While “Oppenheimer” has been touted as Christopher Nolan’s first biopic, that’s not necessarily true. It’s only the director’s first biopic to hit the big screen. Decades ago, Nolan wrote the screenplay for a biopic about aviator and business tycoon Howard Hughes, but the project never took flight because Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, beat him to it. Nolan told The Daily Beast in 2007 that his Hughes biopic was the best script he’d written, and he even lined up Jim Carrey to star as Hughes. Nolan said Hughes was the role that Carrey was “born to play.”
Nolan’s Howard Hughes movie never materialized, but learning how to distill the life of an iconic American figure into a movie script would pay off years later when it came time to penning “Oppenheimer.”
“I wrote the [‘Oppenheimer] script relatively quickly once I started writing, but I had a lot worked out beforehand,” Nolan recently told The New York Times. “Many years ago, I had written a script about the life of Howard Hughes that never got made because I wrote it right as Scorsese was making his own film. But I cracked the script to my satisfaction, and that gave me a lot of insight on how to distill a person’s life and how to view a person’s life in a thematic way, so that the film is more than the sum of its parts. So in some ways, the script, yes, it took me a few months, but it was really a culmination of 20 years of thinking.”
Might Nolan ever try to dust off the Howard Hughes script from his shelf? It doesn’t seem likely, although he’s not one to discuss future works.
“As I do interviews and the film’s coming out, I’m always asked, do you know what you’re doing next?” Nolan told The Times. “And the answer is always the same. For me, I do one thing at a time and I put everything into it obsessively, and the film is not finished. Well, the way I like to put it is, the audience finishes the film.”
One topic that always seems to orbit around Nolan whenever he gets ready to release a new work is James Bond. Nolan has long expressed interest in directing a James Bond movie, so naturally that question is now coming up during his “Oppenheimer” press tour.
“The influence of those movies in my filmography is embarrassingly apparent. It would be an amazing privilege to do one,” Nolan said on “Happy Sad Confused” podcast when asked about directing a Bond movie next. “At the same time, when you take on a character like that you’re working with a particular set of constraints.”
“It has to be the right moment in your creative life where you can express what you want to express and really burrow into something within the appropriate constraints because you would never want to take on something like that and do it wrong,” Nolan continued. “You wouldn’t want to take on a film without being fully committed to what you bring to the table creatively. So as a writer, casting, everything — it’s a full package. You’d have to be really needed and wanted in terms of bringing the totality of what you bring to a character. Otherwise, I’m very happy to be first in line to see whatever they do.”
Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” opens in theaters July 21 from Universal Pictures.