When Liv Corfixen picked up a camera to document her husband Nicolas Winding Refn as he prepared for and shot Only God Forgives, she wasn’t sure what she’d be getting. Refn was fresh off the unexpected success of Drive and the media attention that came along with it, and they both knew that Only God, with its spare dialogue and semi-linear narrative, would be confounding to some of those newly won fans. So some trepidation was to be expected. But Corfixen emerged with something that wasn’t so much a behind-the-scenes doc but instead a portrait of how a relationship can be damaged by (and ultimately survive) a huge artistic undertaking. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is that portrait.
Earlier this week I sat down with Corfixen and Refn to talk about My Life Directed and the way they handle the turbulent lifestyle that comes along with making movies. I also got some minor updates on Refn’s upcoming Neon Demon and learned just what his involvement with The Bringing entailed. Check it out below. My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (trailer here) hits select theaters and VOD today, February 27th.
LIV CORFIXEN: [laughs] We were moving to Bangkok and I didn’t really know what to do in Bangkok because we were staying there for six months. After we had been there for a month I sort of got the idea to film the whole process of the movie. It wasn’t something that I planned, it just sort of happened.
So there wasn’t a negotiation between the two of you about what it would be?
NICOLAS WINDING REFN: What was I gonna say? “Okay.”
CORFIXEN: He wasn’t against it or anything.
REFN: I think I said, “you’ve got to go all the way then.”
CORFIXEN: It was very important to me to make it a personal movie and not just a film about Only God Forgives or people praising Nicolas about how great he is. I wanted to make it more intimate and personal and show the downside of filmmaking.
It’s not a typical behind the scenes look. It’s not an EPK or anything. How much did you shoot initially?
CORFIXEN: I had tons of material. I practically shot every day while he was shooting. I had a lot of material. It took a while to go through it all, it was a lot.
Watching you, Nicolas, prep for this movie… is this your normal sort of back and forth during the process?
REFN: Same procedure as always.
REFN: No, I guess the challenge was that the success of Drive was the largest I had experienced commercially and the media exposure was bigger than that of my other movies. But it was no different from my other movies. Having that success that it came with, there was the knowledge that I was going to destroy that success because I’m making something that will deconstruct it all. William Friedkin said to me, “be careful you don’t start playing tennis. Don’t get too comfortable.” You have to destroy everything you built up to be able to start again with no comfort and no safety zone. You have to be open and paranoid and willing to go all the way.
As a viewer, I only got to see the film a few months after it came out so I was prepared for how different it was. And I enjoyed it. At the end of this movie, you seem to have some reticence about Only God Forgives. Has that softened?
REFN: I think I was surprised by the extreme hatred towards it.
Yeah but that review [read aloud in My Life] was by Jeff Wells!
REFN: Well the thing about Jeff Wells is that we actually bumped into him in Hollywood. It was at a party and he couldn’t stop talking about how great the documentary is and how happy he is being in it. So I was like, “that’s interesting. That’s all it took?” And I love his rant, as I said to him when I met him. And he was very nice, he came up and introduced himself. I told him, “I’m glad I’m part of your everyday experience because you’re not going to forget this movie.” And he said, “I can’t disagree with that.” I said, “then I have achieved all.”
The movie has a framing device with Alejandro Jodorowsky at the beginning and end. Did that choice present itself to you once you got the footage at Cannes? Or did you find it in the edit?
CORFIXEN: When I shot the first part in Paris, I didn’t plan where it should be in the movie or anything. But then I knew when we went to Cannes that I had to ask him for that tarot reading because I knew that it would be a good thing for the film.
Was the cloth you wear in the film specific to this movie?
REFN: No, I wear it on every movie. It started with Pusher. It kind of evolved fashion-wise. I think on Pusher it was a sweater.
CORFIXEN: It’s funny, there was a dress up day on Drive and I remember coming to visit in LA. Nicolas didn’t know and like 75 people dressed up as Nicolas. Like all of the crew were wearing the white shirt, the shorts, the glasses and the scarf around the belly.
Was there anything that you, as partners, decided to take out of the film?
REFN: I had zero control.
CORFIXEN: Nicolas wasn’t in the editing room at all. I sort of presented the movie to him when it was almost done. There was only the one scene I had doubts about, where he’s like angry in the end and yells at me. I had doubts about that scene because it’s so rough in a way and hard to watch. But my editor was good at persuading me to keep it in the movie.
There are so many people that are in relationships where one of them has these massive undertakings with all this pressure and I think it’s nice to see a couple that goes into a situation like this and comes out of it strong.
REFN: Well this part of the entertainment industry is always presenting an image of success. It’s not true.
CORFIXEN: You see the down side.
REFN: It’s almost more dramatically interesting.
I don’t think you’re still attached to The Bringing, but I’ve been fascinated with The Cecil Hotel for a while now. What was it about that material that attracted you and why did you decide not to do it?
REFN: I was never on it. All they did was call and ask about it and we had a very good conversation about it with Sony. But I was never [attached]. I had a commitment to come to LA and make Neon Demon. But the internet apparently has a life of it’s own.
CORFIXEN: What was this?
REFN: She doesn’t even know about it. I didn’t even get to talk to her about it.
So you’re close to shooting Neon Demon then?
REFN: We shoot in five weeks. So I’m not very calm right now.
CORFIXEN: So here we go again.
REFN: We’re about to relive what you just saw.
And are you going to film behind the scenes on this one as well?
CORFIXEN: No, no.
What’s your favorite moment in this documentary?
REFN: I can say what mine is. It’s when Jodorowsky says, “you’re going to have to divorce your husband to become free.”
CORFIXEN: That’s kind of a strong situation.
Obviously you didn’t take his advice.
CORFIXEN: I’m very intuitive so I sort of knew what was coming. I had this feeling when I went there that he would say something like that, because it was a hard time in our life at that point. So I was afraid that that was it. But he also says he doesn’t think it’s a good idea, because he knows us a little bit. I just thought, “okay, we have to figure it out. Couples therapy.” And we did.