There are scores of fascinating, enigmatic characters in Inception (read our full review), but there is only one architect.
And I sort of love the fact that it’s Ellen Page.
For years now, I’ve been watching the young actress choose parts that would make other young starlets balk. She played one of the most vindictive teenie boppers of all time in Hard Candy, turning from damsel in distress to vindictive predator in the blink of an eye. She earned acclaim for bringing a retro, smart-ass hipster to life in Juno. And then she cut through to the heart of the hard-core roller derby girl mentality in Whip It.
She’s a good actress, in search of interesting things, and so of course she’d wind up being at the top of the posters for Inception – the year’s most interesting film – playing the designer who is recruited by Leonardo DiCaprio to create vast subconscious dreamscapes. Basically city-sized mazes that are authentic enough that they never raise suspicion among those in the dream. Sure, her creation looks like Paris – but really there’s only one way to escape. All roads lead to the choke point.
The day after I got lost in the Inception whirlpool, I had the chance to talk shop – and Christopher Nolan – with the architect:
This movie is so elaborate, and your casting is so ingenious, I’m wondering how Hollywood managed to get this so right. Can you tell me a bit about how you connected with the project?
I actually didn’t know anything about the project or the subject or anything.
I had a meeting with Chris, this very general meeting, and I was excited because basically I’m a massive fan like anyone else. I remember seeing Memento for the first time and watching The Dark Knight, and I went in and was blown away. This is the nicest, ego-less, grounded gentlemen. And it was right after Whip It, and I was looking around, and the idea of this film came up and I was absolutely excited to learn more. So I went into an office ar Warner Bros. to read the script, and it was just one of those moments where you are absolutely floored.
Oh yeah, can you talk a little about what it was like to see this all laid out in print? Because I’ve been telling people that this had to be one of the wildest scripts imaginable, that you really have to see it all play out to begin to understand it. Could you even make sense of it?
Well at first I think it’s purposefully murky, keeping things unclear and making you ask questions. As an actor, and even as an audience member, that’s what I like though: I want to think and ask questions, and what’s so special about this movie is the more questions you ask, the more you get wrapped up. It’s such an immerse experience, but then in the last few pages everything has been tied together, even this complex emotional through-line…it just worked for me. Honestly, I don’t know how his brain works, I’m just constantly blown away by all his films. Despite the visual magnitude, and all the incredible action, there’s this incredibly sincere base and this honesty that everything is centered around.
With all the amazing ways that the city is bending around you guys, I’m wondering what it was like to do all that work in front of green screens. You haven’t done much of that in your other films, have you? Was that a whole new challenge?
There’s actually very little green screen – a couple times really. Of course there’s obvious CG in the movie, but what I found is that he used very, very little for a film of this type. He clearly wanted realism here, and there’s a lot of straight drama in this film, so I think he wanted us to be in the moment. I think it’s obvious when you’re watching a movie, and there’s people fighting or someone’s slipping on the side of the building, that it’s fake and it really removes you from it. But here, the drama is so integral to all the action, I think he wanted to keep it believable.
When you say keep it believable, I was really blown away by Leonardo’s performance, and how we was able to keep so many different emotions boiling when all this other insanity is happening all around him. Could you tell me a little about how you guys worked together, and collaborated in staying in character?
That was truly one of the most surreal experiences for me: Leo’s someone I watched as a girl, I mean I went to Titanic for the my 12th birthday, and I’ve always admired him professionally as someone who everyone tried to pigeon-hole, but he always refused to be the teenie bopper kid. He loves to act and he’s made authenticity a profile, and I have a lot of respect for that. And as soon as we turned to act into a scene, he is so grounded in his character, in this world, that he can’t help but make you better.
There are so many overlapping storylines and action sequences, I’m wondering if it ever got hard to follow this as an actor on the set. Did Chris set up a timeline for you to see, or did he film it chronologically – how did he handle this?
He didn’t do much with a timeline. Of course, every day we could come in and he would be absolutely prepared and if you wanted to know what happened right before or after he could tell you in an instant. He had such command over this story. But Leo and I talked all the time, about where this fell in the story, and what helped the most was that Chris was so assured and always clearly knew exactly what he wanted. He had such a crystal clear vision, and yet at the same time was so open to spontaneity for what happens that day in front of the camera. It’s almost mind-blowing, when you’re working with something as big and complicated as this, that as an actor you could still feel as if you could give anything a try.