Researching Time Travel for ‘Interstellar’ Helped Prepare Jonathan Nolan for Prime Video Series ‘The Peripheral’

When it comes to tackling time travel on the big screen, one could say Jonathan Nolan is something of an expert. The “Dark Knight” screenwriter spent years researching the practicalities of time travel for his 2014 film “Interstellar” (directed by his brother Christopher Nolan), to the point that he became something of an expert on the subject through the project’s lengthy development.

Which is why, when he read William Gibson’s 2014 book “The Peripheral,” Nolan was both excited and annoyed.

The story, which is now a Prime Video series produced by Nolan, concerns a young woman living in near-future America named Flynne Fisher (Chloe Grace Moretz) who, when plugged into an AR device that looks like a video game, is able to transfer the data of her mind to a distant post-apocalyptic future and pilot a host robot body.

“It was galling, because I spent a lot of time for [‘Interstellar’] thinking about time travel, we always wanted to do a time travel project,” Nolan told TheWrap. “And so I spent years, honestly, thinking about multiple worlds and feedback loops and wormholes and all of the different mechanisms by which time travel could work, because in part — I mean ‘Back to the Future’ is one of my favorite movies, I think it’s one of the very few perfect movies, but time travel movies are inherently problematic. Because on some level, and this might be true of all quantum mechanics, your mind rejects the idea. It feels inherently problematic.”

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When Nolan read “The Peripheral,” he realized Gibson got around the problem.

“Having spent years and put up my own best efforts on the film, to read Gibson’s book was an inherently galling enterprise because as usual, here Bill turns his vast imagination towards the subject and frankly, nails it. Hole in one,” he said.

“How do you combine the many worlds theories with a plausible theory of time travel? Well you just combine them. You just say that every time you travel — and I was always interested in the idea that you could travel with information and yes, on some level matter is information, but it’s not, right? It’s a big difference between Michael J. Fox and an email, right? So this idea that you can travel with information, but also critically that every time you do that, you calve off a fresh universe, a stub. It’s simultaneously plausible and heartbreak, which are the two ingredients for drama that are kind of kind of essential. So, the second we read it and realized what he was suggesting, yeah it was simultaneously very irritating and also very exciting as a possibility for a series.”

The idea of turning “The Peripheral” into a show actually originated with filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, who serves as executive producer and director of half of the first season’s episodes. Having worked with Nolan and Lisa Joy on “Westworld,” he suggested they team up on a “Peripheral” adaptation.

It was an easy yes – Nolan says he became a Gibson fan when he read “Count Zero” at the age of 14 – and Natali says Nolan and Joy were the ideal collaborators.

“I think the extraordinary thing about this, certainly from my perspective, was the good fortune of getting Jonah and Lisa involved,” he told TheWrap. “If you read the book, it’s intentionally difficult – it’s like being dropped into a foreign country without a guidebook or without speaking the language, and you as the reader must find your way through that world. It’s intentionally difficult as a reader, and I think only people like Jonah and Lisa who truly understand and appreciate him and the genre could see beyond that and see that this is a story that translates to an exciting narrative, visual, and dramatic experience that is incredibly human.”

Natali credits Nolan and Joy for suggesting they focus the first season on Flynne’s character, whereas the book bifurcates the narrative between Flynne and Wilf (Gary Carr). He also singles out series creator and writer Scott B. Smith’s “beautiful scripts” for nailing the humanity at the heart of the show.

As Season 1 winds down, are there hopes for a second season? While Amazon hasn’t officially renewed the series yet, work had begun conceptually on what Season 2 might look like when we spoke with Nolan and Natali.

“On the conceptual stage Scott and the writers are working away [on Season 2],” Nolan revealed. “We’re excited to see what the audience makes of it and excited if there’s an opportunity to make a second season.”

New episodes of “The Peripheral” are streaming on Prime Video on Fridays.

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