“When you step into Chris’ world, you know you’re going to be engaged in something you’ve never done before,” “Tenet” production designer Nathan Crowley says on Variety Artisans, presented by Hamilton Watches.
Crowley, a five-time Oscar nominee, is no stranger to working with director Christopher Nolan. The two have collaborated on “The Dark Knight” trilogy, “Interstellar” and “Dunkirk.” Nolan, who is renowned for favoring practical effects over computer-generated effects, went even bigger with “Tenet.” His props included a 240-foot yacht and a real-life Boeing 747.
But, it all begins shrouded in secrecy, Crowley reveals. “We design it in Chris’ house in the garage, and before we leave that space, we would have figured out the design, the look and the places we are going. We won’t leave it until we know it.”
With “Tenet,” there were a lot of questions Crowley had that very similar to what the audience would be asking. “How does that work? What’s an algorithm? Is it a closed time loop?” Crowley says he asked to understand how the film would feel visually.
When it came to designing the action-packed, globe-trotting spy film, both he and Nolan liked to do things practically because “they’re more fun.” “We find when we shoot on a sound stage, we lose the energy, and a film like this needs a massive amount of energy,” Crowley says.
Crowley also revealed that an iconic Nolan prop from a previous film made its way back into “Tenet.” “We used those secret doors from ‘The Prestige’ magic cabinets, so you can run in and you can both come out,” he says.
Another “Tenet” sequence called for a real-life highway car chase. The action took place on the Pärnu Highway in Tallinn, Estonia, which Nolan and Crowley found by chance as they were looking for a concert hall which was used for the opera house opening scene. “Just by off-chance, Estonia was this wonderful place with gems we could use,” Crowley says.
And yes, Nolan did drive a real-life Boeing 747 into a building. “That sequence didn’t really bother me,” Crowley said about when he read the script for the first time. Nolan did not want to fake that for audiences, which resulted in Crowley building a set that would work for the thrilling chain of events.
Crowley says Nolan challenges him with every new project during their long-standing relationship. “We work well together because we push each other on design.”
This episode of Variety Artisans is presented by Hamilton Watches.