How to Audition for a Christopher Nolan Production

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Photo Source: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures

Boasting a worldwide gross of over $5.5 billion (and counting), Christopher Nolan is one of the industry’s most critically acclaimed filmmakers. The five-time Oscar nominee’s megahits include the likes of “The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” “Dunkirk,” and the current blockbuster biopic “Oppenheimer.” So it’s no surprise that A-listers ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to Christian Bale to Emily Blunt jumped at the chance to work with him.

If you want to become part of a Nolan production yourself, this guide includes audition advice from the man himself and an inside look at his casting process.

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What are Christopher Nolan’s most famous films?

Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy in “Oppenheimer” Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon 

  • “Memento” (2000)
  • “Batman Begins” (2005)
  • “The Prestige” (2006)
  • “The Dark Knight” (2008)
  • “Inception” (2010)
  • “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
  • “Interstellar” (2014)
  • “Dunkirk” (2017)
  • “Tenet” (2020)
  • “Oppenheimer” (2023)

Who’s the primary casting director behind Christopher Nolan’s films?

Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”

Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The British-American filmmaker has worked almost exclusively with Emmy-winning CD John Papsidera (“Yellowstone,” “Westworld,” “The Flight Attendant”).

As someone who casts for both cinema and television, Papsidera is an industry veteran with decades of experience. He told us that, in the room, he strives to give actors “a space and a moment to share a bit of their soul” and “the freedom to do the best work they can.”  

He also explained that he’s “not one for a lot of rules” when it comes to auditioning. “It’s more about being present, making smart choices, and being prepared. Those are things that impress me and that make a difference and separate actors from one another. If an actor makes a smart choice or an unpredictable choice in some way, the person who really thinks about the material and tries to come at it creatively rather than just saying lines is nine times out of 10 the person that you’re going to think made a great choice. [They’re] going to stick out from the rest of the crowd.

“It seems simplistic and rudimentary, but it would shock you how many people don’t think it through,” he continued. “It doesn’t mean a random choice, and it doesn’t mean being outrageous. It’s about smart choices. It’s about interpreting the material and character in a certain way that nobody else thought of. Fear gets in the way of making smart choices, being present, and allowing the camera and the process to happen. It’s less about doing…and more about being.”

Ultimately, confidence is what Papsidera is looking for, as it’s “attractive to other people…. Knowing oneself is really what cameras, film, and TV pick up on,” he said. “I believe something magical happens between a camera and a performer in that exchange; and that is what people want to watch.”

 

How does the casting process work for a Christopher Nolan movie?

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in “Tenet”

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in “Tenet” Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon 

For Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who played Ives in “Tenet,” the audition process was long and arduous. “John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, and Elizabeth Debicki were already on board, [and ‘Tenet’ was] weeks away from shooting,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “And I was just waiting in the wings and putting my hand up, going, ‘I would really love to get in a room with Chris Nolan.’

“And it was quite a process, if I’m being honest. I went through a couple of different castings before I could even get in the room to do another audition for him. So it wasn’t a done deal; but the best things are worth fighting for and putting yourself out on a limb [for]. So it didn’t come about that easily; but luckily, he gave me the part. And it didn’t matter to me how big or small the role was. I just wanted to be in his presence on his next movie.”

Cillian Murphy has now appeared in six Nolan films, including leading “Oppenheimer.” But he initially tried—and failed—to play the Dark Knight. While working on “Batman Begins,” Nolan sought out the actor after seeing his turn in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (2002). 

“I remember I was up in San Francisco writing ‘Batman Begins,’ and there was something in the San Francisco Chronicle about ‘28 Days Later,’ ” Nolan told Murphy in a conversation for Entertainment Weekly. “I saw a picture of you with your shaved head and your crazy eyes—no offense—[and] I remember being struck by your presence, literally from that one photograph. And then [I] started to look into who you were and what you’d done and got very excited about the idea of meeting you and having you screen test for Batman.

“When we had our first conversation, I think both of us knew that you weren't going to wind up playing Batman,” the director continued. “But I really wanted to get on set with you; I wanted to get you on film. We did those screen tests very elaborately, on 35mm, with a little set. There was just an electric atmosphere in the crew when you started to perform. 

“We did two scenes—there was a Bruce Wayne scene and a Batman scene—and I made sure that executives came down and watched what you were doing on set. Everybody was so excited by watching you perform that when I then said to them, ‘OK, Christian Bale is Batman, but what about Cillian to play Scarecrow?’ there was no dissent.”

Where can you find casting calls and auditions for Christopher Nolan projects?

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in “Interstellar”

Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey in “Interstellar” Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon 

There are currently no casting calls for Nolan films. In an interview with BBC News, the writer-director revealed that he wouldn’t be working on any new projects during the strike. “It’s very important that everybody understands it is a very key moment in the relationship between working people and Hollywood,” he said. 

However, now that the strike has ended it's likely we will hear about new Nolan project soon. For those looking to find their next gig, check out this roundup of indie films casting now. Also, keep an eye on our main casting page for the latest opportunities.  

Having representation remains the best way to secure an audition for an in-demand project. If you haven’t signed with an agent yet, here’s how to find one.

What are the best audition tips for landing a role in a Christopher Nolan production?

Christopher Nolan on set of “Oppenheimer”

Christopher Nolan on set of “Oppenheimer” Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

Nolan told us that he “ought to publish a rule book” on what actors should know before coming into his casting room. Here are his three main guidelines:

  • “Do not bring props.”
  • “Don’t ask to stand; just sit down and do it.”
  • “Don’t ask to do it again when you’ve finished. Just do it once, and have confidence with it.”

Academy Award winner Matt Damon, who costars in “Oppenheimer,” says that you should never let someone else’s assessment of your talent discourage you. 

“When I was younger, everybody told me not to be an actor,” he recalled on an episode of “Off Camera With Sam Jones.” “And to this day, I say that to people who come up to me and say, ‘I’m thinking about going into acting. What do you think?’ I say, ‘Absolutely not. It’s a terrible idea; don’t do it,’ because that’s what everyone said to me. And I think if you’re going to make it in this business that is full of rejection and hardship, you need to believe in yourself despite what everybody you love and trust tells you.” 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who worked with Nolan on “Inception” and “The Dark Knight Rises,”  encourages actors to work on their craft no matter their circumstances. “I don’t think you’re going to learn almost anything about acting unless you just do it…. And you don’t have to do it in Hollywood,” he told us. “Show business does not have a monopoly on creativity. Acting is something you can do right now, by yourself. Pick up any book and just start reading it out loud.”

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