Ruth De Jong

You can gain so much information about our process by watching that behind-the-scenes documentary footage because it was being shot in realtime. They grabbed us right when we were in it. We were very raw and it was very honest. Chris himself is intercut in all of it, reacting to what we were going through. It’s cool to have those reactions from that moment in time, versus a year and a half later.

AS: Nathan said that during the initial time he spent alone with Nolan they basically designed the whole movie. After that it became just a matter of telling the rest of the crew what the game plan was.
 Absolutely. Chris and I scouted the entire movie prior to starting production. We found every house we wanted to use. Regardless of later needing to pivot in some cases, we had our roadmap. 

When we were doing our budget crunches in each department he said, Look Ruth, if you can find DC in New Mexico we can keep everybody there for a total of six weeks and we can save this much money and be this efficient. We were trying to cut down on all of our moves because our hearts were set on getting at least one day in Berkeley. To us, it was what Berkeley meant to Oppenheimer and what Oppenheimer meant to Berkeley. Needing to be on those grounds was just so important to us. And it was the first thing on the chopping block! Tom Hayslip, our EP said, We cannot afford to go to Berkeley! Can you find it in LA? My response: We are going to Berkeley!

We also shot at the Institute for Advanced Studies in New Jersey, where Oppenheimer was the director, and where he actually met Einstein at the pond which was crucial to the opening. And that’s the real office where Strauss had recruited him and the real house that Oppenheimer inhabited. All of that was existing. Obviously, we stripped back all the modernities and dressed it fully to the time period. We shipped in our period vehicles. It was huge for us to have those locations. So, to make that happen I was like, Yes, absolutely, I’ll find DC in New Mexico! Even though I thought it was insane at first! I was staring out at a sea of adobe houses in Santa Fe thinking, How the heck am I going pull this off and make it believable? But I knew I had no other choice. 

AS: In contrast to working with Christopher Nolan, how was your experience working with director Jordan Peele on the movies Us and Nope?
 So different. They’re two entirely different people. And different subject matter. What I enjoyed about that process with Jordan Peele was that it was our second collaboration on Nope and we were fully world-building. We built the house from the ground up, the entire theme park from scratch, and we designed the wooden stadium for Jupe’s spectacle. 

Us was more of a location-based film with a smaller budget. Daniel Lupi was the producer (whom I first met on There Will Be Blood). We did build the underworld on stage, the hall of mirrors, the boardwalk entrance and then some other set pieces were built into locations. Us harkened back to how I did Twin Peaks and Manchester by the Sea. When Jordan hired me he said, I love the mash-up of the grounded and real-life with the obscure in shows you did like Twin Peaks. With Twin Peaks so much of that is David Lynch. And so much of what I did with Kenny [Lonergan, director of Manchester By The Sea] was infused with that specific place and that time. Jordan said, That’s what I’m looking for in Us because I’m going to add the otherworldliness too but I first want it so fully grounded that the audience isn’t questioning anything. So I understood my directive there. And with Nope, same thing.

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