Tenet Actor Calls Christopher Nolan ‘Mad Genius’ in Method

Exclusive: Tenet and Perry Mason actor Andrew Howard recalls Christopher Nolan’s “no chairs” approach to directing. If you weren’t needed on the set, “Stay the fuck away.”

John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki in Christopher Nolan's Tenet
Photo: Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan always intended Tenet to be a massive moviegoing experience. Shot primarily on 65MM IMAX cameras, and acting as our critic Rosie Fletcher described as “Nolan does Bond [and then] does Doctor Who,” Tenet would be a big deal in any given year.

But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become the only major blockbuster released this summer, and an epic intended to save cinema. The scale and stakes of the thing are enormous, but they may not surprise actor Andrew Howard, who in addition to playing the sinister Det. Ennis on HBO’s Perry Mason also has a smaller role in Tenet.

When our culture editor Tony Sokol spoke with Howard last week to discuss Perry Mason the subject of Tenet and Howard’s unique Christopher Nolan experience came up. While describing his role as a “’cameo” in the film, Howard told us he considered the project to be one of the few times in his life he’s worked with a master.

Describing Nolan as “a bonkers genius,” Howard also had clear insight into Nolan’s directorial style and the stories of him refusing to allow chairs on his film set—or how he doesn’t want actors on set unless they’re needed for the scene.

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“It’s very well documented that there are no chairs on set, so you can’t sit down,” Howard says. “And I get that, it keeps people on their toes…but it’s just his way of working. He needs to be constantly moving. He has everything set out in his head. He has a team around him that are obviously best of the best. He doesn’t want you around if you’re not required. Other shows you might want to come and watch if someone’s doing a big scene. But, no, he notices everything. He has a complete 360 [degree] perspective… He’s a mad genius. Unless you’re part of his focus, stay the fuck away.”

It’s certainly a more hyperactive environment, but Howard also says it’s delightful as well, calling Nolan funny and charming. Plus, Howard still felt the enormity associated with Christopher Nolan spectacle.

Recalling the filming of a major explosion in the film, Howard says, “I’ve been on lots of sets where there’s explosions, and so I was just bracing myself for this puff of fire and it will go away. And oh my God, it was like that bomb in Beirut the week before last. I’ve never seen anything like it. It formed into a mushroom cloud and burnt the hairs of my face off. That’s why I’m bald! And I suddenly went, ‘Oh, this is a whole different reality. This is a whole different ballgame.’”

Howard would be excited to work with Nolan again, but then he’s also excited to see Tenet with his own eyes one day soon. The film, which was originally supposed to open on July 17, is now slated to open in the UK, European, and Asian markets later this week, beginning on Aug. 26. It will open in select U.S. cities on Sept. 3.