To be clear, Christopher Nolan doesn’t possess an unfulfilled dream to become the next David Copperfield. ”I’m not a magic fan,” says the director of The Prestige, opening Oct. 20, a twist-filled dark fantasy about dueling turn-of-the-century stage magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) linked by tragedy, an inexplicable trick, and a lady love (Scarlett Johansson). ”The closest I’ve come to a real magician is a birthday party.” Of course, the helmer isn’t counting his feats of cinematic conjuring like Memento and Batman Begins. With his $40 million adaptation of Christopher Priest’s award-winning 1995 novel, Nolan wanted to tell a story that had the same narrative flow as a magic act. While this ambition makes a chat about The Prestige somewhat complicated, EW found plenty to talk about — including his Batman sequel, The Dark Knight.
EW Is it difficult to talk about The Prestige without spoiling it?
CN Difficult for you, easy for me. [Laughs]
EW This movie is advertised as having surprises, but there was a big one that you seemed to want the audience to figure out.
CN Well, any time you make a film that comes advertised as having a big twist, you know people are going to be looking for it. It’s very easy to put a twist in a film that nobody will see coming. What’s harder — and much more important — is to have a twist that almost isn’t a twist. That is to say, if you see the film a second time, you spend the whole time going, ”Of course! They were trying to tell me this all along!”
EW You seem to be drawn to this kind of Memento-style storytelling. Why?
CN It’s this fear that we all have that the world is actually very banal and simple. The whole film is about dissatisfaction with the ordinary nature of the world, and how we use storytelling to create mystery and drama. And that’s something I certainly depend on enormously [as an artist]. The Prestige is as close as I’ll probably get to making a film about filmmaking.
EW Batman Begins was seen as symbolic of our geopolitical moment, particularly the war on terror. The Prestige is about the cost of ambition and vengeance. Do you consider yourself a political artist?
CN Yes, in a very nonspecific way. When people invoke ”political,” they think parties and governments. I try and be very reactive to the world I live in and the things that matter to me. But once you become too [focused on] any kind of political interpretation, the movie is going to ring false and seem didactic and inappropriate.
EW With The Prestige, you’re working with your brother, Jonathan [Memento], again. What’s that collaboration like?
CN There are no agendas. It’s somebody you’re free to throw ideas around with…without any insecurity. That’s the beauty of working with a brother. Anything’s possible when we get in the room.
EW And now you have him writing The Dark Knight.
CN Jonah worked on the first film, actually. When I [was] rewriting David Goyer’s script, I dragged him around the world with me on planes and stuff, just to read what I was doing and help me out. So he felt like the obvious choice to take over for Goyer [who is currently adapting The Invisible, a remake of the 2002 Swedish thriller].
EW Why Heath Ledger as the Joker?
CN The word is fearless. Heath is a fearless performer, and that’s exactly what I need in taking on a massive icon like the Joker.
EW Cool! So, um, what else can you tell us about The Dark Knight?
CN Pretty much nothing.