Nolan’s Hughes biopic: I say go meta

Posted by · 3:55 pm · February 11th, 2011

When I spoke to Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas earlier this month at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the discussion of scaling things back with their next film came up.  After all, when it hits theaters next summer, “The Dark Knight Rises” will mark the third blockbuster in a row for Hollywood’s wunderkind.

You can stretch it back to “Batman Begins” if you want, seeing as “The Prestige” was hardly a modest independent, given the period trappings.  So call it five in a row.

Back when Leonardo DiCaprio was developing his Howard Hughes biopic, “The Aviator,” with director Michael Mann, Nolan had his own project in development.  Mann opted out of tackling another biopic after “The Insider” and “Ali” and DiCaprio asked his then recent professional acquaintance, Martin Scorsese, to take over the project.

Once “The Aviator” was on track, Nolan abandoned his own take on the famed, troubled industrialist.  At the time he called it one of the best things he’d ever written.  Interesting to note that DiCaprio told me last year of John Logan’s script for his own project that it was the best script he’d ever had in his hand.

Jump ahead seven years and DiCaprio’s working relationship with Scorsese has developed under two more films.  He’s also collaborated with Nolan, on 2010’s “Inception,” the same year he explored (admittedly darker) psychosis on yet another film, Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.”

And Nolan is thinking about scaling it back a bit.

Based on Michael Drosnin’s book “Citizen Hughes: The Power, the Money and the Madness,” Nolan’s script focuses on “the freakier decades of Hughes’s remarkably secretive and OCD-addled life,” according to this Vulture scoop.

If I were to guess, DiCaprio’s interest in portraying those darker chapters of Hughes’s life is probably what drew him to the material in the first place.  He has a professed affinity for unreliable protagonists, probably because it allows him to stretch to the fullest in a performance (I’m speculating).  “There’s nothing obvious,” he told me. “It forces you to sit with the other characters and be deceitful to yourself and to the people around you. No line is taken for what it is.”

I’m catching a whiff of that on Nolan’s project, and I’m quite honest when I say, why not cast DiCaprio?  A working relationship has been developed.  A shared interest in the subject will surely be an asset.  And frankly, going meta here wouldn’t be a bad idea.  It might be quite fascinating.

I thought “The Aviator” was easily one of the best films of 2004.  And DiCaprio’s performance therein is, without question, one of his best.  He’s maintained a certain look over the years that has him on a sliding scale of believable age depiction, so I think he could sink back into that look and mode eight years removed (as I imagine it’ll be mid-2012 before this project even gets off the ground, if it does).

It’s probably not on the table as Nolan doesn’t strike me as the sort to want that kind of perceived baggage on a film, but I think it could be quite special.  I hope it’s at least considered.

[Photo: Miramax Films]

→ 36 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

36 responses so far

  • 1 2-11-2011 at 4:05 pm

    Josh said...

    Whether or not Nolan casts DiCaprio–a fine idea, I’d say, even if it ends up being unlikely–I agree about The Aviator. That was the first film where I saw DiCaprio as an adult, not a kid trying to do so (As an example, I love him in Catch Me If You Can…because that’s the character he’s playing).

    And, hey, a new Christopher Nolan project after Batman is worth getting excited.

  • 2 2-11-2011 at 4:16 pm

    YJC said...

    This movie sounds amazing and I really hope it gets made, but I think it would be muuch more fascinating if Jim Carrey was cast as was originally planned

  • 3 2-11-2011 at 4:17 pm

    carrie said...

    if it’s true, Nolan might recast Dicaprio,Michael Caine&Cillian Murphy and it’ll be out in USA in July 11th or 18th,2014

  • 4 2-11-2011 at 4:22 pm

    geha714 said...

    Great idea about DiCaprio. Nolan’s film should start where The Aviator ended. I’m sold.

  • 5 2-11-2011 at 4:29 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “I think it would be muuch more fascinating if Jim Carrey was cast as was originally planned”

    I’d certainly take it.

  • 6 2-11-2011 at 4:36 pm

    Jake said...

    this would be the type of film where he’d finally get some serious oscar consideration that he has so deserved.

  • 7 2-11-2011 at 4:40 pm

    Chris138 said...

    I hope this is indeed what Nolan is planning in his post-Batman career. It sounds very, very interesting and I’d be thrilled to see the final product.

  • 8 2-11-2011 at 4:54 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Firstly, Kris, so glad that you appreciate ‘The Aviator’. I feel like it’s a love or hate type of film (in the internet world), and I’m always happy to see people who are pro-Aviator.

    Secondly, I think Nolan/Howard Hughes/DiCaprio or Carrey is just one big potential of awesomeness.

  • 9 2-11-2011 at 5:10 pm

    ann said...

    i’m not sure if i like this, it would be interesting but i was not a fan of the aviator. Since it’s Nolan, i’ll trust him, before i’ll dismiss this.

  • 10 2-11-2011 at 5:11 pm

    Carson Dyle said...

    It worked for Peter O’Toole in Becket and The Lion in Winter….

    Maybe not Oscar-wise, though.

    I doubt that this is actually happening, since Nolan is well-known for doing one thing at a time, but if it does happen, it looks like that Academy snub really *did* sting…

  • 11 2-11-2011 at 5:41 pm

    americanrequeim said...

    THIS WOULD BE EPIC. I would love it, and it would work seeing as its later in hughes life. well see, im curious what nolan is up to after batman

  • 12 2-11-2011 at 5:43 pm

    Bia said...

    I liked The Aviator as well, although I would’ve cast Ashley Judd as Ava Gardner…I mean the resemble is crazy, right? Anyway TA seems to have been forgotten, I saw the DVD selling for $2.99 at FYE.

  • 13 2-11-2011 at 6:14 pm

    AJ said...

    No no no anyone but Leo. I can’t stand his “acting”. Nolan can reuse Christian Bale. Or maybe Guy Pearce.

  • 14 2-11-2011 at 6:24 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Bale would be intriguing.

  • 15 2-11-2011 at 7:50 pm

    Mike_M said...

    interesting project… would def be on my list. I really wasnt a fan of The Aviator though, I am willing to give it a 2nd look though.

  • 16 2-11-2011 at 8:41 pm

    sam said...

    it annoys me to this day that dicaprio did not win the oscar that year and hasn’t gotten an oscar yet.

  • 17 2-11-2011 at 8:55 pm

    Maxim said...

    Well, that’s one way to get a Directing nod.

  • 18 2-11-2011 at 9:37 pm

    Ky said...

    lmao @ Carrie

  • 19 2-11-2011 at 9:49 pm

    DRM said...


    I think the “sting” is the fact that Nolan felt this was his best script ever back in the early 2000’s and he never got a chance to film it because the Scorsese movie was greenlit right at the same time Nolan finished writing his own script. I don’t think it’s an Oscar-bait move on his part, but rather a dream project that he wants to see finished.

    As far as casting goes, I hope Nolan goes with Carrey on it. DiCaprio was great as a younger Hughes, but apparently Nolan’s story focuses on the later years of Hughes’ life. At one point Nolan said Carrey was perfect for the role. The two of them had various meetings to talk about the script and character. I tend to trust Nolan’s instincts on casting male lead actors. The Carrey casting feels somewhat similar to Ledger as the Joker. I wouldn’t say it’s completely out of left field like Ledger was, but it’s certainly not the obvious choice.

  • 20 2-11-2011 at 10:28 pm

    Jesse Crall said...

    I’d love to see it, although it means that Warren Beatty’s long-gestating Hughes biopic will be preempted again. And I had such high hopes!

    Anyway, there could be a Vegas subplot, with the transition from mob to business as well as Hughes’ own personal failings. Could be an amazing vision and Nolan certainly has the ambition to realize it. Plus, I’d love to see him take on a more personal project again after the strong but certainly visual effects driven projects of recent years.

  • 21 2-12-2011 at 12:32 am

    Tye-Grr said...

    This sounds very intriguing, and I sincerely hope they get Carrey on it.

  • 22 2-12-2011 at 5:11 am

    lily said...

    How about Cillian Murphy? Though Jim Carrey is a fine idea as well.

  • 23 2-12-2011 at 7:04 am

    Keil Shults said...

    I say cast Cate Blanchett as Howard Hughes.

    And Kate Winslet as a love interest.

  • 24 2-12-2011 at 7:22 am

    drbenway said...

    Just looking at photographs of latter-day Hughes… How is Colin Firth’s American accent?

  • 25 2-12-2011 at 7:28 am

    Keil Shults said...

    Hughes didn’t stutter, you fool.

  • 26 2-12-2011 at 8:50 am

    Loyal said...

    When I first heard the news, my initial reaction was “he has to get DiCaprio .” Or at the very least, the idea should be entertained.

    Nolan is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. By casting DiCaprio, he will be able to take the reins on the inevitable comparisons to The Aviator and DiCaprio’s Oscar nominated performance. And it’ll also make the project far more interesting than just “another take on crazy Hughes.”

    The bigger question is whether or not Leo wants to even do another biopic so soon after Eastwood’s Hoover.

  • 27 2-12-2011 at 9:03 am

    Afrika said...

    Keil Shults
    Now that is a cast. I’m still miffed Blanchett did not win an Oscar for her gender-bending performance in I’m not there. She should audition for more “man” roles and flip the industry upside down. She’s capable of such a feat and will surely, definitely go down in history as one of the most incomparable actresses.

  • 28 2-12-2011 at 11:10 am

    James C said...

    Dicaprio would be interesting especially for him at least. He could give two different perhaps slightly similiar takes on the character. They don’t even necessarily have to fit the same continuity, though they could. Scorsese certainly showed Hughes’ OCD, but for a filmmaker who has been known to create films about obsessives(Batman flicks, Memento, The Prestige), Hughes would be a good pairing for Nolan so I’m interested to see him return to that idea. Of course this could still be a large studio film like The Aviator was or not. Perhaps it doesn’t need all the glitz and glamour. Oh and Carrey would be a superb pick. That take I’n very interested in.

  • 29 2-12-2011 at 11:33 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “The bigger question is whether or not Leo wants to even do another biopic so soon after Eastwood’s Hoover.”

    He’s a huge fan of history so I doubt he’ll ever get fatigued on playing real-life personas. He still wants to do Roosevelt, etc.

  • 30 2-12-2011 at 12:10 pm

    john t. said...

    I would love to see my favorite actor, Robert Downey Jr tackle Howard Hughes. He has the gravitas , charisma, intelligence, and wonderful mimicry skills to pull off a brilliant performance.

    I miss the Downey Jr. that mainly pursued quality projects, now he has embarrassingly become a cash cow.

  • 31 2-12-2011 at 12:33 pm

    Jane said...

    @ AJ

    Obviously you don’t know what “acting” is.

  • 32 2-12-2011 at 2:13 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    they should make a Growing Pains movie where the grown-up Leo tracks down the Seaver family, holds them hostage, and forces them to watch Scorsese movies all weekend

  • 33 2-12-2011 at 7:20 pm

    Pete said...

    Jim Carrey all the way!

  • 34 2-13-2011 at 7:43 am

    Bill Melidoneas said...

    @Kris, first let me state that The Aviator is one of my favorite films of the decade, Di Caprio’s performance is probably one of the best Oscar losers of the last 10-15 years, and I’m a huge Nolan fan. That aside I think it would be a horrible idea to A) make another Hughes bio-pic (i know it’s 8 years later but that was a great film and it’s still in the mind of the general public over 21 yrs old) and B) If it does happen because Nolan surely can get any movie he wants made after The Dark Knight, Inception, and the expected mammoth Box Office of The Dark Knight Rises casting Di Caprio would be an even bigger mistake. It’s like a bad in-joke. If it goes through it needs to obviously be fresh and far removed from the Scorsese Best Picture nominee. By just focusing on his later life you get to least just cast an actor in 40’s and no worries about aging him decades through the film.

  • 35 2-14-2011 at 6:29 am

    Maxim said...

    AJ, makes one good point though. Why *hasn’t* Nolan re-used Guy Pearce yet? I’d love to see him in a different Nolan production again.