In magic circles, every great trick consists of three acts. The first is called The Pledge, where the magician shows you something ordinary but it probably isnt. The second act is called The Turn, where the magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary. And the third act is called The Prestige, the part with the twists and turns that hides the secret and allows you to see something shocking youve never seen before. For 36-year-old English director Chris Nolan, whose credits include Memento, Insomnia and Batman Begins, that was the challenge in his critically acclaimed thrilling drama The Prestige, starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two Victorian-era magicians whose powerful rivalry turns into a dangerous then deadly game. Robert Angier (Jackman) is a charismatic showman and Alfred Borden (Bale) is a gifted illusionist who will stop at nothing to learn each others secrets. Michael Caine plays retired conjurer Cutter, who designs some of their illusions and watches the drama unfold. In Nolans own quest to shock and surprise his audience, the director pulled off the kind of cinematic magic that begs to be watched over and over again. Which is why the DVD release will be welcome, along with bonus features including The Directors Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan with special behind-the-scenes access, and The Art of The Prestige Gallery.
What do you hope people will get out of watching this movie on DVD?Ive always liked films that reward or perhaps even demand a second viewing; a film that entertains you the first time you watched it but something that intrigues you to go back and look at bits again, either in bits or the whole film. I think that DVD is the perfect medium for this kind of movie because with its random access, you can also just go back and watch just a moment in the story and relate it to another moment in the story.
What do you think of the Behind the Scenes Special Features?I think there are some great features on the DVD; I think there is a lot of fun information about what went into the film without demystifying the process completely, which is a fine balance because you dont want to give away all your secrets but as a fan of movies myself, having some material relate to the way the movie is made is something that has always interested me about the DVD format.
What were some of the biggest challenges making this movie? Were there a lot of sets?It was more locations than sets. We were on a very small budget so we only built one set and everything else was real places that we built into, which was a fun way of doing it given that it was set in Victorian London but we did everything in Los Angeles. I like films to have an immediacy to them and accessibility. I often find period films are a little alienating and formal. I believe times change but people dont, so if wed been living in the Victorian era it would have felt like in human terms a lot like our own era and so we tried to give a sense of casualness to the film to really throw people into that world.
Did you have any idea of what you were getting yourself into when you started work on this script?From when I read the novel I knew it would a tricky adaptation, but I dont think I realized quite how tricky and how long it would take myself and my brother (co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan) to really wrestle it to the ground, because it was a good four or five years of attempts at the script on and off that got us to this movie. It was rewarding but tricky and a fun puzzle and also a fun challenge.
Do you see a lot of parallels between magicians and filmmakers? Did that appeal to you?I think part of my interest in telling magician stories is having found parallels with what filmmakers do and what magicians do. I think filmmakers now provide a lot of what stage magicians in the Victoria era were providing. There is a lot of similarity with the methodology and the way in which a trick or set of tricks is presented to the audience. I think the process of watching a film relies on the active involvement of the audience and the willful suspension of disbelief and knowing the trick, but pretending not to know so you could enjoy it.
Do you think in this film its hard to know who was tricking you the magician or the filmmaker?It certainly is self-conscious filmmaking. It is very much a film about filmmaking, I realized after the fact. Watching it now I can see clearly that it is a film about filmmaking which is for me a fun thing because obviously it is something personally Im very invested in and I think it was my way of approaching it from a different angle.
What did magicians think about the movie?Ricky Jay, who is a fantastic magician and historian of magic, was our consultant on the film and I think the slogan on his business card is literally on a need to know basis! Hes very protective of his craft and rightly so, so he helped our actors look like magicians but didnt really have any problems with what we were doing in the film because wed frankly made up most of our tricks and the way we were going to show how these things were done. They were things we constructed ourselves but at the end of the day, some of them turned out to be similar to existing illusions and that was part of the fun of trying to think these things up for yourself.
How challenging is it to have a movie with no conventional hero or villain?I think its very liberating in terms of the story to not have to subscribe to the notion of having an obvious hero and an obvious villain. The difficulty is maintaining the interest of the audience because by definition you are making the characters somewhat less sympathetic by both of them being the good guy and the bad guy. But we followed the tenet that you dont necessarily have to like somebody to be interested in what they are doing and I think there are times in which both these men do unlikable things but through the performances of both actors, you care about what is happening because they are flawed but very real people.
Did you deliberately try not to give audiences all the answers?What I really wanted to do was create a film that would very much depend on the audiences involvement and the way in which the viewer watches the film and I think it will become a very different film on DVD because certainly one of the big dividing lines with audiences is what people were picking up as the film flowed past. On DVD, I think youll get more people tempted to stop it mid-progress and go back and have a look at something again, so once again the audience response will be greatly modified by the medium itself and it is a film in which the viewer really plays a part because of the way in which they choose to view events greatly affects what kind of story it is for them.
Do you think people who saw it in a theatre will get more out of it on DVD?The film is very dense in its narrative so there are definitely a lot of things that will make a lot more sense the second time around. With a film that is essentially constructed as a magic trick, as this film is, and therefore plays all sorts of tricks to the audience, it was very important to me to play those tricks in a fair manner. By that I mean that if you go back and look at the film a second time you will say, I should have realized that! There are plenty of clues and plenty of explanations for things as we go but in the emphasis of the story telling, we try to misdirect people in the same way a magician does so they dont realize the exact nature of what theyre being shown the first time around.
Did you think of Michael Caines character as the conscience of the film?I think hes very much both the intellectual and emotional conscience of the film. Hes the warmth of the film and to a certain extent the moral judge of whats going on - and there is nobody as good as Sir Michael Caine at playing those characters!
What did you do to convince David Bowie to play Teslar?It was very cool to get Bowie to play Teslar and the way I did it was really just giving him the strongest argument that any director can give any cast-member, which is that he was the only person I could possibly imagine playing that part, and I couldnt do it without him. Usually when you say that, you are lying through your teeth because youve got someone else in mind, but for once it was great to be really telling the truth because he seemed so perfect for it and I couldnt get the idea out of my head until he said yes!
What kind of responses have you had from audiences?Its a lot of fun to make a film that has a life after its first viewing. Its fun to realize that people have gone back and seen it more than once and are waiting to buy it on DVD and its taking on a life of its own; thats really the most rewarding thing for a filmmaker.