All eyes on Tenet, the spy movie with everything to prove

“There was a scene where we went about five miles of a freeway in Estonia with hundreds of cars,” recalls Robert Pattinson.

“So John David gets in the passenger seat and Chris is like just follow the camera car. Take it easy the first time. John David turns to me and said: ‘Are you like a really good driver or something. So I’m s*ting myself as I’m whipping between cars at 80 miles an hour and Chris is behaving like this is completely normal.”

Christopher Nolan, not unlike the characters in his 2006 intrigue The Prestige, knows how to put on a show and how to work a misdirection.

“It’s funny because Chris is so secretive about everything to do with his movies. And then I had to be really secretive about Batman stuff. So I had to lie to Chris about having to go for a screen test – I said I had a family emergency. And as soon as I said ‘it’s a family emergency’ he said: ‘You’re doing the Batman audition, aren’t you?’”

Tenet has proved useful in Pattinson’s Batman regime. When your screen partner is John David Washington – a high-school track star and a former professional running back with the St Louis Rams and Sacramento Mountain Lions – it can be tricky to keep up. 

“When I’m running on screen I’m generally paired with John David who is an ex-NFL player so it was the most unfair thing in the world. The maximum workout I do most of the time is a casual stroll. John David can run all day long. It was good that I ended up being pretty fit. But definitely, at the beginning, there were days I just could not walk afterwards.”

TENET John David Washington and Robert Pattinson
TENET | John David Washington and Robert Pattinson

“Right up until the last week of the shoot, I was talking to John David [Washington] and asking him some pretty fundamental questions about who my character was. And John David was like: ‘Wait, you don’t know this?’ But it’s complicated! You’re not just being fed the story.

“You’re trying to uncover the mystery at the same time as the characters in the movie are. A lot of the stuff in this movie is expositional world-building stuff and a dense story. And the script makes that accessible to a layman. And that’s really difficult to get that balance of making it sound like natural dialogue and trying to get across information that you probably need a PhD to understand properly. And then you have to put it in the mouth of someone like me, who can barely add.” 

Regarding the film’s scientific and epistemological themes, Kenneth Branagh laughs as he quotes Michael Caine’s line about Inception. “Michael said: ‘The way I understand the film, is that all the scenes with me are real and everything else is made up.’” 

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in The Irish Times .

August 8, 2020 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links