Interview: The Cast of Inception on The Buzziest Movie of the Summer

In the third and final installment of my interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind Inception, I sat down with Leonard DiCaprio's co-stars -- Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Marion Cottilard. In the movie, DiCaprio leads a team of, let's call them, "dream-raiders" who navigate the dreaming world for profit. Gordon-Levitt, Page, and Hardy serve as members of this team, while Murphy -- who previously worked with writer-director Christopher Nolan on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight -- plays their ... what would you call him? Mark is probably the term most often used in heist movies, which, at its heart, Inception turns out to be.

Cole Haddon: What was the collaborative process like once you guys came aboard? It's such a detailed, rule-driven movie that it doesn't seem like there was a lot of room for fun on set.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: One thing I'll say is that one of my favorite parts of working for Chris [Nolan] is that, as well thought out as everything was, he leaves room for spontaneity in the day, both from the side of the camera, that he and [cinematographer[ Wally [Pfister] work together in this very kind of organic way, and as well as from the actors. It's nice to not feel like you're just re-enacting a preconceived moment, but there's room for an organic feeling to develop while the camera is rolling. Even amidst these enormous technical productions, Chris always prioritized making sure that sort of spontaneous and organic feeling could happen at the moment.

CH: There's a moment where Ellen's character expresses confusion about where they are and whose dream they're in -- since all your characters eventually begin moving through layers upon layers of dreams. Dreams within dreams, so to say. In terms of shooting this film, were there ever any moments where it was so complex and involved that it became confusing to you, too?

Tom Hardy: For me, personally, it was easy to orientate which dream sequence I was in because of my costume. If in doubt, I could just look at my shoes and say, "Oh, I know which dream I'm in!"

JGL: And also, if you're doing it right, you spend a lot of time thinking about every scene in every movie you do. I enjoy putting some thought into it before we roll camera. But you mean in the order it was shot? Well, no, movie logistics never really allow you to do anything but shoot the way the budget dictates.

CH: Ellen, Marion, how have you described this movie to your friends? It's such a trip, I imagine it's not easy.

Ellen Page: I say that actually I just want them to forget, just please, don't ask questions and don't look at anything and just please go see it. I'm the last person to tell my friends to go see something I'm in. I could care less if friends of mine never saw anything I'm in. But this is definitely a film that I'm just so thrilled about, and I'm more thrilled about the fact that everybody seems so excited and I just feel so grateful to be in a Christopher Nolan film, let alone this film. So typically, yes, I'm of the mind that I love how Chris does the quote-unquote secrecy, but I wish -- I'm so young that I've been in a time when everything is on the Internet. Sometimes I see a trailer and I'm thrilled to say that I've just seen the whole movie without paying for it [laughs]. So I actually go the route of just don't ask -- and don't sniff around. Just have an absolute blast and an exciting, cerebral time when you see it.

Marion Cotillard: It's almost the same [for me]. I love to go and see movies where you don't know anything about it, so I didn't say anything [to my friends]. I still don't, and yeah, you can feel that people are excited about this movie, and it's a good thing, and I mean, I saw it and I love it, and I'm pretty confident that you don't have to say much to enjoy it.

CH: Cillian, this is your third movie with Chris. Has he changed much as a director now that he's one of the biggest filmmakers in the world?

Cillian Murphy: There's no inside scoop really. I've been very lucky to work with Chris three times now, briefly on The Dark Knight. It's always a real privilege and a real pleasure. This [time around] was particularly exciting [because I got] to work with this great bunch of actors, and the character was sort of something new for me. It was really interesting to explore [him] because I guess in terms of the film, of the structure of the film, he's like the mark -- but he's got a lot more layers to him. He's a lot more complex than what you'd see in a traditional heist film. So it's great to talk to Chris, and to explore what we can bring from that character, because he does sort of by accident get to work stuff out, the relationship with his father and things. That was great and it was a brilliant experience. The atmosphere and the environment that you get on a Chris Nolan film ... is one where you feel very safe and very confident and able to experiment with characters. It's a great place to be as an actor.

CH: Now, Ellen, your character Ariadne has a great intellectual curiosity that gets her involved in some pretty heavy stuff. What subject matter turns you on, and might make you risk your life because you're so interested in it?

EP: I guess, probably, the environmental movement, and the sustainability of our planet -- which freaks me out. Definitely scares me, but I try not to be scared and just present. But that would probably be it.

CH: Tom, how did you enjoy your action scenes? You get to play a kind of dream James Bond, I'd say.

TH: The pleasure was that there wasn't actually that much, to be honest, with me. So I felt I'd just come off a cage fighting film, and I'd been pretty badly beaten up. I was a bit broken. I had broken toes and ribs and wrist. It was nice to wear nice suits, and have a tan, and sort of slippers and cardigans. It wasn't until the end of the shoot when we went to Calgary that they wrote in a couple of extra Ski-doo scenes and introduced me to a pair of skis for the first time in my life, and then tied me to the back of the Ski-doo in desperation to get the shot as quickly as possible, and expediently sent me up to the top of the mountain and then down it several times, giving me claymores and hand grenades and a rifle and I went back to business -- which I enjoyed thoroughly.

CH: And, Joseph, you're the star of what's probably the movie's most spectacular action sequence -- a zero-g fight that seems as inspired by Fred Astaire as The Matrix. How did you prepare for it?

JGL: It was just about the most fun I've ever had on a movie set. It was also, probably, the most pain I've ever been in on a movie set, physically, but you know, pain in a good way, like in the way I guess athletes must get when they have to put on their pads, and they tape up their ankles, and they get a little beat up throughout the day. But that's just part of slamming yourself into walls and jumping around all day. I was really grateful to the whole stunt team. Tom Struthers, who Chris has worked with before, he and his guys really took me in and taught me a lot and let me do it, because I've had the opposite experience, where stunt teams can be a little demeaning -- not demeaning, but, exclusionary towards actors. To speak to your Fred Astaire comparison, I get a kick out of that, 'cause [you're] talking about ... this dance sequence in a Fred Astaire movie from 50 years ago? OK, longer ago than that where it's a similar effect, and I was thinking about it, and I came up with an analogy. Because Inception does contain a similar technique, and it's sort of how Sesame Street and Star Wars both use Jim Henson puppetry? [Laughs]. It's similar technique, but to very different effect.

Want more about Inception? Haven't delved deep enough into the dreaming subconscious yet? Well, check out what Christopher Nolan and Leonardo DiCaprio had to say about making the movie.