The director tells Screen how a ride home turned into the award-winning Drive.
“I am a pornographer,” Nicolas Winding Refn declares over a high-protein salad in Los Angeles on a quick break from shooting Only God Forgives in Thailand. “I make films that arouse me.” It is an appropriate comment given the slick patina and throbbing electronica score that mask the tough underbelly of Drive, which earned Refn the best director prize at Cannes and the film an $80m global gross.
Ryan Gosling’s beguiling performance as a nameless stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver stems from the time the actor called the Danish director to request a meeting. Refn recalls that when Gosling gave him a lift home, the director —who cannot drive and insists he never will — pictured a solitary figure patrolling the neon wilderness of Los Angeles, listening to music.
“This is already a man who lives in another world and I combined that with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I was reading to my daughter at the time, and James Sallis’ source novella, which is about movie mythology,” Refn says. “It’s like the warrior who roams the wasteland and has to move to stay alive. Ryan’s character roams Los Angeles wearing a costume almost on his back. When he meets Carey Mulligan’s character she needs a human, and when she needs a superhero he becomes that.”
Transformation is writ large in Refn’s last three films, a point that was made to him in Cannes. “Bronson is about a man who transforms himself. Valhalla Rising is about an enigma that becomes human and Drive is about a human who becomes a superhero for all the right reasons, so in a way there’s a closure,” he says.
The director loved the experience of working with financiers Odd Lot and Bold Films and has signed on to remake Logan’s Run with producer Joel Silver for Warner Bros. Gosling will star in the film, being prepared for 2012, as he does in the crime thriller Only God Forgives, the first of two projects Refn is making with Gaumont and Wild Bunch. The second will be I Walk With The Devil and will star Mulligan.
“You hear these horrible stories about Hollywood,” Refn says, “but Hollywood doesn’t have to be evil and corrupt — there are a lot of smart people who want to support good films.”