Jonathan Nolan is one of the most in-demand screenwriters in Hollywood today. His first four screenplays, which he co-wrote with brother Christopher Nolan, are among the top #100 most-loved films according to the Internet Movie Database (The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and, now, Interstellar). You could even count a fifth title in that grouping if you include his story credit for Memento, for which he received an Oscar nomination.
Still, Nolan is not just a potent creative collaborator of one of the world’s biggest directors. He has branched off to become a creative force on the small screen, too. He created the hit CBS drama Person of Interest, which draws in around 10 million viewers a week, and is also hard at work on Westworld, an HBO sci-fi drama set to air later this year based on Michael Crichton’s novel. With an ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood and Jeffrey Wright, it is one of the network’s most hotly anticipated series.
Nolan is an innovative thinker and screenwriter and he spoke both fluently and eloquently when I sat down with him this week for an exclusive interview to promote the Blu-Ray release of Interstellar. We talked about working with his brother, thinking about the past to create the future and his hopes for the next years in space exploration.
Check it out below, and enjoy!
You spent years working on this screenplay for Paramount when your brother came on board. How much of the final film is your original story and what did Chris bring to the film to help shape the drama?
Jonathan Nolan: I started working on the project with Kip Thorne and Steven Spielberg back in 2006, and spent years developing it with that team. Chris then came to the project and, as he always does, bring his inimitable sense of non-linear storytelling, but particularly on this film, his heart and his experience as a parent. When I began writing the film, I was not a parent. I have become one since we made the film, though.
The emotional aspects of Interstellar are very much, for me, drawn from the experiences of being a child and having that relationship with a parent. But when it came to that parental relationship, Chris came in and shored up that emotional content.
For me, in terms of its ambition, I wanted to make a film about the next chapter in the human story, and the chapter in which we have to leave Earth. The more research I did into the science, not just the space exploration but the fossil records and man’s time here on Earth, the more it feels apparent that Earth is a spectacular laboratory for creating life but not necessarily a great environment for sustaining that kind of life.
I was just at the Natural History Museum with my daughter yesterday. We were looking at dinosaurs and you think, there’s another epoch. It’s hard to imagine that that era would ever end with these sorts of mighty creatures, and they’re laid low by maybe an asteroid impact, some kind of climate change event. If we want to survive and if we want to thrive, inevitably – and this is a message, we didn’t make this up, echoed by Elon Musk, by Stephen Hawking, by many smart people who have looked at this problem – we have to leave.
It doesn’t mean that we have to leave Earth behind forever, but it does mean that our best chance of survival in the long term is to set out, colonize other lands and other environments. [Chris and I] wanted to tell a story that dealt with that chapter and that’s inherently a generational story. It’s not a story of one person, right? Just as manned space flight is not the story of Wernher Von Braun, it’s not the story of Neil Armstrong. It’s the story of all those people… anyone else who has looked up and dreamed. They’re all building on everyone else’s work. That ambition was something very much preserved by the final product and I was very excited about that.