With a surprise visit to Comic-Con, Christopher Nolan finally lifted the veil on his mysterious and Matthew McConaughey–starring space drama Interstellar, by showing off the November 7 film’s third and by far most illuminating trailer. The two and half minutes of footage revealed more about the plot, showing McConaughey and Anne Hathaway rocketing into space on a quest to save Earth from a food shortage. Not surprisingly, the precise details of where they’re headed and how remain in the dark, a Nolan trademark in the walk-up to his films’ release dates. But Vulture likes details, so to help us deal, we pored over every little thing that has been teased out about Interstellar since its very inception and present all the development, casting, plot, and production information to you here in this ever-growing dossier.
• Interstellar is based on an idea from theoretical physicist and Caltech professor Kip Thorne, a longtime science-world celebrity whose work focuses on gravitational physics and the effects of black holes on space-time. In 1988, he published a paper called “Wormholes in space-time and their use for interstellar travel,” which posited that time travel was possible via tiny warps in space called wormholes. In a 2007 interview with Discover magazine, Thorne compared the idea to a hole in an apple: An ant on that apple could travel from one side to the other by crawling around the skin of the apple, or by taking the quicker route through the hole. Thorne said we’re still few decades from knowing whether time travel is truly possible but speculates that wormholes, as he envisions them, do exist and that “it would not be hard for a very advanced civilization to use a traversable wormhole to make a time machine.”
• Thorne got his idea for a movie about wormholes when Lynda Obst, a producer friend of his, was making 1997’s Contact. Later, Thorne and Obst wrote a treatment about the “the most exotic events in the universe suddenly becoming accessible to humans.” In June 2006, Variety reported that Steven Spielberg was planning to direct.
• Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking are all names inextricably linked with Thorne’s. The Caltech physicist has devoted his life’s work to Einstein’s theory of gravity and its implications for space and time. Sagan consulted with his friend Thorne while writing Contact; Sagan had wanted to send his characters through a black hole, but changed it to a wormhole based on Thorne’s advice. Hawking and Thorne are known for their exceedingly sophisticated bets with childish stakes, including the wager that Cygnus X-1, a giant X-ray source in the Cygnus constellation, is a black hole. Thorne won the bet, and along with it, a year’s subscription to Penthouse.
• In March 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that Spielberg and Obst hired Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonathan to turn Thorne’s treatment into a screenplay.
• Six years later, Variety reported that Christopher Nolan was in negotiations to make the film with a script that had “changed significantly from the incarnation that drew Spielberg’s interest.” In fact, Nolan’s plan was to merge his brother’s script with an idea of his own.
• The Hollywood Reporter followed with a report about Warner Bros.’ trade-off to acquire a 50 percent stake in Interstellar. As part of the deal with Paramount to produce the movie, the studio had to give up its rights to a Friday the 13th reboot and a second South Park movie.
• Other studio-wrangling involved Nolan’s longtime funding partner Legendary Pictures, which ended its relationship with Warner Bros. to forge a new one with Universal. According to the Wrap, Legendary agreed to swap its stake in the Man of Steel sequel for a piece of Interstellar.
• During filming, Interstellar used the fake title Flora’s Letter, a nod, most likely, to Christopher Nolan’s daughter, Flora. Three of the director’s previous films had the working titles Rory’s First Kiss (for The Dark Knight), Oliver’s Arrow (for Inception), and Magnus Rex (for The Dark Knight Rises), all seemingly derived from the names of his other children.
• The film was shot with a combination of 35mm and Imax, and it will be released both digitally and on film.
• An IMAX camera was mounted to the front of a Learjet during filming.
• Rather than rely heavily on CGI, Nolan had his spaceship sets built. He said the decision “paid huge dividends for the actors.”
• Nolan filmed for 54 days in Los Angeles, which is rare on movies the size of Interstellar, as films with budgets above $75 million aren’t eligible to take advantage of California’s film tax credit. Three days of that shooting took place at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites in downtown L.A. Crews worked for three weeks to build “large set pieces and scaffolding inside the lobby” and the action included rappelling stunt men and “atmospheric smoke effects.” According to the Los Angeles Times, filming also took place at a downtown warehouse, a Sony soundstage, and a house in Altadena.
• Two weeks of shooting took place in southern Iceland, mostly on a glacier.
• Nolan shot at a handful of Canadian locations in Alberta, Canada, including Okotoks, where hundreds of extras were used to play the crowd at a baseball game.
• A scene of McConaughey driving a truck through a dust storm was shot in Fort Macleod, Florida.
With his longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister off filming his directorial debut, Transcendence, Christopher Nolan hired Hoyte van Hoytema (Her, The Fighter) to shoot Interstellar. It was the first time since Nolan’s debut film, Following, that Pfister didn’t handle cinematography duties for him.
Nolan wouldn’t even let Hans Zimmer read the script before writing the score. Instead, he gave the composer one page of of text that, in an interview with GQ UK, Zimmer said, “wasn’t about the film.”
Thorne, the theoretical physicist who had conceived of the idea behind the movie, remained on as a producer and science consultant.
• Each time an actor was confirmed for a role in Interstellar, the announcement arrived without much detail. The three existing trailers (see below) have illuminated the stories of some of the movie’s characters without revealing very much about anything at all. We know that Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a trained pilot, engineer, and widowed father of two, and that he is recruited to go to space on a mission to save the world from a catastrophic food shortage.
• Mackenzie Foy, a 13-year-old Twilight alum, plays Murphy, Cooper’s daughter. She spends a decent chunk of the second and third trailers crying about her dad going to space.
• The Wrap’s Jeff Sneider confirmed that Jessica Chastain will play the same character as Foy, only older.
• Homeland’s Timothee Chalamet plays Cooper’s son, who, in the second trailer, takes the news about his dad’s departure into deep space much better than his sister.
• In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Casey Affleck said he was playing “somebody on earth” and not a scientist. He appears briefly in the second trailer, squinting. It’s likely that he plays the adult version of Cooper’s son.
• It appears that John Lithgow will play McConaughey’s father. Here’s a photo of Lithgow taken on set and in the second trailer he turns up a couple of times, hanging behind McConaughey and his kids.
• Michael Caine said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last October that he’s playing a science professor, and the trailers seem to confirm that. His primary job appears to be convincing Cooper that he’s the best man to save the world.
• Anne Hathaway plays a member of the crew that travels into space with Cooper. She appears prominently in the third trailer onboard the space ship and, in what looks to be a very dramatic scene, stuck on water on an alien planet.
• David Gyasi plays another astronaut and, in the third trailer, briefly kisses Hathaway.
• Wes Bentley (of American Beauty and The Hunger Games) appears in what has been teasingly described as a “meaty supporting role.” He appears in the third trailer on the spaceship talking to Cooper.
• Topher Grace plays some guy who puts on a jacket while wearing business-casual clothes, which we know from this photo taken on set in Fort MacLeod, Florida.
• Matt Damon has a small role in the movie, which the Playlist reported required the actor to shoot only “for two weeks in Iceland.”
• Irfan Khan is the only actor to publicly say he wasn’t able to take a role in the film. He told the Times of India that he couldn’t commit to the amount of time Nolan needed.
• Ellen Burstyn (in a May interview with a prying Vulture: “[Nolan would] put me through a wormhole! That’s exactly what he’d do [if I revealed anything]. So we don’t want that that to happen.”), David Oyelowo, Bill Irwin, Elyes Gabel, and William Devane all have roles in Interstellar that we know nothing about yet.
Trailer 1 (released December 2013)
Quick clips of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and great moments in space exploration are narrated by Matthew McConaughey thusly: “We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible, and we count these moments. These moments when we dared to aim higher. To break barriers. To reach for the stars. To make the unknown known. We count these moments as our proudest achievements. But we’ve lost all that. And perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers and we’ve barely begun and our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, and our destiny lies above us.” That’s it.
Trailer 2 (released May 16, 2014)
Much more revealing than the first clip, yet still frustratingly inscrutable. Cooper and his two kids are chasing an Indian Surveillance Drone through a cornfield. “Their solar cells can power an entire farm,” he says. But they lose track. This has apparently caused his beaten-up pickup truck to get a flat tire and subsequently be late for a meeting of some importance, in which it appears that he is pitched the idea of saving the planet by traveling into space. “We didn’t run out of planes and television sets,” says the man he meets with. “We ran out of food.” Cut to shots of a sand storm and Casey Affleck dealing with a crop fire. Murphy asks her dad why they named her after something bad, and he replies, “Murphy’s Law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen will happen.” Cue the dust storm approaching the baseball game, then Michael Caine’s professor intoning, “We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us.” He continues: “We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it. And this is the mission you were trained for.” Cooper has kids, though? “Get out there and save them,” pitches Caine. As the tagline (MANKIND WAS BORN ON THIS EARTH. IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO DIE HERE.) flashes onscreen, Caine continues: “We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel.” Cut to a scene of McConaughey and Anne Hathaway on a spaceship, in which it appears that the crew is being put into deep sleeps via body bags submerged in water. Cooper ends the clip by telling his cry-face daughter, “I’m coming back.”
Trailer 3 (released July 25, 2014)
See the above, only more clips of what happens after they take off into space and more Spielbergian heart-string pulling as someone counts down to liftoff.
Cooper: “Murph. You have to talk to me, Murph.”
Coop: “I need to fix this before I go.”
Murphy: “I have no idea when you’re coming back”
Five. Main engines start.
Images of on-ground mayhem — farmland on fire. Sweaty McConaughey in spacesuit, talking to short-haired, sweaty, spacesuit-wearing Anne Hathaway. “Couldn’t you have told her that you were going to save the world?” she asks. His reply: “No.”
Coop: “When you become a parent … “
” … one thing that becomes very clear … “
” … and that’s that you want to make sure your children feel safe.”
Ignition, McConaughey and Hathaway lift off.
He says to Murphy, “I’m coming back … ” Murph: “When??” Cooper: “I love you forever.”
And then there’s a beardy Wes Bentley reminding Coop, “You can’t just think about your family. Now you have to think bigger than that.” And then Michael Caine reading Dylan Thomas, as everyone pushes back against the seemingly inevitable doom all around them. “I’m not going to make it!” says Anne Hathaway as she bobs up and down in some extraterrestrial sea. “Yes, you are,” says Coop.
The clip ends with Coop saying, “We’ll find a way. We always have.”
• Most of what we know about the Interstellar’s plot comes from studio loglines, the trailers, and a leaked script that dates back to 2008, when Spielberg was attached to the film.
• The logline, which is all audiences had to go on for years, says that Interstellar is a film about “a group of explorers who make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.” This was likely the idea physicist Kip Thorne had when he began working on his treatment.
• The trailers add context to all that by showing a world ravaged by food shortages where people are still trying to hold on to a semblance of normalcy (i.e., going to baseball games). At Comic-Con McConaughey described it as a world in which “civilization is basically just sustaining. It’s about growing food, having clean water, that’s it.” When it becomes clear that, as Michael Caine’s character says in the trailers, “nothing in our solar system can help us,” McConaughey’s Cooper is recruited to go to space on what McConaughey called “the greatest mission mankind has ever taken.”
• The leaked script has likely changed but its first act does match up rather closely with the trailers. The script suggests a setting some 50 years in the future, when the world is on the verge of running out of food after a disease decimates all food except corn. With little hope of survival, a group that includes Cooper, travels through a wormhole that’s recently appeared near Earth, and discovers an inhabitable ice planet that had already been discovered by the Chinese. But the Chinese team’s attempts to colonize the planet failed as the astronauts didn’t survive their mission, but they left behind robots programmed to build a civilization. When the group of American scientist tries to escape with a device they think could save mankind, a fight erupts and their ship is pulled into the orbit of a black hole, where they exist outside of time. In a flash, hundreds of years pass and the ice planet is destroyed, along with the wormhole that got them there. With the help of a new wormhole, the crew is transported to a void where thousands of black holes allow for travel throughout all of space-time. Cooper chooses the black hole that takes him back to Earth, which he expects to be empty. He arrives with a creature from the ice planet, releases it, and lies down to die. When he wakes up he’s with his 80-year-old great, great grandson in a hospital.
• Changes from the leaked script include Cooper’s son, Murph, becoming a daughter. There’s a quick shot in the trailers of the space crew getting sealed in liquid that’s not in the leaked script. The second trailer also mentions an Indian surveillance drone that was Chinese in the script.
• From both the shots of corn in the trailers and a report from the small town Fort MacLeaod Gazette, we can assume corn is the most important crop in the film. The small town Florida paper, which reported on Interstellar when it was shooting there, says the “movie details the toll climate change has taken on agriculture, with corn the last crop to be cultivated. The scientists embark on a journey through a wormhole into other dimensions in search of somewhere other crops can be grown.”
• A source told the website Desde Hollywood that Nolan shot a spaceship crash and “some sort of drones” while filming in Iceland. There’s also a larger aircraft the source “refers to as the Mother Ship.”
• At CinemaCon 2014 in March, Nolan “downplayed suggestions that the film might have a time-travel element, and said that Interstellar is about using celestial shortcuts to reach parts of space that might otherwise be inaccessible.”
• The third trailer makes it clear the goal of the space mission is to “save the world.” After that, it’s hard to tell what exactly McConaughey and Hathaway are doing among the stars. Their spaceship takes them to an arid planet full of ice and water. Hathaway plunges into the water, a strange object hurdles at her, and McConaughey watches a grainy video of a crying woman. The trailer takes a bit of a hokey turn when characters look to question their mission and Hathaway says, “love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” Then Michael Caine recites Dylan Thomas as the ship spins through space.
• So, what’s it really all about? “It’s about what it is to be human and what our place is in the universe,” Nolan said at Comic-Con. “The further you travel out into the universe the more you realize it’s about who we are as human beings.”