Inception: Christopher Nolan and cast UK press conference

Director Christopher Nolan and stars discuss the forthcoming Inception - including the post-production 3D tests the director undertook with the film...

The improbably bejewelled opulence of the Dorchester Hotel was the venue for an Inception press conference, where director Christopher Nolan, producer Emma Thomas, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt discussed the making of the film…

Can you talk about your initial inspiration behind Inception, and how it developed the movie it is today?

Christopher Nolan: I’d always wanted to make a film that addressed dreams, and do something set in that world. About ten years ago I focused in on the idea of a technology that might allow people to share their dreams, and the uses and abuses of that, and came up with this idea of doing a heist film set in the world of dreams where somebody could use a technology to penetrate a person’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.

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It’s an emotionally complex, complicated film. This is to the actors: when you were first approached to appear in the film, did you understand it?Leonardo DiCaprio: It certainly took a couple of readings, but it was really the interaction with Chris, for all of us, one-on-one. It’s an idea that’s been locked in his mind for eight years now. So for me a lot of the preparation was understanding what he wanted to accomplish and achieve. And being able to sit down with him and understand that he had this concept of doing a highly entertaining Hollywood film, that is existential, cerebral, surreal, and that delves into various states of the subconscious.

Tom Hardy: Speaking to Chris was essential for the simplification of the script.

Ellen Page: When I read the script I found it incredibly awesome experience, and even with the complexity, the emotional through-line of Leo’s character and the sincerity really made me attach to it.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Normally when you read the script for a movie it’s just so predictable that you know what’s going to happen, and it doesn’t take much thought to figure anything out. And I enjoy a challenge, a little provocation and something to think about, so the first time I read [Inception], it posed a challenge, and that’s enjoyable to me, rather than something I’ve just seen before.

What’s interesting is that, seeing the final movie, so many of these ideas in the script that I had to maybe go back and figure out, when they’re visually rendered just become visceral and much more emotional.

Cillian Murphy: The movie’s so visual, when you read it on the page it’s quite difficult to get your head around. Once you understand the rules of it, they’re actually quite simple, and they’re the tools to understanding the script.

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Ken Watanabe: When I read the script it was so confusing, and I had to go back again and read it three times, as the first thirty pages were just so complicated. It was when we started shooting that I realised the huge scale of the story. The amount of baggage I needed for the travelling was a lot – six countries!

The film was kept under a very mysterious, heavy veil. Why was this, and was it difficult to maintain such secrecy?

CN: It’s difficult to keep anything fresh in movies these days, with technology being what it is. People seem to know everything there is to know before you’ve even made it.

For me, as a film goer, I like nothing more than to sit in the cinema, have the lights go down and not know what I’m about to see or unfold on-screen. And every time we go to make a film, we do everything we can to try to systematise things so we’re able to make the film in private, so that when it’s finished it’s up to the audience to make of it what they will.

Leonardo DiCaprio, if you could, what idea would you insert into the mind of the CEO of BP?

LD:  To pay back, fool! Hopefully this is a turning point for us to realise that digging for oil in the depths of the ocean is probably not the best alternative for the future, and that we need to make a transition to cleaner, greener technologies.

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What were the challenges of making this movie?

CN: For me, the underlying tone of the thing is best summed up by Leo’s character saying that dreams feel real while you’re in them. So everything we did in a production sense was an attempt to try and retain a tactile sense of reality to the world of the dreams, so they felt like possible worlds even while impossible things were happening.

This creates challenges for all departments, for example, when you have a freight train barreling down the street smashing cars and things. We wanted to do these things for real, so they would feel possible to the audience and that we wouldn’t have an obviously surreal quality to things. That’s why we went to all these locations and travelled all around the world, and shot in blizzards and so forth.

Hopefully that adds up to some greater sense of reality to the world of dreams.Emma Thomas: I think the biggest challenge of making the movie was making it in as many different places as we did. It’s hard enough making a film when you’re dealing with one country or two countries, but six was really something else.

We talked over the years about making it at earlier points as a smaller movie, but because of the subject matter, we had to do it this way to fulfil its promise.

How long do you plan to survive in the digital realm? What are your views on the development of IMAX and 3D – I understand you’re not keen on post-production 3D?

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CN: I wouldn’t want to bore everyone to death on technical things – people that know me will tell you I could talk on the subject for hours.

The film was shot and cut on film in a very traditional way, simply because it’s the best way, still, to get the finest quality in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of money. So in my opinion, by far the best way to do things. Technically, it gets better and better as fewer directors use it – people in the lab give me a lot of attention now, whereas when I started out as a 16mm filmmaker struggling, it was all I could to get the labs to process your film.

So as far as future developments go, I’d love to see IMAX develop smaller and 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 we’re looking at, but I see at the moment significant technical limitations to the presentation format, mostly with the dimness of the image and the fact that you have to wear the glasses. The post-conversion process can be done very effectively, actually – we did tests for this film, but decided we didn’t have enough time to get it to the standard that we wanted.

But it’s perfectly possible to do it, and if you acquire a high quality enough film format, you should be able to do a good conversion with enough time.

How did you find the process of creating the rules of Inception’s dream worlds, as compared to the realism of The Dark Knight?

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CN: I think with every film you take on you try to establish the rules and the tone of what you’re working with. In taking on the idea of dreams, you have a burden on the rules of the film, because dreams are infinite, and have infinite potential, which is the thing that makes them fascinating in the first place.

But it also makes them hard to address in drama, because anything can happen, and therefore how does anything matter? The rules of the world were designed to impose limits. The key thing for that, in my head, was to make it the story of a con – as soon as you take on the idea of trying to fool somebody, and creating a reality for somebody else, naturally the team have to adhere to certain rules within the dream to avoid fracturing the reality of it.

There were some incredibly intricate action sequences in Inception – which was the most challenging?

CN: What turned out to really be the hardest were the scenes scripted in heavy rain, which had to be shot in the middle of the summer in LA. And we didn’t want to do the effect digitally, so we had to put rain towers on tops of buildings, and deal with those situations that we’d imposed on ourselves. It makes everything very, very tricky, just in terms of the equipment and keeping people dry.

Can you have imagine that we’ll ever have the technology to access another person’s dream?

CN: I don’t think we will, no. While I enjoyed playing with the idea for the story, I came away with the realisation that the fact our dreams are private is very important. I came away feeling like our minds aren’t understood fully by science, and that kind of technology just couldn’t happen.

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After the success of The Dark Knight, how did you go about selling Inception to the studio system?

CN: Well, having had the success of The Dark Knight, which we were very happy and surprised by, frankly, it made it much easier for us to go to the studio and get the backing. But at the same time I have to acknowledge that we approached them nine years ago with this idea and they were up for it, and it was actually me that decided to wait until I felt ready. So really  a lot of things fell into place, including me growing in to the film, in a sense.

Inception is out in cinemas from 16 July.