Interview: ‘Interstellar’ Writer Jonathan Nolan: Real Space Exploration Is “Fucking Done, We Peaked!”
Posted on Thursday, November 6th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
A couple weeks back I got a chance to talk to Jonathan Nolan, the brother of filmmaker Christopher Nolan and co-screenwriter of Interstellar. Jonah started developing Interstellar as a project for Steven Spielberg to direct, before getting sucked into the television world showrunning Person Of Interest for Bad Robot. Jonathan has also been making the transition into directing, helming the pilot of the HBO/Bad Robot television adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Westworld (which we talk about briefly). Read all this and more in our Jonathan Nolan interstellar interview, after the jump.
Jonathan Nolan Interstellar Interview
Peter Sciretta: Hey, how’s it going?
Jonathan Nolan: Going well. How are you doing?
Question: I’m doing good. Okay, so I’m primarily interested in how this project has evolved over the years. ‘Cause this has been a project long in the making. I first heard about this in I think June 2008 when Spielberg first got this idea from the Caltech talk. How did you get involved and what was that original pitch that Spielberg presented to you?
Nolan: I presented it to him. He and Linda Obst and Kip Thorne, Linda’s great friend, Kip Thorne, who’s a legend in physics over at Caltech. Steven had wanted to do a science exploration film that was grounded in good physics. He wanted to get it right. No huge flights of fancy. More real, authentic. They had been working for several months fleshing out the ideas, you know, in general terms and looking for a screenwriter. So I came in and sat down with Steven. And he wanted to do a contemporary space exploration film. I said, Steven, if it was a contemporary space exploration film, it would be about 15 minutes long. And it would consist of the they all go in to the Appropriations Committee and quietly die, right? We don’t do that anymore. It’s fucking done. We peaked. In the years when the anthropologists come down, they’ll find a little polyester flag in the Moon and they’ll say, fuck, they almost made it. Right?
Nolan: Like they got so far. So that was 2006, 2007, so it was a somewhat misanthropic take on it. Probably not a great way to pitch it. But so I said, well, you know, it has to be set in the future. It has to be set in a future in which you understand, because that’s the case and anyone who’s looked into a realistic science and space exploration understands that we don’t do it anymore. It’s done. The Apollo missions were before we were kids and it’s over. But that’s not readily apparent to people. So you have to set it in a moment in the future in which that is readily apparent to people. And it’s clear. So it was great fun working with Steven for a couple years on the project. And hammering out a script.
Question: So that was always the pitch that like it was set in the future where resources are, were our future’s looking bleak?
Nolan: Absolutely. I mean, look the reality is we stopped going to space because we’re too fucking wrapped up in whatever narcissistic bullshit, you know, as a sort of a collective. I mean, look, there’s an awful lot of things that still need to be fixed here on Earth, right? You know, problems that never seem to go away. Poverty, disease and a lot of stuff that we turned our attention to that is a good thing. We’re also just kind of sucked in the bullshit. I was talking downstairs, I grew up in Apollo space travel, we were promised jetpacks and fucking teleportation and instead we got fucking Facebook and Instagram. That’s a bummer.
But we don’t think of it in those terms. We think of ourselves as being the most magnificent, amazing universe ever and if we wanna go back to the Moon, sure, we could. It’s like no, those guys are all dead or retired. We’re not going back to the Moon. And if we wanted to, we’d have to spend billions of dollars and it would take years and years and years. We’re just done. We’re not doing that. We’re out of that business. And so people don’t think in those terms. We had to set the movie in the future in which that was abundantly clear.
Question: Yeah. And the whole idea always had a wormhole of some kind?
Nolan: Yeah, absolutely. That was one of the things that they, that Kip, you know, Kip’s field is gravitation. Wormholes are a gravitational phenomena. Or imaginary gravitational phenomena as the case may be. And so the reality is if you wanna do a grounded space exploration film, one of the first things you have to do is throw out, you have to have a wormhole. Right? Because if it’s in a remotely contemporary timeframe, we don’t have a technology that could get us any further than our own solar system. Right? I mean, we’re packets of water and protein. We’re extremely fragile. Right? And if we travel in a spaceship for any longer than about a year of interstellar space, we’d be so fried with radiation that there would be nothing left of us. So we, you know, we’re not going anywhere. That again, boring movie, right?
So you have to have a wormhole in order to, you need a shortcut to take you to a what’s nice about a wormhole is that it’s not only a shortcut, you know, by nature of the fact that a wormhole could not exist without some higher order of intelligence putting it there. The existence of one, this is one of the things I was fascinated by in the project, the very fact that the wormhole exists suggests…
Question: That someone’s trying to take us somewhere.
After the jump, Jonathan Nolan talks about directing Westworld, Christopher Nolan’s contributions to the script and more.,