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Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn interview

Interview by Rob Carnevale

NICOLAS Winding Refn talks about uniting with Ryan Gosling on Drive and how he set about bringing a dark, twisted fairytale element (a la Pretty Woman) into the film.

He also talks about the extreme violence in the film, as well as the pleasure of working with a nervous Albert Brooks and a brilliant Carey Mulligan.

Q. How aware of Ryan Gosling were you before he approached you about directing Drive?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I’d seen a few of his films, my wife and I, and we were both always very admiring of him. But I wasn’t an expert. I hadn’t seen The Notebook or his bigger movies. I’ve only seen his smaller movies.

Q. What did you like about working with him?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, besides being a wonderful person and a brilliant actor… one of the best actors in America, we had a very telekinetic relationship, so it was very easy for us to work together. It was almost like having fun every day and it certainly makes everything easier when the director and the actor are so in sync. The mood just flows as it should.

Q. I gather Drive started out at Universal as a franchise movie with an emphasis on action. Did you meet any resistance when it came to doing what you’ve done with it instead?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, Universal decided not to finance the movie, so it was out of their hands, and other studios passed, so we had to go and get independent financing, which lowered the budget immensely and the shooting schedule. But that was kind of good because it kind of went back to how we’re usually making movies in Europe, so I was actually making the kind of movie I’d be making in Europe, but in Los Angeles and with the whole industry of Hollywood behind it.

Q. How was working with Carey Mulligan?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Carey is super-cool. I liked her so much and we became very close very quickly as well, so it was very easy again to work with her. I mean, she moved in and lived with me because she didn’t have a place to live in LA, so she was very much in the whole process. As I was cutting the movie at my house, we would be sitting all day and all night just working on the movie and talking about various scenes and the performances; what we could do and not do, what she liked. It became very much like an interesting idea of what it would be like working with an actress in a perfect condition.

Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in Drive

Q. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of the romance and the violence? Sometimes a scene will go from being ultra romantic to ultra-violent in a split second… Was there a line you couldn’t cross with how far you went?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, there is no too far because it was all about the build-up. The more you’re involved in the build-up, the more the explosion will work out. It’s bottomless. That’s why we continue to go back to it and revisit the same themes again and again in storytelling… this happens to be a movie. But it’s because they’re bottomless. It’s just how you do it. But the violence would never work if you didn’t have the purity of the beginning, so it had to be as extreme at both ends as possible.

Q. As for the fairytale element of it, I’ve read that Pretty Woman was as much an influence as the likes of Scorsese or William Friedkin…
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, that’s more other people’s perceptions but, for me, it was Pretty Woman because that was the only movie that I could feel that took a very dark, twisted theme and turned it into Cinderella. I thought that was such a clever transfusion that I thought: “Let’s try to do that with this movie!”

Q. How did you enjoy working with Albert Brooks and really changing his image on-screen?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Albert was fun because he was so into it but he was also very nervous of it, especially when he had to kill people. I’d have to be like: “No, Albert, harder! No Albert, stab him!” Eventually I was like: “Kill the f**king guy!” So, it was a constant evolution but in the end he became like a killing machine.


Q. The soundtrack also plays a big part and adds to the cool of the film. So, how did you go about deciding on that particular sound?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, I’ve always been a fan of Euro-pop, especially from the early 80s and the whole Eurovision… the idea that it would counter the masculinity and the stunt world was an interesting extreme again from the sex to the violence. Everything had to be the exact opposites, so it was natural. So, then I chose these pop songs that were very reminiscent of the past and had Cliff Martinez relay it into the score, or the sound of the music, into his score so it would be consistent.

Q. You’ve now arrived in Hollywood and I hear you’re going to be working with Ryan again at least twice more?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yes, Ryan and I are doing a movie in Bangkok at Christmas called Only God Forgives. And then we’ll see about Logan’s Run after that.

Q. And what can we expect from Only God Forgives?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Action!

Read our review of Drive