OWF at the INCEPTION press conference

Nolan, DiCaprio, Watanabe, Page, Gordon-Levitt, Murphy, Hardy and Thomas discuss this summer's biggest blockbuster!

It is common to be asked where you are from on entering press events. Usually you are being asked which publication or website you are representing. They take your name, check you off the list and you are free to grab a coffee and make last minute preparations for your interview. I stepped into the plush surroundings of the Dorchester Hotel (in London's Mayfair) to attend a press conference for Christopher Nolan's Inception (review here) and was soon asked that familiar question: "where are you from?" I gave the usual reply, "I'm from Obsessed with Film." How naive I was. The PR lady said, "No, I meant, which country are you from?" Yes, this press conference was a truly international affair, which is fitting as the press notes keenly stress that this is an international story, filmed on location around the globe. Journalists had come from around Europe and beyond to catch a glimpse of the film's international cast of stars. From Japan, Academy Award nominee Ken Watanabe, from Canada came another Academy Award nominee, Ellen Page. They were joined by the Irish actor Cillian Murphy, the English Tom Hardy as well as the American duo of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Leonardo DiCaprio - who when answering one of a few token questions about the World Cup described himself as "half-German". We were also lucky enough to be joined by a husband and wife duo: director/writer Christopher Nolan (a dual national and citizen of the world) and his producer Emma Thomas. After everyone had entered the room to orchestrated thunderous applause, Nolan was asked about the genesis of this unique project:

"I'd always wanted to address dreams in film-making and do something set in this world - about ten years ago - and focused in on the idea of exploring a technology that allowed people to share dreams, and the uses and abuses of that, and came up with this idea of really trying to tell this story of a heist set in the world of dreams, with a technology that would allow somebody to penetrate somebody else's subconscious. The idea was always to tell a large-scale action film with an unusual twist to the world in which it takes place."
But what of the technical challenges involved in making the film? Emmas Thomas revealed why the movie HAD to be a big-budget affair:
"The biggest challenge was the thing of making a film in as many different places as we were making it and it's hard enough making a film when you're dealing with one country or two countries, but six was something else. We had talked about, at earlier points, making it as a smaller movie, but because of the subject matter of it - dreams have infinite possibility - so we had to do it this way to fulfill the promise of what the movie could be."
But what did the actors make of the script? Did they understand it right away? "It certainly took a couple of readings," volunteered DiCaprio, "but it really was the interaction with Chris, I think for all of us, one-on-one":
"For me a lot of the preparation, a lot of the understanding of what he was trying to accomplish and achieve was being able to sit down with him and understand that he had this extremely ambitious concept of doing a highly entertaining Hollywood film which is existential and cerebral and surreal, that delves into various states of the subconscious and the way he wanted to put that on screen involved us really talking with him at great length to truly understand his concepts."
DiCaprio's co-star, Tom "Bronson" Hardy, revealed that he modeled his performance on Nolan:
"I found myself speaking in Chris' cadence a lot on set with Chris, I don't know if he's noticed that, but I sort copied things he'd say... and his mannerisms on set as much as possible... it meant I didn't have to think too much I could practically apply this this on the floor."
"Yeah, I shouldn't have let that out!" said Hardy, who plays "The Forger" Eames in the film. He also agreed with his DiCaprio, adding "it was was essential to speak to Chris for the vision and to fit in and be part of the ensemble." Indeed, like Nolan's previous films, Inception does boast quite an impressive cast and the actors absent from the press event are just as impressive as those present and include Dileep Rao,Marion Cotillard, Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite, all of whom add considerable weight to their respective roles with relatively little screen time between them (especially the latter two who are barely seen). Amongst these players, Inceptionfinds Nolan reunited with three actors from the Batman franchise, and the two present were asked what attracted them to working with the director again. Ken Watanabe was glad to have a more substantial role in this film, saying:
"When I worked before on Batman Begins it was a really short time, something like ten days... but by this time he is one of the biggest young... young? ... directors and so I had no reason to decline!"
Cillian Murphy had more to add, enthusiastically praising the man for whom he played, Batman villain, the Scarecrow back in 2005 (and again in a 2008 cameo) and leaving us in doubt as to how Nolan could get such an ensemble together:
"If you asked any actor working today "would you be in a Chris Nolan film?" they'd just drop everything and go for it right away... he has so many talents wrapped up in one, to be able to do movies of this scale that have that emotion and to be such a brilliant writer. The thing about working on Chris' sets is they feel really intimate it doesn't feel like a huge movie and you feel secure and safe and able to experiment. He really makes time for the performers. He allows you to find stuff and to grow the scene organically and there couldn't be a more conducive set to trying to do your best work."
It was important for Nolan to get such a gifted bunch of actors in, as it was essential that Inception be a human story as well as a visual effects extravaganza. Ellen Page found reading the script "an incredibly immersive experience" saying that, "even with the complexity the emotional through-line of Leo's character and Marion's character and the sincerity and the honest base of everything really made me attach." For all the complexity of the ideas in Nolan's script, Joseph Gordon-Levitt says that in the final film "so many of these idea which, when reading them in the script I maybe had to go back and figure them out, when they are visually rendered just become visceral and much more emotional." A few on the panel were, perhaps understandably, bored after a morning of such events. Especially Tom Hardy who hardly seemed to be awake at times and had to be encouraged to contribute by the host ("what was the question? Sorry, I was dreaming then"). The exceptions were DiCaprio and Watanabe. DiCaprio spoke at length, treated every question with respect and would come forward to fill any silences left by his co-stars, always speaking intelligently, even when asked a series of vague questions about dreams:
"I actually tried to take a very traditional approach to researching this film and read the analysis of dreams immediately and tried to pick apart the psychology of what things represented in the dreamworld. But I quickly realised that this was a whole new type of preparation and that, like I said, meant basically talking with Chris at great length about this cathartic therapy session my character goes on, the psychoanalysis - Ellen's character is like my therapist in this movie. In doing that we created this really powerful emotional journey. As far as the dreams... how Chris was going make four different states of the human subconscious interact with each other in a cohesive plot structure, I left entirely up to him and did not want to get involved, because he is obviously very capable at pulling off complex narratives like this and making them emotionally engaging for an audience, so it's reassuring as an actor that you're working with someone who has a great track record for stuff like that."
Watanabe was charismatic and very funny throughout and often had everybody laughing when he spoke, whether he was pretending not to have understood the script or playfully bemoaning all the travel involved in shooting in six different countries. He was also one of a number of the panelists to praise Nolan's method for shooting action sequences: "Chris doesn't want to use a green screen and he built whole sets... I was always surprised on the set." There is, of course, a lot of CGI in the film but where possible practical effects were used, improving the action scenes, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt explained:
" had built these enormous contraptions and various devices and techniques, the floor really was spinning out from under my feet and I really was ten stories up in the air with nothing beneath me and I think that makes the scenes more compelling... I think those sequences look really different than your average digitally created action scene and I think that's why they are so good to watch."
Nolan was asked some of the most interesting questions and responded by giving some of the most interesting answers. When quizzed about the tight veil of secrecy which was drawn over the film during its production, he had this to say:
"It's difficult to keep anything fresh for an audience these days, with technology being what it is people seem to know everything about before we've even made it. For me, as a film-goer, I like nothing more than to sit in a cinema, have the lights go down and not know what I'm about to see and every time we go to make a film we do everything we can to just systematize things so we're able to make the film in private. Once it's finished it is for the audience to make of it what they will."
He was also asked about the similarities between creating dreams and creating motion pictures:
"From my point of view as a director, now that I look at Inception as a finished film it is probably as close as I want to get to making a film about film-making... when I watch the scenes in the film where these guys - this team - are putting the plan together it reminds me very much of a lot of the processes we go through in film-making."
And the film-maker, who prefers shooting on film, also gave his thoughts on the newer technologies, including one of the more positive and balanced assessments of the much derided post conversion process which turns 2D movies into 3D in post production:
I wouldn't want to bore everyone to death, but people who know me know I could speak about this for hours passionately. The bottom line is, we made the film in a traditional way so we shot on film, we cut the negative, we photochemically timed the film. The reason I do that is it's the best way still to get the highest quality in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of money, so it's in my opinion by far the best way of doing things technically and it gets better and better as fewer and fewer people do it because you go to the lab and they give you a lot of attention now... As far as future developments... I'd love to see IMAX develop smaller more lightweight cameras, but at the same time the R&D costs are extensive considering how few people shoot with those cameras. 3D is something I'm looking at, but I see at the moment significant technical limitations to the presentation format: mostly the dimness of the image and the fact you have wear the glasses. The post-conversion process can be done very effectively actually, we did tests on it for this film, decided we didn't have time to get it to the standard we wanted, but it's perfectly possible to do it if you're acquiring a high quality film format you should be able to do a high quality conversion with enough time."
There were also a few cringey and uncomfortable questions, such as when DiCaprio was asked what idea he would plant in the mind of the head of BP if he had the chance: "To pay back fool!", said the star before making an earnest go of speaking broadly on the subject of deep-sea drilling and of his concerns on our dependency on oil. These kinds of political messages are often derided when they come from Hollywood's "self-important" stars, but it is worth remembering that they are usually answering a question rather than making an announcement (although that is how it is reported). A similar line of questioning fell to Ellen Page, who also tried her best to answer without sounding pompous. The question shouldn't be "why do these stars give us their opinions?" But "why are journalists asking them these questions?" Of the more constructive (and film related) answers to environmental questions, Page recommended the animal cruelty documentary Earthlings, visibly shaken when talking about it, she said it was one of the most important and disturbing films she had ever seen. If you are not looking to be disturbed by an unsettling documentary, but what to be entertained, amused and excited, you could do much worse than to check out Inception when it is released in the UK on Friday the 16th of July. The Full OWF review is here.


A regular film and video games contributor for What Culture, Robert also writes reviews and features for The Daily Telegraph, GamesIndustry.biz and The Big Picture Magazine as well as his own Beames on Film blog. He also has essays and reviews in a number of upcoming books by Intellect.