Home Film Inception – How Leonardo DiCaprio dealt with the ambitious story structure

Inception – How Leonardo DiCaprio dealt with the ambitious story structure

Inception - Leonardo DiCaprio © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

In his new Science Fiction thriller, directed by Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Dom Cobb, a skilled thief who can steal valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state. His line of work has made him an international fugitive, but he is offered one last job to give him back his life, and allow him to return to his children in the States. However, he must accomplish the impossible– inception – to plant an idea into someone’s mind.

DiCaprio spoke about the movie’s unique concept and working with Christopher Nolan at the film’s press conference.

Have you been fascinated by dreams during your life?

Inception - Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

It was interesting being part of this film because I’m not a big dreamer; never have been. I remember fragments of my dreams. I tried to take a traditional approach to researching this project and doing preparation for it; read books on dream analysis, Freud’s book on the analysis of dreams and tried to research it in that sort of form.

But I realized that this is Chris Nolan’s dream world; it has its own structure and its own set of rules. And doing that, 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 apply in it.

The only thing I’ve extracted from the research of dreams is that I don’t think there’s a specific science you can put on dream psychology. Obviously we suppress things, emotions, during the day, thoughts that we obviously haven’t thought through enough, and in that state of sleep, when our subconscious mind just randomly fires off different surreal story structures, when we wake up we should pay attention to those things.

In terms of shooting this film, were there ever any moments where you were thinking ‘Okay, can we recap where we are and what’s going on here?’ Were there any moments where it was so complex and involved that it was confusing at all to you?

Inception -  Ken Watanabe, Leonardo DiCaprio © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Saito (Ken Watanabe) and Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

What was very interesting for me was reading the original screenplay, and obviously this story structure was extremely ambitious in the fact that it was simultaneously four different states of the human subconscious that represented different dream-states, and each one affected the other.

[What] was startling to me in how complicated the screenplay was, was seeing it in a visual format; that’s the magic of moviemaking. You clearly identify one scenario with the other, and it’s a completely different experience. (Whether) you’re on the snow-capped mountains of Canada, or whether you’re in a van or a LA elevator shaft, you experience it and you have a visual reference. And it was a lot easier to understand than I ever thought it would be. And that’s a testament to how engaging movies are, and the visual medium is.

[Chris said] no matter how surreal the dream state, everything needed to be grounded in our connection with the character; everything had to be emotionally charged. From Cobb’s standpoint there is something very real at state, so all of his choices, his reactions, and how he deals with the people he’s working with is a means to one end; getting his life back.

What do you admire about Chris Nolan?

This was an extremely ambitious concept that Chris was trying to pull off here. He accomplished it in flying colors. There are very few directors I think in this industry that would pitch to a studio that they wanted to do a multi-layered, almost at times existential, high action, high drama surreal film that’s sort of locked in his mind. And then have an opportunity to do that, and that’s a testament to the work he’s done in the past. Watching his work, and certainly in Memento and Insomnia, he’s able to portray these highly condensed, highly complicated plot structures and give them emotional weight, and have you as an audience feel fully engaged along that process.

Was Cobb a hard character to embody?

Inception - Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Ariadne (Ellen Page) © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

It was a matter of sitting down with Chris and being able to really form the backbone of a character that had a real cathartic journey and create a scenario where it became like a giant therapy session. At the end of the day, these different layers of the dream do represent a psychoanalysis, him getting deeper and deeper and closer to the truth of what he needs to understand about himself.

That in its own right is immediately intriguing and Chris and I got to work and talk a lot about the different concepts of that and what Cobb has been through in the dream world, what his past is. I think all of us mutually felt like this was a journey that we had to be a part of. It was extremely exciting.

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