Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is one of the most breathtakingly cinematic and thoughtful science fiction movies in recent memory. Along with The Martian, Arrival, and Ex Machina, Interstellar helped to usher in a new era of cerebral sci-fi cinema in the 2010s.
When he was promoting the movie, Nolan touted it as his most technically proficient movie to date; the one where it was most important to get the technical specifications right upon viewing. Many surprising innovations were made in the worlds of visual effects and theoretical physics while the film was in production. So, here are 10 Thought-Provoking Behind-The-Scenes Facts About Interstellar.
10 The crew created TARS for real
Interstellar’s robot character TARS – whose name stands for “technically artificial robotic system” – is a lot different than most other A.I. characters from movies and TV shows, like R2-D2, Ultron, and Bender.
He doesn’t have any human features, although he does have a programmed personality. Although his movements are a little unnerving, TARS was actually created for real. Most shots of the character featured no CGI effects at all because he was really there. He was more of a puppet than an actual robot, controlled by Bill Irwin, who voiced the character on-set and was erased from all the shots in post-production.
9 Dr. Kip Thorne laid out two rules for the movie’s science
Dr. Kip Thorne, the theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate whose ideas formed the basis for Interstellar, laid out two rules for the movie’s science: nothing in the film could contradict the proven laws of physics, and any outrageous speculation would come from the mind of a scientist and not the mind of a screenwriter. Christopher Nolan agreed to these rules on the condition that they wouldn’t hinder the filmmaking process.
This didn’t prevent arguments between the two, of course, as Thorne once had to spend two weeks persuading Nolan not to have the characters travel faster than the speed of light.
8 The wormhole being near Saturn is a reference to 2001’s original story
It’s no secret that Christopher Nolan’s direction of Interstellar was heavily inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The fact that the wormhole in Interstellar is located near Saturn is a subtle reference to Kubrick’s original plan for 2001. Initially, he planned for the Jupiter sequence to take place on Saturn, but in the ‘60s, visual effects were not advanced enough to bring Saturn’s rings to the big screen.
As long as Nolan had $165 million and state-of-the-art CGI technologies at his disposal, he figured he’d finally bring Kubrick’s vision to the screen and put Saturn in his big-budget sci-fi spectacle.
7 Anne Hathaway got hypothermia while filming the ice planet scene
While filming the scene set on the ice planet in Iceland, Anne Hathaway came down with a case of hypothermia. This was due to her astronaut suit being open when she was sloshing around in the ice-cold water. When Hathaway told Christopher Nolan that she was coming down with hypothermia, he said, “Okay, let’s roll right now.”
She was five minutes away from dying, so the way Nolan saw it, they had five minutes to get the shots they needed. Hathaway explained, “I was just really, really, really cold and it’s not that Chris sent me off to get warmed up. Wimps don’t last long on his set.”
6 Christopher Nolan told Hans Zimmer to throw out the rulebook
When he brought on Hans Zimmer to score Interstellar in his fifth collaboration with the composer, Christopher Nolan told him to “reinvent” the film score. He didn’t want all the same drums and string ostinatos that Zimmer had given him for his previous four films.
He wanted him to throw out the rulebook and create something brand new. Nolan didn’t give Zimmer a script or any plot details, but rather a single page of text describing the feel of the movie. Since time is a huge component of Interstellar’s makeup, Zimmer wrote most of his tracks with a tempo of one beat per second (60 beats per minute) to reflect the flow of time.
5 Steven Spielberg was first attached to direct
Before Christopher Nolan signed on to direct Interstellar and turned it into a big-budget, ethereal homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Steven Spielberg was attached to helm the project. He was attached to Interstellar as far back as 2006 and brought on Jonathan Nolan to punch up the script.
When Spielberg moved on to other movies and Interstellar was left without a director, Nolan suggested his brother for the project. Christopher Nolan already had ideas for a sci-fi epic, so he imbued those ideas into his brother’s existing script and the film in its final form was born.
4 As few green screens as possible were used to give the actors something to react to
Usually, a big-budget production like Interstellar will shoot everything in front of green screens and then create the visual effects plates to place around the actors in every shot during post-production. But Christopher Nolan didn’t like the idea of actors reacting to things they couldn’t see.
So, for Interstellar, he had the visual effects created before shooting, so that he could project the VFX shots onto screens around the set, giving the actors something to react to. If they looked out of the windows of the spacecraft, they wouldn’t see green screens – they’d see outer space, or the surface of the planet they were on.
3 The original script was an entirely different movie
The original script for Interstellar, when Steven Spielberg was attached to direct, is virtually an entirely different movie. Murph was a boy. Probes were sent into space instead of humans, and it was a probe that led Cooper to NASA’s secret base, which was located on an island in California. The robot characters were more humanoid, with shoulders and hands, and TARS was going to be sucked into space while the ship was stuck between two black holes (there were going to be two black holes).
The only planet the crew visited would’ve been the ice planet, where they would’ve learned that a Chinese mission was there decades earlier and they were all killed by the radiation of a neutron star.
2 New CGI software was invented to visualize wormholes from theoretical equations
Rather than just making stuff up to create scenes depicting the wormhole and the black hole, the VFX team worked with Dr. Kip Thorne to make them as accurate as possible. Thorne teamed up with the movie’s visual effects supervisor, Paul J. Franklin, and his firm Double Negative to work on visualizing those lofty scientific concepts.
Thorne provided the team with pages full of theoretical equations explaining how these scientific phenomena operate in real life. The VFX artists created a new CGI software into which they could feed these equations and realistically depict a wormhole and a black hole.
1 Christopher Nolan and Matthew McConaughey were the opposite of what they expected from each other
When they were preparing to work together, director Christopher Nolan and his star Matthew McConaughey developed preconceived notions of each other. Nolan expected McConaughey to be chill and laidback and McConaughey expected Nolan to be a perfectionist.
However, when they got to the set, they realized that the reality was the opposite of their expectations. McConaughey was really intense about getting into the performative headspace and took his work really seriously, while Nolan was collaborative, open to suggestions from the cast and crew, and he actually liked when things went wrong, because the imperfections added to the authentic experience of the film.