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Interview: Nicolas Winding Refn


It’s no secret that DRIVE is my favorite film of the year. I gave it a perfect score in my review, and I fully stand by it. I loved everything about it, and when the opportunity came up for me to talk with director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also directed one of my favorite films of 2009- BRONSON, I jumped at the opportunity.

When I spoke to Refn, he was on location in Thailand, deep in pre-production on his next film, ONLY GOD FORGIVES.

Nicolas Winding Refn

So, I take it you’re in Thailand working on ONLY GOD FORGIVES?

Yeah, I’m in early pre-production. It’s been cool, it’s a crazy place.

When do you start filming?

I start filming February 1st. So I still have another three months…

What kind of genre is it going to be? I assume from the reports it’s going to be a heavy, dark drama…

Wellllll…don’t believe everything you read (laughs).

Well, from what I have heard it sounds really cool…

I always thought it would be interesting to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God.

Ryan Gosling stars?


Well, that’s great news, because I gotta say, DRIVE is easily the best movie I’ve seen this year.

Oh yeah? Thanks man. I can barely remember it- it’s was so long ago…

Great flick, like early-Michael Mann, but totally its own thing at the same time. What’s your take on how it’s been received? It’s been pretty uniformly positive…

Oh absolutely. Look, if you would have told me last year that the film I made would be going out on such a wide release, and gross $35 million on a $10-12 million movie, I would have thought you were kidding.

Wow, 10 million. That’s impressive, that you did all that on such a tight budget.

Yeah, it was a big shoot. Seven weeks, on location.

One of the things that struck me most was the photography that you and your DP, Newton Thomas Siegel pulled off. It just looks different than anything I’ve seen in awhile. Was it digital?

Yes, it was shot with Alexa, which was the first time for me, but certainly not the last. That was an amazing thing, and I’m working with it again on ONLY GOD FORGIVES. I loved working with Tom. The reason I hired him was really his first film as photographer, which was LUCIFER RISING, Kenneth Anger’s last film. And the jacket that Ryan wears- that’s a replica from Anger’s SCORPIO RISING.

Wow- I never made that connection…

I’m a huge Kenneth Anger admirer…

He worked with Anger? Wow- I studied a bunch of his films in school. He actually came and gave a lecture at my university.

He did? Wow.

Yeah, and I read Hollywood Babylon 1 & 2…

Oh yeah, they’re the fucking best…

So the jacket…

Well, it actually comes from the KISS song ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’, because I had this idea, and I must have listened to this song a thousand times, and I had the idea of Ryan driving around in this white satin jacket that was very much part of my youth, because I’m from the eighties…


And a satin jacket in the eighties, it was a very specific style. And it would kind of illuminate him at night. And Ryan, a great actor, uses tools in the costume. So we looked around, and tried a few jackets that he would feel comfortable in, that would fit the character, the style, the cut. So we made it into satin. And I think, they were inspired by old army jackets, and they had these symbols of like an eagle. And I thought he should have a symbol, because the driver, he’s like a superhero. He’s a superhero in the making; he transforms himself into a superhero. So I showed the costume designer the trailer to SCORPIO RISING- and it was like, “that’s it- that’s the symbol…that’s who the driver is.”

I think the jacket’s already hit a nerve- people already selling them online. Gosling makes a satin jacket look pretty badass, I gotta tell you… How about the soundtrack, lots of people have been talking about that.

Yeah, well I wanted a score that would counterbalance the masculinity of the stunt world. It’s got to have femininity to create drama… I was listening to a lot of Kraftwerk because in away the Driver has a mechanical heart; it had to have that pulse, of electronic music…

One thing I wanted to ask you about was the character of the Driver, who has sort of that classic, SHANE style nobility going on…

Well, for sure…I mean the Driver, he’s a hero and real heroes have a mysterious past. And so, that makes him an enigma. And he represents Irene’s needs. Half of the movie, she needs a human being in her life, and half of the movie, she needs a hero. But it’s also a man in transformation, but he doesn’t know into what. And all that he’s come to live for, comes down to protecting her.

The last scene to me is very ambiguous, what were you trying to suggest, or did you specifically want people to come away with their own interpretation?

Well, all my films have open endings, because that’s how you travel through the world as a spectator. Is the ending in the afterlife…possible…is it the real world…possible…was it all a dream…possible...it’s all a mystery.

I have to say, I thought Ryan Gosling was amazing, and deserves real consideration for Best Actor at the Oscars this year, but Albert Brooks...man, how did you come up with the idea to cast him? He’s amazing.

Well, I always liked him, but I didn’t know him. I don’t live in L.A; I don’t even live in America. But I love the idea of Albert Brooks. Knowing he never played a villain before made it interesting. I had seen a movie of his when I was younger called LOST IN AMERICA, and I remember him as being completely neurotic and frightening in a way- almost manic. In James Sallis’ book, ‘Drive’, the character is more of a conventional gangster. In my film, I wanted him to be a gangster that became a movie producer- and had to go back to being a gangster again. He’s also in transformation. But the book is essentially about movie mythology, and I wanted the film to reflect that. You know, originally Universal [Ed. note: the film was originally in production there as a Hugh Jackman vehicle], wanted to eliminate the stuntman story. And when I read the novel, it was almost like a script. It had all the elements. The only trick was how to make a more viewer friendly structure. And Hossein Amini (the screenwriter) was very good at that. The book jumps in time; it’s convoluted. But the script is true to the book, which is only 100 pages. We really took the book and made it into a movie. One of the first things I did was bring back the stuntman story and make it a movie about a stuntman, who by night drives cars but it’s more of an impressionistic movie.

Now, I gotta ask you what do you make of that stupid lawsuit, where a woman is suing Film District for marketing it as a FAST & FURIOUS style action movie, which they didn’t really do.

Well, you know, I think it’s a strange thing that people would actually spend time on this. But, obviously they’re huge action fans- so that’s great, but I just think it’s more of a reflection that in America the legal system is no longer about law. I come from a country where you can’t really sue people. In America, you can sue them for, apparently, marketing a movie, and I find it sad.

It’s also sad that the audience member didn’t appreciate what they were getting- which was a great action film, free of CGI or gimmicks. I wanted to ask you about your approach in that regard…

Action doesn’t really work unless it’s emotionally engaging. If you’re not emotionally engaged, it’s like really bad pornography, you know- fun for one second, and then it’s really dull. If the acting, the story, the characters and everything else didn’t work, - if you don’t have those things, no undercurrent- it has no heart.

Now that DRIVE’s been such a huge success, have you been getting a lot of overtures from Hollywoood? I mean, I’m sure you got them after BRONSON too, but now do they want you to tackle big tentpole movies? Does that even interest you?

Well, it’s always tempting when people come to you. I’ve turned down everything- because I wanted to do ONLY GOD FORGIVES, and I think the only film that I find interesting at the moment is the remake of LOGAN’S RUN. I’m a big admirer of the original. I actually collect movie magazines from the original.

You know, I just turned thirty recently, and that’s all that was in my mind recently, that I had to go through Carousel…

(Laughs) Again, a lot of it also had to do with my relationship with Ryan Gosling. We like to work together, that makes it interesting. Because Ryan was the one who got me to do DRIVE, he also protected me so that I could make the movie we wanted to make. And that relationship is really essential to really survive in that industry.

Yeah, it felt like you both brought something special out in each other. Like one of those perfect director/actor collaborations, like Scorsese/De Niro, John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat…

Yeah, I mean, we’re past the honeymoon and into the marriage…

I hope you guys are together for a long time. But what are your plans for LOGAN’S RUN?

Well, I read the three novels. And so right now I’m working on the script.

Is the 30 age limit going to stay? I know it was younger in the books…

Ah, that is something you’re going to have to wait for!

Fair enough, but on to ONLY GOD FORGIVES. I hear Kristin Scott Thomas is in it. From what I’ve heard, sounds like a really different, tough role for her…

Yeah that’s why she took it. She plays Ryan’s mother.

Sounds like there’s some hand-to-hand fighting in it.

Yeah, but you know, again, but again it only works if you’re emotionally engaged. But I always wanted to make an action movie, and I mean, an ACTION movie- because DRIVE is like a fairy tale.

Who’s shooting it?

Larry Smith, who worked with me on BRONSON.

Any ideas on the soundtrack?

The only thing I can say is that I’ve hired Cliff Martinez (who scored DRIVE).

And with that, Refn was shuffled away for a photo shoot. Hopefully, now that award season is in full swing, people will remember DRIVE. Albert Brooks seems like a shoo-in for a best supporting actor nomination at the Oscars, but hopefully, the film was also score the Best Picture and director nods it deserves. One can only hope. If you, by chance, haven’t seen DRIVE yet- see it!

Source: JoBlo.com



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