'Dark Knight Rises' cast dishes on experience filming in Pittsburgh


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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- "The Dark Knight Rises" director Christopher Nolan remembers watching Gary Oldman almost wilt in an overcoat in Pittsburgh a year ago but says, "Filming in Pittsburgh was just a joy."

With Christian Bale and Mr. Oldman to his left, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman to his right and another row of cast and crew behind him, Mr. Nolan added, "I mean, it was incredibly hot, even when we were shooting winter scenes. I remember Gary wearing his overcoat and everything and pretending to be cold, but I certainly found it a little tricky and I wasn't having to wear a scarf and all that."

Nevertheless, he said, "It was fantastic to be able to shoot in that city, the people welcomed us and really let us do all kinds of incredible things there. It was a really, really good time."

Mr. Nolan, participating in a Sunday press conference at a Beverly Hills hotel, filmed in Pittsburgh for 18 days in July and August 2011, adding the city to the roster of locations in New York, Los Angeles, England, Scotland and India. The movie opens in theaters July 20.

And what about all those pictures Pittsburghers took on leisurely lunch hours through Downtown's snowy streets or during excursions to Oakland as Bane and Batman brawled?

"The world we live in now, is if you're going to do day exterior scenes in a city, then everyone's going to get cell-phone photos of it. But I think what you have to trust in is that audiences understand or fans understand that whatever they're seeing as the movie's being made is not the movie. And then they come to the film with fresh eyes -- that's certainly what we hope."

A day after leaving his hand- and footprints in wet cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, the filmmaker and others fielded questions about everything from Catwoman's spiky heels (a short-haired Anne Hathaway said "The Devil Wears Prada" was excellent training) to echoes of "A Tale of Two Cities" and what Mr. Bale thought when he first and last donned the suit.

Ms. Hathaway, whose gamine haircut is for Fantine in "Les Miserables," said when she landed the role of cat burglar Selina Kyle, the director called her into his office and referenced the actor sitting next to her this day, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

"There's going to be a lot of fighting and when we did 'Inception,' Joe got in really good shape. Joe went to the gym for months so that way, when we did his fight sequence, he did all of his own fighting. I really liked that," Mr. Nolan told her.

"I went, gotcha, I am reading between the lines here. And I just went to the gym and came out when we wrapped. It was a complete transformation, I'd never done anything like that because it wasn't just about looking a certain way. I had to learn to fight, I had to become strong enough to be able to fight for many days at a time."

Her catsuit, on display elsewhere in the hotel along with the costumes worn by Batman and Bale, is unforgiving and body-hugging, with thigh-high boots with lethal heels and elbow-length gloves.

The first time Mr. Bale tried on a Batman suit, it was at an audition, and it didn't fit very well. That's because it had belonged to actor Val Kilmer, who followed Michael Keaton into the cape and cowl in the 1990s.

"The first time that I ever put on the actual one myself, I thought, oh, Chris has to recast. The claustrophobia was just unbelievable and I stood there and I thought, I can't breathe, I can't think, this is too tight, this is squeezing my head, I'm in a panic, I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, a panic attack right this second," Mr. Bale said, reenacting the moment.

He took a deep breath and asked for 20 minutes alone. "I just stood there and I thought, I'd really like to make this movie, I'd like to be able to get through this."

He called everyone back and suggested he might be able to get through it -- and he did, for a combined total of 21 months, as costumers improved the suit just as Bruce Wayne did. Being able to rip off the cowl himself if he started to see stars cut the panic attacks.

After his final scene in "The Dark Knight Rises," he sat down and realized, "This is it, I'm never going to be taking this cowl off again. So again, I said, 'Can you please leave me alone for 20 minutes?' "

He thought about "everything we had done and with a real pride of having achieved what we had set out to ... it was a very important moment to me." He had never played a character three times in a row, and the movies changed his life and career and he wanted to savor that.

During filming, he saw reel and real collide as Occupy Wall Street took its message to the streets while "The Dark Knight Rises" dealt with similar fictional themes a few blocks away. "How did you know?" Mr. Bale asked Mr. Nolan, wagging his finger at him. "It becomes very, very topical."

The character's roots in 1939 coincide with the beginning of World War II for Britons, Mr. Bale noted. "It was an answer to the uselessness individuals felt against this humongous tragedy and what could you do -- so it was topical in its inception. ... There's been wonderful spoofs," as with TV's Adam West, but Mr. Nolan has returned the character to its roots.

The 11-member panel, with Tom Hardy absent due to other business, also weighed in on:

Ending at three: The studio might love the franchise to go on forever, but the director said, "I think they completely understood that my attraction to coming back for a third time was in finishing our story, so that we've told one big story with three major parts to it."

What's next for Mr. Nolan: "I'm going to go on holiday and just relax. I'm quite enjoying not knowing what I'm going to do next."

Good news-bad news: When Mr. Nolan called Mr. Hardy, he said, "The good news is I have a terrific part for you. The bad news is your face is going to be completely covered for the whole film so you're going to have to get across whatever it is you want to get across for this character through just your eyes and your voice.

"What Tom did, which I completely love but it takes audiences time to get used to, is there's an incredible disjunct between what he's doing with his voice and what he's doing with his eyes. His eyes have this extremely threatening stillness to them, his voice is this extremely expressive and different voice."

He had never seen anything like it, the filmmaker said of Mr. Hardy's Bane, whose animalistic mask is designed to pump pain medication into him.

Blockbuster brawling between Batman and Bane: "The final fight sequence, we started that in Pittsburgh and we finished it in New York. So it took a fair bit of time to get from one place to the other, punchin' each other all the way," joked a casually clad Mr. Bale, his hair to his collar and sporting a beard and mustache. A thousand extras invigorated the pair, he acknowledged.

Mr. Hardy, "a phenomenal actor, a formidable opponent," plays the first adversary of Batman who could probably whip his butt. "They're never just knock-down fight sequences, you learn something more about each character throughout each fight, which is the mark of a good fight," observed the actor who won an Oscar for "The Fighter."

Mr. Bale took it one day at a time. "If you look and go, oh, only 124 days left, it gets tricky to get up at 4 in the morning."

Favoring film over digital: Mr. Nolan is old-school when it comes to favoring film, especially IMAX, over digital filmmaking and 3-D.

"For me, IMAX is all about, it's the best possible quality image when you film with their cameras and you project that film in their theaters with those huge screens. ...What I love about it, as opposed to 3-D, is it creates a much larger-than-life image," suitable for these characters.

Brotherly book club: When Jonathan Nolan handed his brother and co-writer Chris a very fat early draft, he said, "You gotta think of, like, 'Tale of Two Cities,' which of course you've read."

The director mistakenly thought he had read the Charles Dickens novel so he had some homework to do. "It just felt exactly the right thing for the world we were dealing with and what Dickens does in that book in terms of having all of these different characters come together in one unified story with all of these great thematic elements and all this great emotionalism and drama. It felt like exactly the tone we were looking for."

Landing the likes of Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman: "Playing hard to get, absolutely not," Mr. Freeman said, while Mr. Caine recounted the Sunday morning visit from Mr. Nolan, script in hand.

"I thought it's going to be a lovely little thriller we're going to do." When he heard the name of the movie, Mr. Caine realized he was too old to play Batman, "I wonder who he wants me to be? I knew it wasn't Catwoman." He read the script, was stunned that there were real characters and not ciphers. "I said yes, and I've never regretted saying that for one moment."

New York as Gotham under fire: "I remember when we were shooting in New York, I thought it was indicative of how strongly people feel about these movies. In New York City, everything's amplified," said Mr. Gordon-Levitt, who plays a police officer.

"I think partially just because the character of Batman is so deeply entrenched in the American culture and also, partially, because the first two movies were just so damn good. There's a real reverence and I would say love for these movies, and when we were shooting on the streets of New York City, that was palpable."

Mr. Nolan, meanwhile, may be aiming for catharsis, but Gotham is not a real city (even if it's played by several).

Strong female roles: The luxury of doing a second sequel meant an expansion of the story. In addition to Catwoman, the movie introduces Marion Cotillard as philanthropist and possible Batman love interest Miranda Tate. "You want those characters to be real people, you want them to be people you're going to care about, people you're going to believe in," the director said.

Themes: At script stage, Mr. Nolan said he tries to avoid being drawn into specific themes or messages. "Really, these films are about entertainment, they are about story and character but what we do, is we try and be very sincere in the things that frighten us or motivate us or we're worried about."

Thus Bane, the man who wants to break Batman physically and spiritually and rewrite the rules of society or what's left of it.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at www.post-gazette.com/movies. First Published July 8, 2012 9:15 PM


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