Anne Hathaway: Christopher Nolan ‘doesn’t allow chairs’ on his sets

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Variety has been doing all podcast interviews and actor-on-actor Zoom discussions and a lot of the content has been pretty good. One of Variety’s latest is a conversation between Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, who have been friends for many years and are also fans of each other’s work. Much of the conversation is Anne and Hugh blowing smoke up each other’s whatever. Then they get into “difficult directors” or directors who have interesting on-set rules. That’s when the conversation got interesting:

Jackman: You just reminded me: There’s two directors I’ve worked with that don’t allow cellphones on set, Darren Aronofsky and Denis Villeneuve. Both of them had exactly the same reason, which is exactly what you were saying: It’s about intentionality. Both of them talk about the space being sacred. If you’re on a cellphone, it dissipates that energy.

Hathaway: I don’t want to contradict you, but you’ve worked with three directors that don’t allow cellphones: Christopher Nolan.

Jackman: Oh, that’s right.

Hathaway: Chris also doesn’t allow chairs. I worked with him twice. He doesn’t allow chairs, and his reasoning is, if you have chairs, people will sit, and if they’re sitting, they’re not working. I mean, he has these incredible movies in terms of scope and ambition and technical prowess and emotion. It always arrives at the end under schedule and under budget. I think he’s onto something with the chair thing.

Jackman: You dropped Christopher Nolan nicely, well done. Two films, I like that. Can you talk to me about playing Catwoman?

Hathaway: You know how you have those jobs and you just go, “I don’t know how I’m going to work again because this was such fun.” I’m such a director nerd. I love just seeking out the best directors I can and then just watching them. Chris’ whole approach to filmmaking is one of my favorite ones. He’s broken it down to its most minimal, but also his movies are just so huge and ornate. That combination of really being intentional about what it was that we were doing — and also, he’s just so inspiring.

[From Variety]

I included that last part because I think it’s notable that Hathaway wasn’t dissing Nolan, she wasn’t complaining (or was she), she’s saying that she admires Nolan and his process and he got her out of her comfort zone and all of that. I can 100% understand why any director would ban cellphones on set. But banning chairs? WTF? Especially with the costumes needed for some of Nolan’s films – why not give actors (and everybody else) a chance to sit for five minutes while the lighting is adjusted or whatever? “His reasoning is, if you have chairs, people will sit, and if they’re sitting, they’re not working…” Plenty of people do their best work while seated.

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18 Responses to “Anne Hathaway: Christopher Nolan ‘doesn’t allow chairs’ on his sets”

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  1. Rapunzel says:

    That no chairs things sounds ableist to me. How can people with certain conditions requiring sitting work for Nolan?

    And as if stars like Jackman and Hathaway aren’t lounging in trailers anyhow. This sound like it mostly affects the menial folks…
    “his reasoning is, if you have chairs, people will sit, and if they’re sitting, they’re not working” sounds like he’s an ass who yells at the craft service guy who sits for a minute after hauling in all the food for lunch. Like he just wants to make sure the grunts aren’t slacking.

    And the no cellphone thing is just pretentious af. Sacred space? Intentionality? Real artists don’t need to be so precious about their art.

    • Sara says:

      Anything involving Aronofsky is pretentious af. For all his effort on making his sets about “intentionality” his movies come off as unintentionally silly-stupid.

    • Darla says:

      ^^^^^ all of this.

    • Original Jenns says:

      Dean Martin “I can’t stand an actor or actress who tells me acting is hard work. It’s easy work. Anyone who says it isn’t never had to stand on his feet all day dealing blackjack.”

  2. MarcelMarcel says:

    Not allowing chairs isn’t respectful of actors with chronic pain. I hope he makes exceptions to that rule.
    I do completely agree with the logic of no phones tho.

  3. Rapunzel says:

    Oh, Lainey just made a great point in her write up of this: a female director who did this would probably be talked about very differently.

    • Melisande says:

      Yup. White dude privilege is very real.

    • JayNay says:

      oh yeah. Not having chairs on set because when people sit “they don’t work” – that’s just straight up controlling and borderline abusive.

  4. greenmonster says:

    I do understand the no cell phones rule in general, but I still roll my eyes at the “sacred space” thing.

  5. Juxtapoze says:

    I’ve got flat feet and standing for hours can become really painful. Thank god I don’t work retail any more. I’m not on board with the “no chairs” mindset at all.

  6. Case says:

    I have to assume there are exceptions to the no chairs rule or that’s incredibly ableist. Totally agree that female directors who imposed these rules would be talked about QUITE differently.

    I really love Nolan’s work, though – Interstellar is one of my all-time favorite films. That was the other film Anne made with him.

    • Rapunzel says:

      Case- if there are no exceptions, then I’d assume Nolan’s sets are in violation of ADA regulations and he could be fined.

      I’m starting to think that maybe what she meant is he simply has none of those actor chairs with the stars’ names on them. And she just misspoke.

      • Anname says:

        I can’t find a single account from a crew member or an actor who hasn’t spoken well about working on a Nolan set. Apparently he uses the same crew members in all his films (when possible). So I find it very hard to believe that this chair thing is any sort of a problem onset.

        I agree with Rapunzel. It is more about the canvas chairs for the actors, and that it is more symbolic than anything else.

  7. Granger says:

    So in other words, Anne and Hugh’s stand-ins don’t get to sit down between takes, while Anne and Hugh are back in their trailers or being driven home by the hired driver.

  8. Dandy says:

    I haven’t worked with Nolan so I’m unaware of his 1st’s workflow or how this actually plays out, but I’ve never been to a set where at least a quarter of the crew don’t leave to go sit on their truck’s lift gate for an hour or more while the scene is shot. There’s a reason we jokingly say, “Hurry up and wait”. Even on the biggest jobs I’ve done, there’s some sitting around happening because you’ve done all the work you can do.

    This most disproportionately, imo, would affect hair, makeup, and costumes who frequently post up around video village in lawn chairs and don’t move except to step in for touch ups and minor adjustments, and that those are female dominant departments isn’t lost on me in the least. I know too many men who think those departments don’t work just as hard as the grips, electrics, and riggers, or that their workload is far more simplistic, and that’s simply untrue across the board.

    Cell phones, yeah. I get that. I’ll sometimes catch my PAs on their phones when we’re losing light during a load out and have to turn into the mean mom who scolds them for skiving off. I’ve also been to sets where a ringer is left on and completely ruins a take — it’s not the end of the world, but it is disrespectful to the process, particularly during more emotionally laborious scenes.

    But the chairs thing… hmm, there’s a lot I like about Nolan and do think he’s quite brilliant, but god, he can be so pretentious and sexist in his motivations.

  9. coolspray says:

    There is a movement within the business world to also move away from sit-down meetings (not away from chairs in general) – the idea being that you should avoid holding meetings if at all possible, but if you must hold a meeting then everyone stands, which is supposed to force everyone to be more efficient, faster and to the point.

    Of course there should be exceptions for those that can’t stand for longer periods or at all, but I do think there’s merit to this idea. I choose to have a desk that can be sit down or raised to be a stand up desk and I notice a huge increase in my productivity and efficiency when working standing. But then again, I have no mobility issues, a history of blood clots in my left leg and hate feeling the blood pool listlessly in my feet. So I’m all for standing.

    I’ve never been on a film set so can’t comment on how appropriate no chairs would be in that setting.

  10. Jill says:

    Does he write his films while standing?

  11. Jazzy says:

    Reminds me of my first boss. I worked at a retail kiosk for about 6 months when I was a teen. I worked from 7am to 7pm on the weekends and was not allowed to sit unless I was at lunch. It wasn’t bad at first, but it eventually became too painful to walk or stand the following day. I was eventually fired when the boss’s sister saw me sitting on a stool i brought from home. My boss was not a nice lady and interpreted my sitting as laziness. I bet christopher nolan has a chair for himself on set.