Silver Screen Sorcerer

Film director Christopher Nolan talks about magic, paranoia, and heroism at the movies.

By Steven Kotler, published on March 1, 2007 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Christopher Nolan

Profession: Film Director

Claim to fame: Made a hit, Memento, with much of the story told in reverse chronological order

Christopher Nolan is surprisingly mild-mannered, considering the dark tales of moral paradoxes and mental breakdowns he's created on film. His wife Emma Thomas is his longtime producer, and brother Jonah is Nolan's steady cowriter and collaborator on his films Insomnia, Batman Begins, and most recently, The Prestige.

SK: Are you as dark as your movies?

CN: Journalists often try to dig deep for great buried torture, but the truth is I'm a lot more boring than that.

Are your films already formed in your mind?

When I'm writing, I'm thinking about what things will look like onscreen. But during the directing process, it feels very spontaneous. So when I'm done I'm always surprised at how close the film is to what I originally saw in my head.

Do you find working with your brother difficult?

What I get from Jonah is an opinion from somebody I respect greatly, and who's completely honest and has no agenda. Much of being a writer and a director is becoming very defensive, very skilled at shutting out other people's opinions, so that you can retain some individuality in what you're doing.

Is your creative process unique?

Directors deal with lots of people, but not that many who do the same job. The thing I hear the most is that I'm more active on the set. I'm on the floor, very involved in the technical aspects. I never thought about filmmaking as a job at all. I just do whatever it takes on set to tell the story I'm trying to tell. Directing is something I do very naturally.

You're making another Batman movie. What's the appeal?

Of all the superheroes he's the one who's most accessible. He's human. He's this iconic representation of self-discipline and the desire to reinvent yourself.

How does one talk a movie studio into taking a big risk?

The studios are all looking for the same thing: honest passion. If you believe in the project, they'll believe in the project.