OSBOF – TDK Set Visit Interview: Christopher Nolan

From BOF's THE DARK KNIGHT Set Visit in May of 2007, and Published on June 28, 2008


EDITOR’S NOTE: On June 29, 2007, I had the honor of visiting the Chicago, Illinois set of THE DARK KNIGHT. This report features the conversation we had with the director of THE DARK KNIGHT (and BATMAN BEGINS), Christopher Nolan.  It was originally published on BOF on June 28, 2008.  It’s being re-posted on BOF in honor of the 10th anniversary of THE DARK KNIGHT.  – Bill “Jett” Ramey, May 2018

Director Christopher Nolan on the set of THE DARK KNIGHT

Since 1989, five live-action Batman films have been released by Warner Bros. Pictures. The best of the five to me was 2005’s “reboot” of the Batman film series, BATMAN BEGINS. It now looks as if the sixth Batman movie — THE DARK KNIGHT — just might be the best of them all.

So what’s the creative common denominator between BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT?  Director Christopher Nolan of course!

Last summer (June of 2007), I had the chance to visit the Chicago set of THE DARK KNIGHT and chat with the fellow that many Batman fans consider the man who saved Batman on film, Christopher Nolan.  One of the first things we asked the director was why he decided to return to Gotham City.

“I think for me, addressing the character of The Joker had a lot to do with it.” He continued, “Having created our view of Batman’s universe [in BATMAN BEGINS], then at the end of the film we introduced the idea of [the existence of] The Joker, that to me became an irresistible creative opportunity. Who would that guy be in our universe?”

1st image of Heath Ledger as The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT

Speaking of The Joker, Chris had nothing but praise for the man behind the makeup, Heath Ledger.

“What Heath’s doing is very unique. It’s pretty amazing and very frightening as the character should be. There’s a wicked sense of humor to it but he’s extremely entertaining. He’s definitely taking it in a very intense, very scary direction.”

So Mr. Nolan, what’s this new Joker all about?

“Well, we very much took the view…that what’s strong about him is this idea of anarchy. There’s a commitment to anarchy, commitment to chaos. So he’s not just a bank robber or an ordinary criminal who’s out for material gain. His chief motivation would be that of anarchist. [The Joker is someone ]who wants do harm really for its own sake and his own entertainment.”

If you’ve seen BATMAN BEGINS and have followed the development of THE DARK KNIGHT, you know that Nolan’s thing with Batman is to “keep it real.” So, is The Joker given a “realistic” origin in THE DARK KNIGHT, or is it that The Joker just “IS?” Here’s what Chris had to say about that subject.

“That is it. If you read the first Joker stories in the comics — he just ‘IS.’ I think that’s absolutely why we wound up going that direction.”

And about the “realism” aspect of The Joker in TDK?

“We had set out to do a more realistic version of the character that’s been done before. So it fits into our somewhat more realistic, grittier view of Batman‘s world. Ultimately you accept that the character just is the way he is. That becomes the most realistic way of doing it, rather than trying to find…well, we didn’t want to be trying to find ‘real world explanations’ to every aspect of this character. We realized that the flamboyance of the character is just who he is.”

So, The Joker is just a force of nature? “Yeah, he’s a force of nature,” said Nolan.

“And once you start thinking of The Joker as a given — he just is who he is — then the psychology becomes very obvious and the idea that he’s a very usable character. A very anarchic character in our society seems quite obvious.”

We asked Chris what he looked at in doing research on The Joker.

“Well, myself and David Goyer just kind of dove in and tried to do our version of the character based on our memories of the comics…without going back and actually looking at them. When Jonah [Nolan, Chris’ brother] came on board to write the first draft from our treatment, one of the things he specifically asked us was, ‘Did you look at the first appearances of the character?’ and I said that we hadn’t. We then went back and looked at those as we were writing the script and [we ended up with something] very, very close to the original jumping off point of the character in the history of the comics. In summary, [our Joker] winds up being an amalgam, looking at everything that’s been done with the character.”

Moving on, Mr. Nolan was asked what sort of things he was trying to avoid in doing this second Batman movie.

“I think that what makes a good sequel is a film that feels inevitable and that when you go back and see the first film you completely understand that the story had to continue with a second film,” said Nolan. “I think the pitfalls are simply repeating yourself,“ said Nolan in telling us what he was steer clear of. “Repeating yourself, but on a bigger scale. And that’s something we’re not doing at all. We’re really very much creating the second half of the story.”

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in THE DARK KNIGHT

I told Chris that currently in the comics, Batman was being written as a more heroic character, as opposed to the brooding, “borderline psycho” of the 1990s and early 2000s. Was the Batman in TDK going to be more heroic as well?

“Yes, he can’t mope, he can’t have a self indulgent angst,” he responded. “In BATMAN BEGINS,” he continued, “Bruce did confront and overcome various aspects of what drives him…the angst. So in this film, we try to have the character…start from a point where’s he’s not sitting around moping over his parents being killed. We dealt with that in the first film. Batman’s a good guy at his core, nevertheless he’s a very dark character.”

One of the things fans have said over the last three years since BATMAN BEGINS is that they’d like to see more detective work from Batman. So what was Nolan’s take on that?

Heath Ledger as The Joker and Christian Bale as Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT

“Yes, definitely. That was something that was important to get in the first film, we got it in in a small way. We tried to put in this film [aspects of Batman] we couldn’t get into the first film. And him as detective is definitely one of those aspects.”

Finally, we asked Chris if there was a scene or scenes that he was particularly fond of in THE DARK KNIGHT.

“We’ve already shot some scenes that I’m extremely excited about but a lot of them, I mean we’re doing some pretty grand scale action things in the IMAX. But, a lot of the character scenes, intimate scenes…[stuff] between The Joker and the Batman are some of the most intriguing in the film.”

An interrogation scene between Batman and The Joker?

“I wouldn’t really want to say,” Mr. Nolan said with a slight smile. – Bill “Jett” Ramey