Nicolas Winding Refn Talks ONLY GOD FORGIVES, What Inspired the Movie, His BARBARELLA TV Series, and Why LOGAN’S RUN Didn’t Work Out

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nicolas winding refn only god forgives

From filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), Only God Forgives tells the story of Julian (Ryan Gosling), an American fugitive who runs a boxing club in Bangkok as a front for his drug business.  When his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is the head of a vast criminal organization, arrives from the U.S. to collect the body of her murdered son, she demands vengeance.

At the film’s press day, Nicolas Winding Refn spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about what inspired the movie, how the experience of making Drive affected the script, how audiences have reacted to the film, that he doesn’t shoot any wasted footage, and how a  small side story for the Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) character in Drive was one of the only things he’s ever cut from one of his films.  He also talked about how he’d like to focus on his Barbarella television series next, why his remake of Logan’s Run didn’t work out, and how he would like to do a big studio project, at some point.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

only god forgives nicolas winding refn ryan goslingCollider:  How did this movie come about for you?

NICOLAS WINDING REFN:  The idea of the movie was many different things.  I don’t have one thing that sets me in motion.  I would probably say that the first thing that started the whole flow of images for the film was the sense of holding your arm and realizing that it was an extension of your erection, and that it’s a violent mechanism.  And then, [you turn it] and it’s total submission.  There is a movie, in that movement. 

You had this film ready to go before Drive, but then ended up making Drive first.  Did the experience of making Drive affect this film, when you finally went back to this?

REFN:  It did.  This was written before Drive.  I was going to make it before Drive.  It was ready to go before Drive.  And it was good that I had waited because, after Drive, I knew that I wanted to make a movie that was pure and simple.  I wanted to do an acid trip.  I went to Thailand to prepare everything, and then I continued to minimize the film and scale it down to just a waterfall of images that would create a story.  I shoot films in chronological order, so I could really control it, as much as possible, along the process. 

Have people reacted to this film differently than you expected, especially having seen Drive?

only-god-forgives-posterREFN:  I don’t have any expectations.  People want the same thing, but it’s the one thing they must not get because then nothing has changed.  It’s like when Lou Reed did the album Transformer, which is one of the greatest rock albums of all time.  His next album was an LP of guitar distortions.  For me, it’s an evolution of my own creative obsession.  And it’s a way to free myself from what people want and expect. 

Above and beyond good or bad reviews of your movies, is it most important that people just talk about them?

REFN:  You can’t define this film as good or bad because it’s insignificant.  It’s more about the experience.  The conversations are an example of success because then you know whatever you’ve done has resonated.  The line between love and hate is so fine.  They’re very much the same thing.  Don’t forget that Drive was very polarizing.  Not everyone loved that movie.  But, they learned to love it, once they thought about it.  It’s the same mechanism that happens with all my movies.

Since the attention and acclaim that Drive got, do people trust your vision more?

REFN:  I don’t know.  I haven’t thought about that.  Maybe.  My financing comes out of France, so they’re much more art-minded. 

Has it surprised you that you’ve had the reaction that you’ve had, with Drive and Only God Forgives, because American audiences view films differently?

only-god-forgives-ryan-goslingREFN:  I don’t really think they do.  I think there’s a large percentage of the American audience that views the same thing as everyone else.  But, this country is very much about money.  People very quickly define success due to the amount of money something makes.  In the end, I think everyone is searching for that experience.  That’s why we continue to go to the movies and watch television.  

How long was your first cut of this film, and are there many deleted scenes?

REFN:  No, I don’t shoot any waste. 

Do you have any deleted scenes, from any of your other films?

REFN:  Not really, no.  I think on Drive there was a small side story for the Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) character that I unfortunately couldn’t get to work with the flow of the movie.  Otherwise, I’ve cut very few things.  I don’t shoot a lot of material.  My scripts are very short. 

You’ve had a lot of various projects come your way and you’ve been talked about, in relation to various things.  Do you know what your next project will be?

nicolas-winding-refn-only god forgivesREFN:  I want to concentrate on my TV show, which is Barbarella.  That’s what I want to do next.

Why Barbarella?

REFN:  I have daughters, so I felt I wanted to do a show that they could see.  I think that television has become really, really interesting, in terms of character development.  You can have 13 hours to develop a character, as opposed to 25 minutes in a movie.  That excites me. 

What was it that ultimately made it too difficult to get the Logan’s Run remake going?

REFN:  It was scheduling problems and commitment problems.  I didn’t feel like I was ready when they needed to go, and I didn’t want to hold anybody up on it.  It was a great experience, developing the movie.  I had a great time, but it just was not the right time.

Because you had a good experience with the development, are you more open to doing a big studio film, at some point?

REFN:  I would like to do a film like that, at one point, for sure.  It’s like a kid in a candy store.  It’s very intoxicating.

Only God Forgives is now playing in limited release.




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  • peds

    Its funny how you talk about the plot as if it was actually explained in the movie. There was no plot at all in the movie. I love all of Refn’s previous movies but this was just horrible. On top of that he put Gosling right in the middle of it.

    • Nick

      There is most certainly a plot. It is a very stripped down and simple plot with a ton of subtext. If it went over your head, that’s not the films fault.

  • Mars

    My goodness, he’s as pretentious as his movies. “Your arm is an extension of your erection…that’s why I made this movie..” *rolls eyes*

    OGF was HORRIBLE. How many times can characters just stand there for literally 45 seconds staring at each other, saying and doing absolutely nothing. I gave him a pass when he did it in Drive because I figured it was just romantic tension, but in this flick, a character will walk up to another and just stand there with a blank stare for like 20 seconds before speaking. It’s so awkward and unintentionally hilarious, especially during that scene where his mother is talking about how inadequate he is compared to her older son and they cut back to Gosling like 4 times and he’s just staring intensely at here with the same blank face. I was cracking up.

    And Gosling has become a parody of himself. I’m sure all the hipsters who haven’t seen a lot of arthouse flicks will think this is groundbreaking art, but it’s pretentious trash. Yet, they swoon over Ryan for his “minimalist approach to acting.” Of course Refn will say his films can’t be defined as simply good or bad…because OGF is so bad, it doesn’t even deserve to be on VHS in the dollar bin at Walmart.

    • Nick

      I think your assuming too much. Goslings “minimalist” approach is not even an approach. It’s not as it is his trademark, you’re taking two movies from the same director and pointing at the actor. It is what the script called for. Like it or not, it is exactly what is was intended to be. How many movies a year do you watch and you can tell the director just couldn’t translate their thoughts enough to apply to the big screen. This is undeniably the exact product refn wanted to display. That alone keeps it out of the “dollar bin”…. I loved it

  • i AN LEGEND

    If you can’t appreciate the movie, keep it moving.

  • jay

    loved this movie just watched it for the second time today and it only gets better the more you see it.

  • http://www.theneuropathway.wordpress.com Del Robertson Somerville

    It was a great movie with brilliant visuals and cinematography from Larry Smith and a superb soundtrack by Cliff Martinez. People are going in expecting another ‘Drive’, …that’s just moronic. It’s very much an existential, minimalistic piece of cinema.

    • peds

      We get it dude, you’re artsy. I wasn’t expecting drive at all, I was expecting something closer to Valhalla but it still was no where close to a movie. It seemed like it was a pitch for an idea of a movie.

  • Phil

    Watched OGF this weekend and I was bored out of my mind.

    I appreciate a slow burning movie and thought this was going to be the case as we reached the 60mins mark…but no, it was just the same guff for the full 90mins. Refn says he doesn’t shoot waste footage, well he definitely wasted 90mins of film reel making this pretentious, self-indulgent dross.

  • Lance

    Isn’t this that movie that Nolan hater was raving about? Well, here’s the usually restrained New York Times’ summation: “Three words should suffice: pretentious macho nonsense.”

    From what I hear, that assessment is spot on. I think we can conclude the Nolan hater just does not have a taste for good art. On some level I suspect he knows this himself — like Salieri cursing the great Mozart, he curses Nolan because Nolan hears The Music in a way the Nolan hater can’t.

    • j@j.com

      Um.. What the hell are you talking about? Keep on topic, dipshit.

    • rundmc1981

      “From what I hear”…be bold and go see the movie before judging it. Your opinion matters more than some NYT critic paid to express his/her opinion.

      • Lance

        How about this?

        We’ll take Nolan, the Master.

        You can keep Refn, the Disaster.

        You want respect? Stop bashing other directors’ work so much, and focus on learning the basics. You need to.

      • Josh

        What’s your deal? They’re both fabulous filmmakers that can look forward to many more years in the film world. We live in a world where you can love two directors at the same time (take a deep breath, because that may not sink in immediately).

      • rundmc1981

        You got that from my 2 sentences? I really must to go to Hollywood if my loglines are that good. We’ll? Glad The Majority finally has a voice. To put Refn and Nolan in the same conversation is ludicrous, to do it without having seen Refn’s “Only God Forgives” is insane. Please focus on seeing the films first. That’s the basics.

        Nolan makes studio films for American audiences/masses, which he has to considering his $150M+ budgets. How has anything I said about Nolan bashing him? I love his ideas and grand scale and he’s still one of the only working directors that’s using his resources to create massive storylines that any other person couldn’t get funding for. Refn is more of a Euro director – for crying out loud he dedicated “Only God Forgives” to an abstract filmmaker, Alexander Jodorowsky – in style, pacing, and story structure. Refn really hasn’t made a film for the Western world, and it’s my belief that the only reason “Drive” resonated with American audiences was because the hyper-violence, camerawork, and Hollywood talent.

        No need to compare Nolan and Refn.

  • rundmc1981

    Couldn’t dig it. In no way was I expecting “Drive”, but I can see the confusion for some in that the same director, star, cinematographer, and musician were used. Seems like the pacing is very similar, and it’s much more difficult to take in this one because there’s less of a story here. See the film for the visuals and musical cues. It’s hard to judge the acting, but they really have nothing to play with here. I’m looking forward to Refn’s next project.

    • Nick

      Glad to see someone who didn’t appreciate the movie who can explain why with some intelligence. I will say this much, if you’re bored and you give this a second viewing, you might find the plot has some nice layers to it. Refn gave us some really interesting characters, with implied back stories that just let the imagination run wild. It’s not refn or goslings best films but I still loved it. It has the same appeal to me as Antichrist. Antichrist was much more complex in its plot but this is too in a sense when you dig into each character. Leaving it to imagination seems to be everyone’s biggest gripe but I like a half painted canvas. I can only imagine what Crystal did to her children when they were younger. Clearly that has something to do with the anger and abuse Julian’s brother displays

  • Mixed Race rich kid NYC

    It’s very funny that he makes macho movie yet he’s very effeminate

  • junierizzle

    I didn’t like it. Gosling doesnt talk, again. I’m a fan of great dialog and this ain’t it. I know Gosling can emote with the best of them but he is a great actor, let him act. Give him something to say. Even Drive gave him some great lines. Just look what he did in Place Beyond the Pines.

    Despite what people say about the lack of story, I actually think it has a great story. But we don’t really know who these people are. The movie felt like the second half of a movie. It needed some more development character-wise. Also this movie IS LIKE DRIVE. It’s a crime drama shot like an art film. Slow pace, quiet characters, visually engaging, etc. The real problem is Refn made Drive2.0 We’ve seen this before.

  • junierizzle

    I didn’t like it. Gosling doesnt talk, again. I’m a fan of great dialog and this ain’t it. I know Gosling can emote with the best of them but he is a great actor, let him act. Give him something to say. Even Drive gave him some great lines. Just look what he did in Place Beyond the Pines.

    Despite what people say about the lack of story, I actually think it has a great story. But we don’t really know who these people are. The movie felt like the second half of a movie. It needed some more development character-wise. Also this movie IS LIKE DRIVE. It’s a crime drama shot like an art film. Slow pace, quiet characters, visually engaging, etc. The real problem is Refn made Drive2.0 We’ve seen this before.

  • Chris

    Having Gosling not talk is actually a good thing because he sounds stupid – the problem with this movie is rather that he also gives a ridiculously lame performance.

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