Every now and then a film comes around that has the possibility of succeeding on an artistic and commercial level. This year, I hope that film is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, a neo-noir fairy tale set in modern day Los Angeles that oozes cool and was released last weekend. With a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, and Christina Hendricks, it has enough recognizable names and faces to become a hit. However, it is the style, the story, and Gosling’s quiet performance that will win audiences over. Recently, I got to talk with Refn about the lack of CGI and foreign cars, the use of a Ford Mustang, whether Gosling was the man behind the wheel, and even Wonder Woman. Hit the jump for my video interview and the full transcript. Finally, if you haven’t seen Drive, go see it this weekend. You won’t be disappointed.
Nicolas Winding Refn Time Index
- I ask Refn about the fact that he doesn’t have a driver’s license.
- Asked if he got an itch to drive because of making this film and possibly taking the test again.
- I mention that a lot of the camera angles focused on Gosling, so I asked how much of the driving scenes were actually him.
- Mention that a lot of his films have very little obvious CGI, so I ask if it is budget or his own aesthetic to go with practical effects.
- I ask about the lack of foreign cars seen in the film and whether it was intentional.
- I mention how Steve McQueen’s Bullitt has been mentioned as an inspiration in part, and whether the use of the Mustang was intentional homage or not.
- I mention well-known Wonder Woman comic writers Greg Rucka and George Pérez to see if it rang a bell. He talks about what drew him to the property.
Nicolas Winding Refn: Thank you.
It’s one of those movies that you definitely want to see again. Almost right after I got out of the screening, we were all kind of gathered around and we were like, ‘We really want to see it again, right now. Let’s go back in there and kind of demand that they play it again.’ But one thing that kind of struck me as I was looking into some of your biographies and interviews and things like that. You’ve actually had some documentaries done about you and your wife. You’re a non-driver. You don’t drive; you don’t have a license. You’ve mentioned that…
Refn: I just don’t have a license. I actually failed eight times. Three times in my written exam, and I only passed it because I could memorize the symbols. I didn’t know what they meant. On the fifth time I was doing my… what, practical? Is that what they call it over here, when you drive around?
Refn: And I failed it again, of course. And, you know. Hey man.
Refn: God works in mysterious ways and I wasn’t meant to drive.
[Laughs] So, was this kind of experience, did it really make you kind of get that itch to go out and drive or were you very kind of content with, ‘Hey, eight times, I haven’t made it yet’?
Refn: Well, it all starts from when I was 18 when I was trying to get my license in Denmark. And you do that because you’re told if you want to be in the film industry you’ve got to learn how to drive because you have to drive a car for some assistant, or something. So that’s why you want a license but it just never worked out for me.
Refn: Well, Ryan was driving… One of my ideas was that everything had to be shot in camera. So that meant that Ryan, who had to be in every single setup, had to be real almost. So Ryan would do a lot of stunt driving and test driving, and he would build his own car and got all of these ideas we came up with for him to do so I could put him in the car, and be in most of the scenes, driving himself. And that was pretty… pretty exciting, actually.
One thing I really loved about the film was that a lot of it was practical effects. It seemed like there was no CGI involved in this film? Talking about Bronson, Valhalla Rising, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of use of CGI. Part of that is obviously because you’re dealing on a limited budget, but part of that is… is this your own kind of aesthetic?
Refn: Well, that’s an interesting question actually. I think a lot of it has to do with budgets… I mean, they have gotten cheaper, the CGI. But I haven’t gotten around to be in a green room yet. And I don’t know if I will like it, actually. I love to be on location; I love to be in other parts of the world; I love to be where I’m reminded about real, you know, emotions. I love to touch things and design things and I think that, for the actor, it certainly, it certainly helps their performance. To be in something that at least gives the illusion of being real. You know, when I do Logan’s Run, I’m sure that we will get into the CGI arena. But then it’s a different arena, budget wise. But since I never had the money I never aspired to try to do something CGI-wise because I knew it would just be impossible so you try to do everything practical. But it’s a very good way to learn. You learn how to do it, and some day if you have the budget to do everything in the computer, well at least you know what can and cannot be done.
One thing that struck me about the film was there was a lot of presence of American muscle. We’re talking about that Impala that’s kind of suped up. I didn’t notice very many foreign cars explicitly seen in the film. Was that an intentional thing or was that just kind of a… it just came about?
Refn: Well, I think that, like the whole car thing became more in terms of… I don’t know anything about cars. I mean I didn’t even know what a car is called; I don’t know what the inside of a car is called. But, I like curves and lines. And I would just basically look at pictures of cars that I liked to look at… and then I would choose them, not knowing what they were. So, it wasn’t intentionally, but at the same time we’re also making a movie about the mythology of Hollywood, which is very muscular. It’s an American arena. So it automatically became an American car movie.
Absolutely. Obviously, Bullitt, Steve McQueen’s Bullitt was mentioned a lot as kind of an inspiration. Was the Mustang in the film a reference to that or was that just unintentional?
Refn: Well the Mustang came into play because I had so little money I was like, ‘OK, who can I do a deal with?’ And who would give me a car. [Both laugh] So that was one thing. But at the same time it also had to be the right car. I think that it wasn’t so much Bullitt that was in my mind. It was more of a Point Blank arena. That this kind of hero that can’t find the door to get out of his nightmares, essentially. And he spirals out of control and he has to protect Carey Mulligan, you know, Irene’s character, and kill all the bad guys. It was more of like a sense of the car and the Mustang, and again… I said what looks great? And if I thought something looked great, I would shoot it. And by chance, it would be the same car that Steve McQueen drives in Bullitt, which… it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Refn: Who are they?
They’re writers on very popular lines of the Wonder Woman comics.
Refn: Oh, right. Wow. Well, Wonder Woman is um… I think my whole fetish and my interest in Wonder Woman came from… Three or four years ago, my daughter got obsessed with the Wonder Woman television show. The old, ’70s version. I would watch them back to back with her and really enjoyed them immensely. And I’ve always been fascinated by her as a character. I’m not a knowledgeable comic fanatic, as a lot of other people are. But I was very fascinated by a woman of power. And I couldn’t come [up] with any other great role models for my daughter to, say, ‘That’s a woman.’ Besides her mother. So I started getting wholly, completely obsessed about Wonder Woman and saying, ‘I’ve got to make her as a movie. I’ve got to make my take on it.’ And then I met a comic book writer who told me the origins about her, which was very fascinating and I began to see that myself and the creator of her probably had the same fetish of women. And then I knew that I had to make this film… if it ever gets made.
Alright. Well, I look forward to seeing if that comes down the pipe.
Refn: Alright, thank you very much.