I had the privilege of attending the press junket for THE DARK KNIGHT
. While there, I saw the film and participated in “roundtables” with various members of the cast and crew. The following is the roundtable interview with Jonathan “Jonah” Nolan (screenplay) and David Goyer (story). Enjoy!
Q: Can you speak about the Batman fanboys -- who know every single detail about Batman -- and their affect when putting together the script and story.
JN: Well I think of myself -- and I’m sure that David does to -- as a “fanboy.” I feel that I am part of that nation, part of that community, so I try to think like one…a little bit. But writing a screenplay is a bit different because you are trying to tell a complete story and in the comic books they go on forever.
DG: I think we had a bit of a path on THE DARK KNIGHT whereas with BATMAN BEGINS, we were like the 6th of the 5th BATMAN and had to decide to continue the continuity or start over. I think -- mostly because of Chris [Nolan] -- but we’ve earned some goodwill from BATMAN BEGINS so I would think the fans weren’t so [leery] of this one.
Q: If you walk into a comic book store today, there are like 6, 7, 8 different “Batmans.”
DG: Well I think Jonah has talked about this before. People will say “Which comic book did you base this off of?” of “Why did you change this part of the origin?” But there is 70 years of stories where The Joker’s origin has been revised…
JN: And I think we’ve read everyone of them (laughs).
DG: Yeah, and they’ve revised the origin of Two Face. They’ve even revised Batman’s origin, you know?
JN: That’s the key thing right there that’s what gives you license to make changes because there isn’t one single version or vision of this [Batman’s] story. So that gives you lots of room. The thing is that you want to view the world [Batman’s world] through a certain lens and our lens -- Chris’ lens -- and the mandate from him that were to work under is realism. A universe which operates under the laws of physics and our heroes have to adhere to.
DG: Yeah. That’s the mandate we gave ourselves with BATMAN BEGINS and continued under it with THE DARK KNIGHT. You know, just try to make it real. It’s not really that revolutionary, but I think it has led to a couple of really good movies.
JN: It just seemed that some of the great Batman comic book stories -- the Frank Miller stories, the Alan Moore stories…
DG: And Jeph Loeb’s.
JN: Right. They just seemed to have that [the “realism” aspect - Jett] in common with our vision.
BOF: With The Joker in this film, I got the sense that there was a lot of BATMAN #1 in him, if you will, in terms of the fact that “He just is.”
JN: Absolutely. We didn't want to do the origin because I think that would make him less interesting.
BOF: I asked Chris about that earlier and he said that you pointed it out to him -- that what he and David had come up with was very similar to BATMAN #1.
JN: True (laughs). Midway through the process, I went back and looked at the first appearance of The Joker in the books. There certainly are a couple of moments in BATMAN #1 which are almost [identical to some scenes in] THE DARK KNIGHT. [It was] very gratifying to sorta reverse engineer your way back to what the starting point of the character.
BOF: But I also got a THE KILLING JOKE vibe...
DG: Oh yeah, certainly. A little bit of the dynamic between The Joker and Batman...we definitely pulled from THE KILLING JOKE. Obviously there’s some of THE LONG HALLOWEEN in there. There’s some [Frank] Miller stuff. I think in [THE DARK KNIGHT] there's less of the Denny O’Neil stuff [than what was in BATMAN BEGINS.
BOF: I felt that the KILLING JOKE stuff was very subtle [in the film] and draws off of him saying -- in the comicbook -- if he’s going to have an origin, he’d rather…
JN: …it be “multiple choice.” You got that? Alright (smiles). The idea with The Joker is if he had a back-story and if one of the stories he told you was true, somehow, it would reduce the character. It’s more frightening because, in a sense, there is no mystery there. There is no back-story. He is exactly what he presents himself to be -- which is an anarchist.
DG: Like you said, "He just is." He’s more interesting without [an orign].
(An FYI FROM JETT: The three of us actually talked in detail about this, but I left it out as I don't want to spoil anything for those who've yet to see the film.)
Q: How was the script put together?
DG: Well Chris and I spent about a month or so putting the story together. We wrote a treatment -- or whatever you want to call it -- together. Then Jonathan came in and did an amazing job [writing the screenplay].
JN: It felt like a very easy job -- one of the easiest I’ve had because these guys [Goyer and Chris Nolan - Jett] nailed it right out of the gate with this incredible story…and with BATMAN BEGINS and how the story and characters were already set up so well, it was just very easy to take that story and those characters and move forward.
Someone asks a silly question about how to avoid what Jack Nicholson and Tommy Lee Jones did with The Joker and Two Face respectively in the past.
DG: We didn’t even try. You know, before Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero played the Joker. And guess what, someone, 10 or 12 years down the line will play the Joker. We didn’t even bother. We just said, here’s BATMAN BEGINS it’s its own thing. It’s Chris’ version of the Batman world and I certainly believe that it can exist along Tim Burton’s version.
JN: Absolutely. Just like walking into a comic book store and seeing 8 different versions of Batman, it feels very natural to have the same sort of thing with the movies. It just felt very natural for us to go the direction that we wanted to go.
Q: This thing really isn’t for young kids is it. Like I’ve got a 7 year old…
JN: Uh no. They really mean it with the PG-13 this time.
DG: Look I’ve got a 10 year old and a 12 year old niece and I might bring the 12 year old…MIGHT.
Q: It feels like an R film…
DG: Look, we talked about…With BATMAN BEGINS and now this one of the things we talked about -- while we were concerned about the [Batman] fans and what they would think, we were really excited about getting people to like it who were not comic book fans. Look, my grandmother really liked BATMAN BEGINS and she’s 94. Hell, a lot of people would come up to me after BEGINS and say “I have comic book movies” or “I hate Batman movies” but I really liked the movie [BATMAN BEGINS - Jett]. Look, it is more grown up and it’s definitely not the campy 60s TV show. And that was the challenge to see if you could get people -- and Chris did a fantastic job of this -- getting regular people to see and enjoy it. It’s a very emotional film, a very moving film and it affects you on that level. And that’s hard to do when your characters are running around onscreen in crazy costumes.
JN: Yeah, to me the [Batman] comic books were always deadly serious. And I’d like to think that the intensity of the film isn’t all about explicit violence or anything like that. You know Iworked a bit on the last film as an consultant -- very briefly. And I went to see BATMAN BEGINS at the 12AM midnight sneak. That was an exciting thing to be able to watch it with an audience -- and audience that was very excited to see it and respond to all the amazing ideas that they had put into it. That was cool.
DG: Yeah, I saw BATMAN BEGINS opening night with a “real audience.” And that’s just the best. You know when people come up to you…and say that they really enjoyed the film -- that’s the dream you know. To know that something you did affected someone and gave them enjoyment.
Someone asks a question about the genesis of the storyline.
DG: Look, we were not going to tell the origin of The Joker. And frankly if we did, I think he’d be much less interesting.
JN: I agree. We’d seen Batman’s “origin” and so he’s sort of fixed in the constellation of this world a little bit more. So were able to see a little bit more into this world a little bit more through Harvey. He’s the backbone of the film…it’s his story arc and in a lot of ways, he is the protagonist.
Q: Can you talk a bit about Harvey Dent?
DG: It became apparent as we were talking fairly early on that Harvey was actually going to be the protagonist. 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 The Batman. Obviously, he changes in a tragic way and that means the movie has to be a tragedy.
JN: The arc of the film is the tragedy of Harvey Dent. In a sense, it's the origin of Two-Face -- which, I think, we’ve told as a more complete story.
Q: You did such a good job with The Joker and Two Face in this one, are there any other Batman villains you use and do as good of a job with? It’s going to be hard to top…
DG: Well we’ll see. Look, Chris is definitely a one movie at a time guy and it was 3 months after BATMAN BEGINS came out that he finally called me up and said, let’s have lunch and talk about another one. But no, there’s been no “specific” talk of doing a third one.
JN: I would even know where to begin (laughs)!
DG: There are a bunch of characters that I like. For us, it would be who could you take and depict in a realistic way and a realistic light.
JN: Yeah, this particular vision of Batman requires that and eliminates some of the choices. But…
DG: You’re not going to see Clayface in these films (laughs)!
JN: Yeah Clayface would be hard to pull off -- but there’s this rumor online [And NOT from BOF! In fact, I’ve never heard that one. - Jett] that says that something in TDK provides a set up for Clayface. But uh, the thing David was saying earlier about Batman’s rogues gallery…
DG: It’s BIG!
JN: …Batman’s rogues gallery -- most of them are very realistic. It’s BIG and it’s DEEP -- that bench has a lot of depth. And uh, a lot of those characters feel as if they could fit into our “realistic” world.
DG: You know the thing is with the first one, people would say “Who are you going to use? The Penguin, The Joker, The Riddler, etc.” These are the well known characters -- known principally from the TV show -- and guess what, we used Ra’s Al Ghul and The Scarecrow. Now they weren’t characters from the other films or the TV show but these were big characters from the comics. And there are a lot f big characters in the comics that haven’t been used -- comic book readers know who they are though.
Q: Still, any ideas been kicked around yet “unofficially?”
DG: (Smiles) Look, maybe. But we’re certainly not going to tell you (laughs)!
When the roundtable was over, I got up to retrieve my voice recorder and there stands Jonah Nolan. So he says, “Hey man, are you ‘Jett?’” And I’m like “Yeah....” He sticks out his hand and says, “Love the site -- wanted you to know that.” We shake hands and I’m like, “Wow! Very cool!”
So if you are reading Jonah, there something that I should have said but didn't: "THANKS for TDK!"