BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Christopher Nolan’s much-anticipated space adventure film is on the verge of being released from the secretive cocoon where the very controlling director has stashed it during its long filming process.
Opening Wednesday, “Interstellar” is about a team of space explorers led by a widowed former astronaut named Cooper — played by newly minted Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey — sent into the universe to find a habitable planet where a dying Earth’s population can move to in order to survive. Joining him on that journey is a biologist played by Anne Hathaway. The film also stars Jessica Chastain as Cooper’s daughter Murph, seen in the later stages of the film, after she has grown up during her father’s long journey into the unknown.
Sitting down with McConaughey, I asked if his own journey of becoming a father helped him shape the emotions needed for his characterization of Cooper.
“Without a doubt. How could it not?” said the actor. “Frankly, everything we experience in real life influences what we do as actors, but in this case it was very evident. My family is the most important thing in my life, and I know from the script the same was true of Cooper.”
The Academy Award winner for last year’s “Dallas Buyers Club” added, “The idea of leaving your children and not really knowing if you’d ever be able to come back — even though you promised them you would — that is so gut-wrenching. In some ways, doing those scenes with Mackenzie [Foy, the actress who plays the young Murph] were among the most challenging. I came to feel very paternalistic toward Mackenzie, like she really was my own daughter.”
In commenting on the juxtaposition of the space exploration theme with so many intimate scenes between the key characters, McConaughey said he thinks that’s why the movie works so well.
“It’s a huge movie. Chrisopher Nolan makes these amazing, cinematic journeys with his filmmaking, but he also is always concerned with the intimate lives of his characters. Yes, we travel millions of miles into the vast expanse of space — but the further out there we get into the unknown, the further out there we journey into a universe of enormous scope and size and discover those new worlds, you see that it really does boil down to a journey taken by a very tiny group of explorers. It’s about you and me.”
It’s clear that Nolan and McConaughey are on the same page.
“Really, the challenge of doing a large-scale science-fiction adventure, where you’re saying ‘What if we have to go out into the wider universe? What if we have to get to another star or another planet?’ — that’s a great journey to take the audience on,” Nolan said. “But as soon as you start looking at how do you pull the audience with us, how do we get to go on that journey, it becomes about the characters.”
No stranger to Chicago, Nolan admitted his time spent here making his “Batman” films had some influence on one aspect of “Interstellar”: the look of the quick-witted talking computer TARS, which journeys into space with McConaughey, Hathaway and their team.
“My production designer Nathan Crowley and I spent a lot of time in Chicago shooting in Mies van der Rohe-designed buildings or ones designed by his pupils,” said Nolan. “I grew to really love that style of architecture and the materials he used — the wonderful metals, the wonderful brasses. So when we came to finalize the appearance of TARS, we didn’t want him to look like a human being or anything. We very much wanted him to be the function of a machine. So I said, to Nathan, ‘Let’s make it a robot like Mies van der Rohe would have designed.’ So with the choice of materials Nathan used, I think he did a really beautiful thing there that became our TARS.”