Nicolas Winding Refn was named Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his visually stunning and emotionally captivating film Drive, which opens in theaters today, September 16th. I got a chance to sit down with Nicolas to talk about the film, how it all came about and what’s up next for the hottest young director in Hollywood.
Anyone who’s too lazy to read can listen to the podcast:
Yager: Your films are very violent and that is something you have become known for…do you think there is a sense of beauty in man’s propensity to violence?
NWR: I think that primal behavior, whether it’s violence or sexuality is always equally repellant and beautiful and all art comes from those two struggles, a combination of sex and violence. I have tended to make films that go for the violence rather than the sexuality. I guess that comes from me always thinking that sex scenes are really boring to watch. But, I’m a fetish filmmaker. I make films based on what I would like to see. Not always understanding it when I come up with it but always purely based on what I would like to see.
Yager: Having seen two of your previous films, Bronson and Valhalla Rising, it’s pretty clear to me that Drive is definitely a step further in a more “Hollywood” direction for you. The film certainly contains a lot of Hollywood clichés such as the font used for the titles, the music, and of course the very high profile casting. I assume these were all your deliberate choices but talk about some of the differences for you as an auteur that came with making a film that is certainly less ‘”independent” than your previous work.
NWR: Well they were certainly all my choices. I felt it could be interesting to do a movie in Hollywood just to see what it would be like. But of course I ended up not really doing a Hollywood movie cause no one would finance it. So it was financed independently so I was back to where I started. I only had 7 weeks to shoot the movie because the ten million dollars I had to shoot the movie only gave you 7 weeks in LA. So I was back to square one. Just there was more money than I was used to but the money went to the same place and LA is just very expensive to shoot in which was very annoying to me.
Yager: So besides the financial burdens that came with shooting in Hollywood were there any creative pressures put on you by others with a stake in the film?
NWR: I was in a very fortunate situation because I knew Ryan Gosling would protect me so I could make the movie I wanted to make if there ever was an issue. But I also realized that all the financiers and producers were not there to take anything away from me, they were actually there just to help me. Maybe that had to do with the fact that the movie really wasn’t that expensive and not a lot of stuff was on the line. So they kind of really quickly realized that Ryan and I were in so much of a telekinetic relationship tat there was nothing else to do than just go with the film. What we had, we had. There was no more money, no more time.
And that meant that I was able to make the movie I wanted to make. Of course I had to do things like shoot very little coverage so there was no way to change it afterwards. I would cover myself but I also realized that I shouldn’t be so paranoid about it because there was no one there to hurt me. But I always thought they were going to hurt me because that’s always what you hear, especially coming from Europe to Hollywood you hear about all the horror stories.
In the end, like when Lee Marvin wanted to do Point Blank, he insisted on Jon Boorman making the film and he gave the power to make the movie to Jon Boorman. Or Steve McQueen did it to Peter Yates. I was very fortunate to do a movie within Hollywood. But then you realize that you’re in Hollywood and all the actors are there and you can get them really cheaply. And they’re not working a lot because very few films are made in Hollywood so there is also a choosing ground. I was very fortunate that a lot of people wanted to be in the movie and the only actor I really had to woo was Bryan Cranston.
Yager: Any reason why that is?
NWR: I mean, it’s Bryan Cranston; the guy can read the phone book and be interesting. He had a lot of choices; he had been offered a very big franchise at the same time. This was a little movie in that respect but he’s a very smart man and he took a little longer but the he said ‘I will do your film.’
Yager: Can you pinpoint what it was that finally got him on board?
NWR: Well, I called him one day when I hadn’t heard from him in two weeks…just to say goodbye, and he said ‘well you’re calling right now and I’m sitting here with a blank piece of paper writing down the pros and cons of doing your movie and since you called it must be a sign…so I’ll do your movie.” I was like, ‘thank you very much, God.’
Yager: Do you think Drive is just the beginning of a long director/actor relationship between yourself and Ryan Gosling in the same vein as say, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro? Is Drive a film where we might look back on the two of you in twenty years and say ‘that’s where it all started?’
NWR: (laughs) Yeah and they don’t talk anymore…it’s a disaster…
Yager: Oh yeah, maybe a reality show on VH1…
NWR: Ooohh…can we get that? ‘Nick and Ryan, The Early Years’ (laughs). Ryan and I jut kind of clicked in a way that was very rare and I can’t tell you why exactly. We’re one person as they say, very telekinetic. We’re actually doing two movies back to back now. We’re doing Christmas in Bangkok and then a remake of Logan’s Run right after.
Yager: Not to use a cliché term but I see Drive as your “coming out party” of sorts”…we’ve seen independent directors like Darren Aronofsky achieve a certain level of success and then you start hearing the rumblings of him possibly directing a blockbuster movie like Wolverine. Is directing a big budget tent pole movie something that appeals to you at all or is it something you might try to stay away from?
NWR: I’m not the best filmmaker in the world…but the kind of films I make I am the best at. So, if you come to me with something that you want to be something that wouldn’t be me…and I have many different tastes, than I am not the right person. But at the same time, if I find it appealing than I would be the right person but you would have to like my kind of a movie. But, with Logan’s Run, that’s a 200 million dollar franchise…so I’ve already signed a deal with Faust, now I have to live up to it. And yes, I’m actually quite excited by it; I’m looking forward to it. Doing those movies are hard, it’s great work but I am very much looking forward to it.
Yager: This role has a lot less dialogue than most of Ryan’s other films. Which of his past work made you think that he would be so good playing such a cerebral character who really doesn’t talk much?
NWR: Ryan came to me and wanted to do a movie. We had never met each other before so he set up a dinner between us in LA. I went to that dinner and the only problem was I had gotten the fever, I was ill. Harrison Ford had gotten me these anti-flu drugs that you have here in America, which were very good cause it brought my fever down but it made me high as a kite at the same time.
So when I went to dinner with Ryan I was so out of it emotionally, I mean, I WAS the chair. Halfway through dinner I asked him to take me home and on the way home we hadn’t really talked about anything cause I wasn’t really able to focus on anything. I’m sure it was a very disappointing meeting because nothing came out of it. As he was driving me home like a blind date gone bad he turns on the radio and REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” starts to play. When you’re high, as I was, and yet ill, you’re really off balance and I turned up the music really loud because you know when you’re high you like music really loud, like obnoxiously loud. I started singing to the song and I don’t do that. I think Ryan was probably petrified.
Here I was in the car with him and I’m singing the song really loud and then I start to cry…because I miss my wife and my kids and I feel the solitude and the ‘stranger in a strange land’ aspect…which leads me to an idea. I see something. I see a fetish. I turn to Ryan and I say ‘I know, we are going to make a movie about a man who drives around in a car at night listening to pop music cause that is his emotional relief’ and he looked at me and said…’cool.’ So the movie was born out of emotion between us.
Yager: Does Harrison Ford have an Executive Producer credit on the movie?
NWR: Nope, but I’ll give you his number so you can get some of that good shit!