Christopher Nolan Details How He Shot Matthew McConaughey’s Most Gutwrenching Scene from Interstellar

Christopher Nolan talked about filming Matthew McConaughey’s emotional scene in Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan has continued to gain major acclaim for his work in the filmmaking world. From Memento to Oppenheimer, his unique way of blending his complex storytelling with marvelous cinematic techniques has captivated audiences worldwide. While each of his projects showcases a unique aesthetic, his work on Interstellar continues to be one of his most ambitious projects to date.

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar

Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar

Released in 2014, the sci-fi movie stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a NASA pilot turned farmer who embarks on a space mission to find a new habitable planet for humanity. While almost every sequence was filmed meticulously, Nolan revealed how he shot one of the movie’s gut-wrenching scenes where McConaughey was sobbing his heart out upon watching video messages of his children.

Christopher Nolan Caught Matthew McConaughey’s Genuine Reaction in Interstellar’s Emotional Scene

Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014)
Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in Interstellar (2014)

In an interview with The Atlantic, Nolan delved into filming a particular emotional scene in Interstellar where Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper watches video messages of his loved ones who have aged significantly in his absence.

As Cooper along with a team of scientists travels through a wormhole in search of a habitable planet, they encounter several challenges including a massive time difference between outer space and Earth. Since every hour spent on a planet equals years passing on Earth, the time gap took a major toll on the characters.

To keep the emotions intact, Christopher Nolan decided to film the actor’s close-up reactions first. Given that McConaughey saw the video messages for the first time, he had no time to prepare himself for the scene, which ensured that his reaction was genuine.

“It was always the north star of the film, this beautiful sequence—and some of the actual words in the script, the specifics of what was said in the messages, never changed. We filmed McConaughey’s reaction first, in close-up.”

Christopher Nolan - The Late Show
Christopher Nolan on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Nolan continued, “You never do that in a scene. You start with a wide shot and then warm up. But he hadn’t seen the video messages—we’d filmed them all in advance so that everything would be there in the moment—and he wanted to give us his first reaction.”

He revealed that a second close-up shot was used, considering that the first take was “too raw.”

“We shot it twice close-up, and I think I used the second one because the first one was too raw. Then we shot the monitors, and the wider shots, and put it together.

After completing his first-hand approach of filming the actor’s genuine reaction, he further revealed choosing a different approach when it came to the sequence’s musical score.

Christopher Nolan Commented on The Emotional Scene’s Musical Score!

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014).
Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in Interstellar (2014).

He also commented on Hans Zimmer’s musical score, stating how it broke the pattern of his usual filmmaking style, elevating the scene’s overall appeal. He shared how the scene’s “last piece of the puzzle was a beautiful piece of music by Hans Zimmer that hadn’t really found a place in the film.”

He continued,

“I think he literally referred to it as ‘organ doodle.’ My editor, Lee Smith, and I tried playing it just while we were in the room playing a cut, and we both felt that it was devastating.”

By halting the music when the video messages ended, it completed the sequence on its own.

“The other thing we did, which I don’t think I’ve done in any of my other films, is to treat the music as a diegetic sound: When the messages stop, the music stops. It almost breaks the fourth wall, and it’s not the sort of thing that I like to do, but it felt perfect and apt for that moment.”

Interstellar is surely one of Nolan’s best directorial pieces, which blended the sci-fi genre with love, sacrifice, and human resilience to survival. The movie also stars Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, and Matt Damon.

The sci-fi movie is available to stream on the Prime Video platform.


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