MoviesOnline sat down with screenwriters Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer to talk about their new movie, The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan. The follow-up to Batman Begins stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldham, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.
Jonathan Nolan was born in London and grew up in the Chicago area. His film career began when he wrote the intriguing short story “Memento Mori”, which became the basis for the acclaimed noir drama Memento, starring Guy Pearce. Directed by his brother, Christopher Nolan, who also adapted the screenplay, Memento brought Jonathan an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, as well as the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, both shared with Christopher.
He more recently co-wrote the screenplay for the mystery thriller The Prestige, about a bitter rivalry between two magicians with tragic consequences. Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson starred in the drama, under the direction of Christopher Nolan.
David S. Goyer previously teamed with Christopher Nolan on the screenplay for Batman Begins, which won a Saturn Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Goyer has earned a stellar reputation for telling character-driven stories adapted from the otherworldly realms of superheroes, fantasy and the supernatural for the big screen. He is currently working on the supernatural thriller The Unborn, starring Gary Oldman and Odette Yustman, which he is directing from his own screenplay.
Goyer’s breakout came in 1998 when he wrote the action hit “Blade,” starring Wesley Snipes, based on the Marvel Comics vampire hunter who is, himself, half-vampire. He then wrote 2002’s Blade II, on which he also served as an executive producer. He directed, wrote and produced the last of the trilogy, Blade: Trinity. Goyer was also an executive producer on Blade: The Series for Spike TV, the network’s first original scripted series.
In 2002, Goyer made a departure from action genre films with his directorial debut, ZigZag, a poignant comedy featuring Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Natasha Lyonne and Sam Jones III. In addition to ZigZag and Blade: Trinity, Goyer directed last year’s supernatural thriller The Invisible, starring Justin Chatwin and Margarita Levieva.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Goyer wanted to write comic books from an early age, which eventually led to his bringing them to life for the big screen. He sold his first action script at the age of 22 while still at USC, which became the Jean Claude Van Damme thriller Death Warrant. Among his other early credits, he penned the screenplay for the critically acclaimed film Dark City.
Goyer’s love of comic books also led to a four-year stint actually writing one for DC Comics. He is a co-writer of The Justice Society, which was one of DC’s biggest hits.
Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer are terrific writers and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about their collaboration on “The Dark Knight”:
MoviesOnline: Not a lot of Killing Joke in this one.
DAVID GOYER: There’s a little bit of that dynamic between the Joker and Batman.
JONATHAN NOLAN: I think there’s a ton of it if you look at it from a slightly different perspective. What is the Joker trying to do in The Killing Joke? He’s trying to drive one of Batman’s allies crazy.
DAVID GOYER: Yeah, I think we definitely called that relationship from the Killing Joke.
MoviesOnline: What other comic books did you reference?
JONATHAN NOLAN: It’s easier to say what didn’t we reference? It felt like we read all of them. I grew up a Batman fan and David did too. So, there’s a lot of that already in there and when you embark on these things, DC sends you everything.
DAVID GOYER: Obviously there’s some of the Long Halloween in there. There’s some Miller stuff. I think in this one there’s less though than the first one. Some of the Denny O’Neil stuff. But it’s like yeah, we were looking at stuff from the 80s.
JONATHAN NOLAN: We got sort of midway through the process and went back and looked at the first appearance of the Joker in the books and found we had kind of wandered all the way back to it. There are a couple of moments in Batman 1 which are almost shot-for-shot moments that emerged in the film which felt very gratifying to have reverse engineered your way back to what felt like a starting point for the character.
DAVID GOYER: The truth is we read every single Joker and Two-Face appearance from all of them. Hundreds of them.
MoviesOnline: What’s interesting about Two-Face’s origin in this is that you played against the audience conventions using the mythology against itself. Can you talk a little bit about that?
JONATHAN NOLAN: I’m not sure I understand the question. How do you mean?
MoviesOnline: Well there are the two options and you see him on the floor, so you think Batman is going to choose the other option.
DAVID GOYER: Well, if you’re referring to the explosion and the fire, what intrigued us was giving Batman this terrible choice, but then you have the idea that the Joker because he already knows that Batman has made the choice for him …
JONATHAN NOLAN: Definitely. It’s his big joke. No one thinks it’s very funny except for him.
MoviesOnline: There’s real richness to this story. How much of that is you going to Chris and saying this is what you want to do and how much is it Chris saying I want a richer, deeper story?
DAVID GOYER: Chris definitely wanted to … it was not a forgone conclusion that we were going to do a second film. Even when we started talking about a second film, there was a long process where we talked about whether or not this story that we were coming up with was worthy or better than the first one. But, Chris is great. The best experience I’ve ever had is working with Chris because it’s a very open environment. We fight. We argue.
JONATHAN NOLAN: A lot.
DAVID GOYER: A lot. Yeah, and he fosters that and it’s ‘let the best idea win.’ He’s not a dictator. Or he’s a benevolent dictator in that regard.
JONATHAN NOLAN: Benevolent dictator. That’s what I would say. Absolutely.
DAVID GOYER: It’s generally we fight, we scream, we say that sucks, that’s stupid.
MoviesOnline: Can you talk a little about the writing process and how your collaboration works?
DAVID GOYER: Yeah …
JONATHAN NOLAN: You’ve been asked this question 38 trillion times, I’ll jump in. David and Chris went off and butted heads for awhile and came up with this story, a really great story, and then you had to go off and direct. You know, he’s a busy guy so we’re very lucky to get him to get in there. And then they handed it over to me and let me take a crack at the first draft. Chris is always going to take the last pass on his scripts going in. He’s a writer as well as a director, kind of 50/50. So, you know, he’s going to get in there and take that last crack at it. So our job is done well in advance of the film. For us, it’s kind of been this fascinating experience of getting the work done and then waiting a couple of years to see what comes out the other end. It was enormously satisfying this time.
MoviesOnline: Talking about how difficult it is to write a sequel that’s better than the first film, what do you think are the chances for a sequel to this film?
DAVID GOYER: I think Warner Bros would like to do another one. As far as Chris goes, we haven’t had any long conversations about it yet. It wasn’t until three or four months after Batman Begins opened that Chris and I sat down and talked about another one. We’ll have to see. It’s definitely a much scarier proposition. It was a scary proposition trying to do Dark Knight. It’s sort of a geometrically proportionate scary proposition to try to do another one, but we’ll see.
JONATHAN NOLAN: Absolutely.
MoviesOnline: But you left it at such an open space where now … you can’t leave him like that?
JONATHAN NOLAN: I think the idea, as much as anything, is to make a complete film; but also one that suggests the universe that the comic books…to me this is how I always imagined it. If we hadn’t made a sequel to Batman Begins, you would imagine that the Joker card explained where we’re at in the comic books and sort of opened into that universe.
DAVID GOYER: The movie still feels complete. I think if there was not a third one, it’s not like “Oh my god! These things haven’t been answered.”
JONATHAN NOLAN: That’s the idea, very much. It’s to make complete films.
MoviesOnline: You’ve done Scarecrow, you’ve done Joker, Ra’s Al Ghul, and now Two-Face, if you were to do a third film, which characters would you like to tackle?
DAVID GOYER: We’re not going to tell you other than to say Batman has been published for 70 years. In the first movie we used Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow who had not been in the movies before and had not been in the 60s TV show and there are dozens, if not hundreds of other characters that fit that bill. Everyone says you have to use the Penguin or Catwoman. Well, I completely disagree.
JONATHAN NOLAN: There’s a very deep roster of great characters over seventy years.
MoviesOnline: How did it feel to see Heath perform your words?
DAVID GOYER: Astonishing.
JONATHAN NOLAN: Incredible. Great.
DAVID GOYER: The thing that I am the most excited about in regards to that character is, I feel, at least for me, it’s the first time on screen that he’s really been frightening. That’s what I’ve been telling people. You’re really going to be frightened by him. Which I think is a testament to Heath.
MoviesOnline: How early in the story development did Harvey Dent come into the story?
DAVID GOYER: He wasn’t immediate, but fairly soon. It became apparent as we were talking fairly quickly on that Harvey was actually the protagonist of the movie. The Joker doesn’t change and Batman doesn’t really change. But Harvey is the one that changes as a result of his interaction between the Joker and Batman. Obviously, he changes in a tragic way and that means the movie has to be a tragedy.
MoviesOnline: Batman, Harvey Dent, and the Joker really don’t have origins in this movie. I was wondering if you could talk about that?
JONATHAN NOLAN: We covered Batman’s origin in the first film. Obvious the arc of the film, as David was saying, is the tragedy of Harvey Dent, which is in a sense the origin of the villain Two-Face. I think we’ve told a more complete story here. I think the idea that was most appealing to all of us about the Joker was that he cuts through the film. That he’s an elemental.
MoviesOnline: There’s all those stories about how he got the face.
DAVID GOYER: He just is. He’s more interesting without an [origin].
JONATHAN NOLAN: I strongly feel that the version that I like the best is the ambiguity of it. Chris and I have had this argument on a couple of different films, but I’m always really interested in the idea with these characters that there’s an ambiguity there that’s functional. It’s purposeful. The idea with the Joker is if he had a backstory and if one of the stories he told you was true, somehow it would reduce the character.
MoviesOnline: He’s more mysterious.
DAVID GOYER: Yeah. Also, he’s scarier.
JONATHAN NOLAN: He’s just more frightening because, in a sense, there is no mystery there. There is no backstory. He is exactly what he presents himself to be; which is an anarchist.
MoviesOnline: What was the biggest challenge of writing a character that is so anarchic?
JONATHAN NOLAN: Weirdly, somewhat frighteningly, he was the easiest character I’ve ever written. I think that character is common to a long history. You’ll find a version of him in almost every culture going back thousands of years. It taps into something elemental. The jokester. The trickster. You sit down and write that character and it just kind of appears.
MoviesOnline: He doesn’t seem to be motivated by power or money.
DAVID GOYER: He doesn’t have a cause, so you don’t have to justify any of his actions. So he’s one of these rare instances in telling a story where the whole point of the character is that you’re not justifying what he’s doing.
JONATHAN NOLAN: His emotional life consists of pleasure and watching the world crumble around him.
DAVID GOYER: And his one stated cause, initially, in the story is: Batman has to turn himself in. That’s what he wants. But then, later on when he’s talking to Batman, he says “I would never kill you.” He completely abandons that idea.
MoviesOnline: Was that a hard sell to Warner Bros?
DAVID GOYER: No.
JONATHAN NOLAN: I don’t think we had any hard sells on this to the studio. They were always very supportive.
DAVID GOYER: They were really happy with Batman Begins, and they’ve been great.
MoviesOnline: Can you talk at all about “Interstellar?”
JONATHAN NOLAN: I’d like to just talk about this film, but it’s a neat, really super-cool project.
MoviesOnline: Did you have to rewrite the Joker for Heath?
DAVID GOYER: At that point in the movie, Chris is the one making any final revisions. Obviously, Heath made it into his own.
JONATHAN NOLAN: One of the cool things that Chris has talked about is the idea that Heath and he had a shared vision of what that character was.
The Dark Knight opens in theaters on July 18th.
Credit: Movies Online