Why Christopher Nolan was afraid you'd laugh at Inception

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Most of us don't dream about being badass action heroes. Usually it's more like showing up for high school naked, or getting chased by a giant pretzel. That wouldn't make a good movie, or at least you probably couldn't get Leonardo DiCaprio to star in it. Christopher Nolan was worried that his movie about dreams, Inception, could get silly if he went too far into the weirdness of dreams.

"One of the things tonally I talked about with Leo is never tipping over into comedy, the sort of funny version," Nolan said in a press conference on June 25 in Beverly Hills, Calif. "There are certain areas when you're talking about dreams—the analysis of dreams and how you might examine those in the film—that you do want to avoid. They would probably be either too disturbing for the sort of action film genre that we're working in, or funny."

DiCaprio plays Cobb, an expert in creating dream worlds for high-profile targets, then entering their dreams to steal secrets. He's got some of his own nightmares haunting the dreams, too. Even if Cobb knows it's a dream, he has to deal with them in that reality. So do all the other characters.

"One of the things all these guys have done in their performances is that they've created very subtle differences in the way the characters appear in the dream levels and then in reality, but they've never made it funny," Nolan said. "They've never taken it to that comedic place. Certainly I think there's probably a great comedy version of this movie somewhere, but I didn't want to make it."

So Nolan hired the right actors, but there's a little more to it than that. DiCaprio shared exactly how he made Cobb's dream states so realistic. "It was a matter of sitting down with Chris and being able to really form the backbone of a character and create a scenario where it became like a giant therapy session," DiCaprio said during the press conference. "At the end of the day, these different layers of the dream do represent a psychoanalysis, him getting deeper and closer to the truth of what he needs to understand about himself."

Maybe Nolan's being a little too modest. It's not all about the actors. Nolan created dreams that they could be awesome in. "This is Chris Nolan's dream world," DiCaprio said. "It has its own structure and its own set of rules. It was basically being able to sit down with Chris for two months every other day and talk about the structure of this dream world, and how the rules that apply in it."

Inception opens July 16.