‘Interstellar’ director Christopher Nolan says it’s important ‘to start looking up again’

BEVERLY HILLS – When you see “Interstellar,” you'll get the sense right away that a deep admiration for exploration lies at the root of it all. Amid all of that epic imagery (and equally epic familial drama), there is a seething indictment of our general abandonment of space programs. At a press conference Friday afternoon, filmmaker Christopher Nolan and three of the film's stars spoke about their early experiences with space travel and the value of keeping NASA funded while continuing to push for the outer limits.

“I remember when I was a kid, my first real confrontation with space travel was when the Challenger exploded,” actress Jessica Chastain said. “I remember how traumatic that was for me, watching on the news and all the children in class were watching and I was very young. So I never imagined that it was something I wanted to do. But I think we as human beings need to conquer our fears and reach beyond our grasps, and I think it's very important that we don't become complacent and stagnant.”

Co-star Anne Hathaway added to that, noting that her own initial experience with the space program was exposure to that ill-fated 1986 mission. “When I was in seventh grade, my class spent the entire school year preparing to 'launch' a space ship all together,” she recalled. “We had our different jobs that we had to learn how to do, and we learned the math that you needed, the practical skills, and I thought that was really cool. I hope that the suspension of the space [shuttle] program is just that, a suspension, and that it's not the final say in the matter, because I think we need it.”

The film's leading man, Matthew McConaughey, admitted that space exploration was frankly nothing he had ever really concerned himself with, but that one of the things he got from the film is that “our expectations have to be greater than ourselves,” he said. “And the further out there we go, the more we learn it's about you and me, right here.”

For Nolan, though, space exploration has always represented something else, a thematic construct that lies at the heart of the film, in fact: hope. “[It is] the most optimistic endeavor that mankind has engaged in,” he said. “I was certainly struck when they flew the space shuttle on the 747 into the Science Center here in LA. Emma [Thomas] and I went up to Griffith Park with hundreds of people waving flags watching this thing fly down, and it was a very moving moment, actually. It was also a bit melancholy because that sense of that great collective endeavor is something that feels like we're in need of again. I feel very strongly that we're at a point where we need to start looking up again and exploring our place in the universe.”

“Interstellar” arrives in theaters everywhere Nov. 7.