Christopher Nolan‘s career rebounded quite nicely after his planned Howard Hughes biopic was scrapped to make way for “The Aviator.” But that doesn’t mean he’s seen Martin Scorsese‘s film about the famously eccentric businessman and pilot.
Nolan told Variety that he admitted to “The Aviator” actor Leonardo DiCaprio while collaborating with the Oscar winner on “Inception” that he had never watched Scorsese’s 2004 period piece. “The Aviator” was released by Warner Bros., the studio which Nolan partnered with for close to 20 years.
Nolan’s take on Howard Hughes was expected to cast Jim Carrey, but Nolan had to walk away from the script after Scorsese’s film went into production.
“It was very emotional to not get to make something I’d poured all that into,” Nolan said of the project.
Now, even with Scorsese crediting Nolan among the few filmmakers still preserving the merits of cinema today, Nolan told Variety that he has yet to watch “The Aviator” in the two decades since its release.
Nolan told The New York Times in July 2023 that his Howard Hughes film “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.”
The “Oppenheimer” director further addressed his disdain for traditionally crafted biopics as a whole. While “Oppenheimer” tells the true story of J. Robert Oppenheimer who led the invention of the atomic bomb, voiced his disdain for the “biopic” genre label during a panel discussion at City University of New York.
“Biopic is something that applies to a film that is not quite registering in a dramatic fashion,” Nolan said. “You don’t talk about ‘Laurence of Arabia’ as a biopic. You don’t talk about ‘Citizen Kane’ as a biopic. It’s an adventure film. It’s a film about somebody’s life. It’s not a useful genre the same way drama is not a useful genre. It doesn’t give you anything to hold onto.”
He added, “This is where the concept of a biopic fails you completely as a genre. It’s not a useful genre. I love working in useful genres…There is a tendency in biography post-Freud to attribute characteristics of the person you’re dealing with to their genetics from their parents. It’s a very reductive view of a human being,” Nolan said. “If you’re writing a book that’s 500 pages or 1,000 pages, there’s a way to balance that with their individuality and experiences. When you compress and strip down to the necessary simplicity of a screenplay, it’s incredibly reductive.”
While Nolan’s take on Howard Hughes wouldn’t be a “biopic” by his definition, Scorsese recalled how the Warner Bros. and Miramax-funded “Aviator” almost led him to quit Hollywood all together.
“The last two weeks of editing and mixing ‘The Aviator,’ I said if this is the way you have to make films then I’m not going to do it anymore,” Scorsese said in 2020. “It’s like being in a bunker and you’re firing out in all directions. You begin to realize you’re not speaking the same language anymore, so you can’t make pictures anymore.”