There are different levels of secrecy in this crazy movie business of ours, but few of them match the amount of secrecy surrounding Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, his third and final foray into the world of Batman alongside Christian Bale.
When ComingSoon.net/SuperHeroHype were invited down to Pittsburgh last August to see what Nolan had been up to, we weren’t too surprised that we had to sign an extensive embargo, but we also were not able to tell anyone where we going or what we were doing, including our kids, parents and significant others… so Mom, if you were wondering where I disappeared to for those 48 hours last August, now you know.
Nolan’s third movie is a little bit different from the others, first because it’s following a movie that became the second-highest grossing movie of all time (since knocked down by Avatar and now The Avengers), the sort of success that surely must put a lot more pressure on everyone involved. It’s also the movie that introduces one of Batman’s roster that many have been hoping to see ever since Nolan took over the franchise, and that would be his sometime-lover, sometime-nemesis Catwoman. The announcement of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman led equally to excitement and concerns, but most of the latter were allayed when the first photos were released, which ironically enough, was the very same week we visited the set.
In fact, by the time we visited the set, there were already dozens of pictures and videos of the Pittsburgh production online, since there’s only so much one can do in terms of security when you’re shooting on the streets and at public locations of a major metropolis like Pittsburgh as Nolan had been doing. The challenges of keeping the movie’s secrets a secret were going to be compounded on our visit, since as our bus rolled up to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, we could see literally thousands of extras, all dressed in black and gold, being led up to the entrances where they’d be escorted into the stands to watch a very special football game in what had been turned into Gotham Stadium.
Mind you, this took place in August during one of the hottest summers in many years and unlike the people who crashed the show as extras and reported the movie in other less official places (like the Pittsburgh Gazette), we were taken up to the fairly luxurious press box and given a panoramic view of the entire day’s shoot as well as the most glorious air conditioning ever experienced on a set visit.
From that vantage point, we could see that they had redressed Heinz Field for Gotham City’s local football team, the Gotham Rogues, with the logo prominently painted in centerfield, the colors matching the dress of the crowd in the stands, which was being turned into a veritable sea of black and gold.
Before we watched any filming, we had a chance to conduct a couple interviews to try to navigate our way through the rumors and conjecture that had been everywhere since the movie began production. Our first victim.. er.. subject, was Nolan’s wife and co-producer Emma Thomas, who stopped by our cushy skybox to introduce us to the scene being shot that day and tell us what she could.
“Basically, this scene is in a football stadium and we’ve got the Gotham Rogues playing the Rapid City Monuments,” she said. “It’s really fun for us shooting in Pittsburgh, because we had the Pittsburgh Steelers here this morning; they’re playing some of the Gotham Rogues. What happens in this scene is basically Bane comes and subverts it. As you probably know, he’s one of our villains. He takes this moment to tell Gotham what his plan for them is. It’s not his introduction. This is the moment, though, where he makes his plans known.”
And boy, she wasn’t kidding, as we’d learn later.
After that introduction, we got in a few more questions with Thomas before she was pulled back to set.
Q: What can you tell us about what Bane’s agenda is and how close it is to the comic book roots? He was of Spanish origin and a lifelong prisoner in the comics. How much of that is intact in the movie?
Emma Thomas: Without saying too much, I think we’ve retained what works for this universe and for our world. He’s definitely recognizable, but then there are some things that we’ve changed, because I think they wouldn’t have fit into Chris Nolan’s version of the world.
Q: Are you surprised at the level of interest around the world in your production? In my opinion, this is the most amateur set photos that have hit the ‘net during production, so were you prepared for this or did it blindside you and Chris?
Thomas: We’ve definitely been surprised by it. It’s interesting. Because of the property and because of the success of “The Dark Knight,” there’s definitely a whole different level of interest based on the tie-in with that. But also, every time we make a film, every two years, what’s interesting to me and what I find fascinating, is that technology has changed. Twitter wasn’t a big thing even on “Inception,” it certainly wasn’t on “The Dark Knight.” It just seems to me that there’s so many more people communicating in a whole different way now.
It’s partly a function of what we’re shooting. On “The Dark Knight,” for example, we were shooting mostly night shoots in the Loop in Chicago, so there was no one around to take photos. There were a few die-hards that would come down to the set and be there for everything, but this is slightly different. We’re shooting in the middle of the day and in the middle of Pittsburgh. There are lots of different reasons why there’s a lot more interest, but one of the most interesting things to me is the way that technology is different. Where on “The Dark Knight,” if someone had taken a set photo, it might end up online maybe the next day or maybe a couple days later, but now I’m literally looking on the computer and a half an hour after we’ve shot something, it’s everywhere! It’s crazy! And I think it’s a bummer, personally. I love that people are interested and excited, but I’d prefer people waited for the movie.
Q: What about the choice of Bane for this movie, which is a very different villain than The Joker. Was it deliberate to go that route with this movie, so that it would be more action-based?
Thomas: That’s something that Chris can speak to a little bit more than me, and probably Tom (Hardy), too. I think that’s one of the interesting things about Bane as a choice. We were obviously never going to revisit the Joker and you don’t want to be trying to chase that. So it’s fun to have a very different sort of villain in this and a different sort of challenge for Batman to meet, much more physical. It’s almost a more even match in some ways, you know, in a physical sense. You just don’t want to do the same thing again.
Q: You’ve got another very iconic character–probably the next biggest after Joker, one would argue–although you’ve not actually said she’s Catwoman anywhere…
Thomas: We haven’t, it’s true. As we were just saying, there’s so little that we can control about what goes out there at this point. It’s actually quite nice to not give everything away.
Q: The pictures of Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle that went out yesterday, did you feel you had to release those as an answer to the on-set pictures that showed up on Twitter?
Thomas: We knew that we were going to be shooting outside on those steps and we knew it wasn’t going to be Anne, because it’s her stunt double who does that. We weren’t going to send Anne down on that part. We’re not often reactive, but we were trying to be proactive there. We didn’t want the first still out there of the character to be the stunt person; we wanted it to be Anne herself.
Q: Can you talk about any of the comic book storylines that may have influenced this? Clearly, when you bring up Bane, everyone thinks of the “Knightfall” storyline. Are you actually culling from existing storylines for the basis of the film?
Thomas: Not being one of the writers, it’s difficult for me to talk about that sort of inspiration. I think that Chris and David Goyer are very mindful. It’s great for them to have that massive treasure chest of the comic book storylines to draw from. Once again, as I was saying in terms of how things fit into our world, ultimately what they’re doing is completing the stories that were started in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” They’re drawing from comic book elements, undoubtedly. I can’t speak to which specific elements because that’s their thing, but it’s a mixture of both.
Q: One of the more interesting things about Bane’s character is that, beyond being a physical match for Batman, he might even be smarter than him. Is the intellectual component of Bane very much present in this movie or is it more physical?
Thomas: I don’t want to sound like it’s all about brawn, because it’s not. He’s definitely a smart guy. We are definitely touching on that, there’s no doubt. I think that that’s why it’s an interesting match for Batman after the Joker, who was just purely about chaos and playing with people. Bane has a plan.
Q: One of the things that people have remarked on is that you’re shooting so much in the daytime. Is Chris going for a different visual aesthetic on this one?
Thomas: It’s definitely a different aesthetic. Once again, we didn’t want to just be repeating the same old thing. I don’t think anyone would want to see just the same old thing and it certainly wouldn’t be any fun for us to tell the same old story. Visually, I think the same thing applies to that. It’s meant to be winter in Gotham, so that right there is going to lend a whole different look to the film. So far, we have shot rather more in the daylight than we did in “The Dark Knight,” but we’ve got a lot of nights coming our way, too.
Q: What are the pros and cons of being here in Pittsburgh instead of Chicago where you shot the first two movies?
Thomas: It’s great to be in Pittsburgh. We’re having a really great time here. One of the biggest reasons we came here was that while we had a fantastic time in Chicago and we loved it there, we literally have shot every inch of that city. As I said, we don’t want to be retreading old territory, whether that be visually or in terms of the storyline. We want this to be a stand-alone movie that just doesn’t feel like something anyone’s seen before. Gotham is meant to be a massive metropolis; it’s meant to be a huge city. I think we felt like if we went back to Chicago we would be limiting the scope and we just wanted to make it feel massive.
Q: There are locations in India, too?
Thomas: Yeah, we shot a small piece in India. We’ve been all over the place. We’ve done India, England, Scotland, here, and going to L.A. next, and then New York.
Q: Everything in this movie is epic, including the casting. People have remarked on just the sheer number of actors involved in this. What can you tell us about some of these other characters like Tom Conti and Matthew Modine and Alon Aboutboul and Christopher Judge, all those guys?
Thomas: Once again, we feel very lucky to have such an amazing cast. Chris’s attempt has always been, beyond the big lead roles, to flesh out the world with believable characters. A big part of that is getting really amazing actors to play the parts.
Check out page 2 for our interviews with Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy!