Drive is without a doubt one of our favourite films of the year so far. So we were quite excited, therefore, to get the opportunity to sit down with director Nicolas Winding Refn about his outstanding piece of work. And as we soon found out, Mr Refn is every bit as icy cool as Drive’s anonymous protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling – though the toothpick and claw hammer were thankfully absent.
Here, then, is the result of our chat about Drive, in which Mr Refn talks about Grimm’s Fairytales, telekinesis, and his forthcoming take on Logan’s Run…
Drive’s one of the few films I’ve seen in recent years that uses violence and action as a way of telling you something about the characters. Was this what interested you in making it?
No, because I was just interested in making a movie with Ryan [Gosling]. The rest came by itself.
So how did you arrive at the overall tone and pace of the film? Was that something that was quite organic in the way it came together?
Well, I can only make the movies I make, and I try not to analyse why I make them. And knowing that Ryan was a great collaborator, and also the leading man, was beneficial, because the two of us going off and making a movie in Hollywood, which is very famous for having a lot of people around you that have opinions.
But on this particular film, it was just the two of us, and we got to make the film we wanted to make, which was great. Particularly when I left Hollywood and went to Cannes, I was just, “Wow, I love Hollywood.” It was a great experience.
You managed to avoid any outside interference, then. You were given the autonomy to make the film you wanted to make…
Absolutely. And I knew Ryan would protect me if I had any problems, because he was the star. It was a wonderful situation for me. It was a bit like when John Boorman was brought to Hollywood to do Point Blank with Lee Marvin.
Were those 70s thrillers an influence – Boorman, Friedkin, Walter Hill?
No, no. But Point Blank is an interesting film – the whole existential journey his character goes through, which is similar to what the Driver goes through. He transforms himself into a superhero. There was always Grimm’s Fairytales, which I was more or less obsessed with. That was always in my mind when structuring the script with Hoss [Hossein Amini], when we were adapting it – he was a wonderful partner as well, a fellow European.
The film gives a very distinct flavour of Los Angeles; do you think it takes an outsider to reveal these different layers of America?
I don’t really know. It’s hard to tell. I can only do it as I see it. I don’t know the difference. Maybe it’s good not knowing the difference, because then you’re not inhibited by doing what you do. You essentially make the movie you want to make.
I’ve heard it mentioned before that you intended Drive to be a fairytale, a masculine fairytale, I suppose. Would you say there’s also a male nightmare element to it, as well, where the central character’s protectiveness brings out a dangerous, uncontrollable side to him?
Definitely. The elevator scene was something I came up with while we were shooting, because I couldn’t make something else work, and I couldn’t figure out why until I came up with a different alteration to it, where the sex and violence basically mirror each other.
I think that the film’s very feminine. I’m a very feminine man, I like feminine things. I like don’t like guys, I like girls. And it’s about a man who transforms himself, which is a very feminine thing to acknowledge, of being a human being becoming a superhero.
The superhero accoutrements, if you like – the toothpick and the gloves – that could have so easily tipped over into quite cheesy territory, yet it somehow works. Where did those come in?
It just naturally flows through the channels of creativity.
But were they things you spoke about together, you and Gosling?
Oh, we’re telekinetic. We don’t even have to talk. We just looked at each other and things came about. Ideas. And that was it. Like we were the same person.
The scorpion on Ryan Gosling’s jacket, could you tell me what that represents?
That’s the superhero he formed himself into. That’s who he is – that’s his mark. It’s like a superhero has an identity, in a metaphorical sense, and for him it’s the scorpion. With that on his back, he knows who he is and how he becomes it.
The script, I understand, was quite pared back as you went through shooting. What sort of things did you choose to take out?
It wasn’t so much what I lost, it was more that I wanted to do something different with it. And that was all the way from the beginning to the end.
The music was something else I wanted to touch upon. How far along were you when you chose what music you wanted to cut it to?
Very far along in the editing process. I cut the movie very quick, and I cut all the scenes to the music, and hoped we could get the rights, which we were able to do afterwards. I cut it to the sound of these pop songs, which became the score of the film.
One project that I’m really interested in is Logan’s Run. Where does that fit into your busy schedule?
Well, right now, we’re doing Only God Forgives at Christmas, so we’ll see about Logan’s Run afterwards. But I really want to do Logan’s Run, it’s something I’m highly prioritising, but I’m still working on the script, so we’ll have to take it one step at a time. And when you’re dealing with such a big movie, a lot of people need to be involved later on, so you just go with it and hope it’ll work out.
That’s likely to be a big-budget movie for you, then.
It’s a huge franchise, and Warner Brothers only make huge franchises. We’re in the big league with a film like this.
So you wouldn’t necessarily try to, perhaps, reduce the scale of the film to a more intimate level, like Drive?
It wouldn’t benefit from it. It would only benefit from going all the way.
And Only God Forgives, what can we expect from that? Does it explore similar things to Drive?
That’s for me to know and you to find out.
I understand you’re making a movie with Carey Mulligan, too.
Carey and I have talked about making a movie together, and we’ve agreed to making a movie together.
Would that fit in after Logan’s Run?
That’s for me to know and you to find out.
Nicolas Winding Refn, thank you very much.