed in Iceland and on a specially built set

Before he was chosen to make Batman Begins in 2005, the director, who studied film in London in the 1990s, made indie cult hits such as 1998's Following and Memento in 2000.

His first film that was studio funded was 2002's Insomnia, a thriller starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams.

"He's earned his stripes and he knows how to deliver bang for his buck," says McConaughey. "It's a rare skill.

"I'd say Christopher has a healthy ego and an incredibly ambitious mind. His reach is always exceeding his grasp and he gets obsessed with every film he does, like it's the only one he'll ever do. It's wonderful to see."

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption Matthew McConaughey plays a devoted father who has to make a difficult and drastic choice about his family's future

Nolan's mass appeal seems more extraordinary given the difficult subjects he tackles - and in Interstellar, they involve complicated astrophysics.

When the earth is devastated by an agricultural crisis, the last spaceships are used to find new habitats for humankind, after a wormhole is discovered which allows different dimensions of time and space to be explored.

McConaughey's character Cooper must choose between his mission to save the planet and missing his two children growing up.

The director, who rarely gives interviews, has described Interstellar's main theme as "the relationship between a father and his children.

"It's all about being a father to me, and what it means to be one - I have four children. I just like to contrast it with the cosmic scale of the universe around us".

McConaughey says "the film manages to be deeply personal, despite its grandeur" but admits he still grapples with concepts like relativity, gravity, five dimensional time, wormholes and black holes - terms which pepper nearly all his lines.

Image copyright Publicity
Image caption Jessica Chastain says she couldn't be more unlike her genius astrophysist character

"I am a complete beginner at this," he says.

"I wouldn't dare to describe myself as an intermediate, even after shooting the movie.

"But Chris's worlds are very original and it's not just abstract theories that he's coming up with, they are based on scientific fact. It's not condescending to audiences."

Jessica Chastain, who plays an astrophysics genius in the movie, admits her ignorance too of the concepts she speaks of, and calls Nolan "one of those people that if you have a conversation with him, you feel inadequate - he knows so much".

Reviewers have noted the complexity of Interstellar, and compared it - mainly favourably - to another hit set in space, Alfonso Cuaron's Oscar-winning Gravity, released a year ago.

McConaughey says, despite its complexities, working on Interstellar "has made me think that the backyard is bigger than I thought it was. Chris has made me more curious about the practicalities of heading out into space, and what's out there. I look up a lot more now".

Michael Caine has different opinions: "I'd do anything for Chris," he says. " I'll work with him on any project he wants me to, it's literally a family atmosphere on set. But I won't actually ever contemplate going into space for him. I prefer gardening."

Interstellar is released in the UK on 7 November.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites