Nicolas Winding Refn's action thriller Drive premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to rousing applause and has been continuing to build up the buzz as it approaches its September 16, 2011 release date. And one of the ways FilmDistrict chose to get the film in front of curious movie fans was to bring Refn and some of the cast to the 2011 Comic Con. While Comic Con might not be the most obvious venue to promote the R-rated violent action film, the crowd genuinely seemed to embrace the thriller which stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, and Albert Brooks, and which won Refn Best Director honors at Cannes.
Drive finds Gosling playing a stuntman who moonlights as a get-away driver for bank robbers in order to earn extra cash. It's a Gosling we haven't seen before - a no-nonsense man of action - and the 30 year old Oscar-nominated actor (Half Nelson) went all out to get into the role. And apparently Gosling's style and Refn's mesh well as the two are reuniting for two more films: Logan's Run and Only God Forgives.
Away from the Comic Con crowd, director Refn sat down to chat with a small group of journalists about Drive, the violence, scenes with minimal dialogue, music in films, and Logan's Run.
Nicholas Winding Refn Drive Interview
One thing that’s so satisfying about Drive is how much is not said and over-explained. Was it a struggle or fight to pare the script down, in that fashion?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Nope, it came out of me not liking talking. I feel that silence is the greatest word, ever. I just wanted them to look at each other because it’s the purity of love. It’s like seeing your first love. You just look at her. Because he (Ryan Gosling) is a man of silence, in the sense that he is a character that only speaks when he is spoken to or when he has something to say, and that automatically makes him mythological, in the sense that, when you don’t talk, people begin to read things into you or you become what they long for. When you don’t talk, you almost become the mirror image of the other person. When I did Valhalla Rising with Mads Mikkelsen, he was mute all the way through. I was very interesting in that kind of storytelling, working with protagonists that don’t speak."
Do you find that actors have a more difficult time dealing with that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "It’s the hardest thing for an actor not to speak because you take away their main tool. So for an actor, it’s very frustrating and very challenging, and very few people can pull it off. But, Ryan is one of those few actors that can say a thousand words with just a look, and it’s a unique gift. Very few people have ever had that gift."
What about Carey Mulligan?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Same thing. The love story within them is heightened because of that. It’s never defined. It’s just pure and almost innocent, in a way. That’s because the Driver protects innocence against evil. It’s very much structured like a fairy tale. I had been reading Grimm’s fairy tales to my eldest daughter a few years ago and I thought, 'Well, it would be interesting to make a movie like a fairy tale.' So when this came up, that was the style I wanted to do it in."
Does that also revitalize a genre, to just do it in its purest form?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Yeah, I believe the stronger the purity, the stronger the drama."
Can you talk about the importance of the music in the film?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Well, the music was very important. I don’t do drugs anymore, and so music very much gets me going. I’m a fetish filmmaker in that I don’t know why I do what I do, I just like to see things. When I figure out what I would like to see, I will put it in a film. When I do something, I think, 'If it was a piece of music, what would it be?' Kraftwerk, from the '70s, created electronic music and very crude instruments, and that was very similar to the Driver being a machine, but he’s an antique machine. He drives an antique car. So, knowing that I always wanted electronic music, that was the inspiration. I would listen to a lot of very early electronic music, and that was it. It was that whole Euro sound. And then, after I had chosen the songs I had Cliff Martinez emulate that specific sound."
Do you use music on the set?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "On the set, and then when I write it or when I think about it. I would even walk around with my iPod on through all the scenes when I was shooting, listening to specific kinds of music."
In this film it seems very easy for people to kill people. Were you exploring how easily you could just end someone?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Like fairy tales, once the bad guys are judged, it’s always very vicious, but it’s always in one sentence like, 'And they died a violent ending.' It’s very quick. I felt that violence works when it’s quick and unpredictable."
Is there a limit to how far you can push the violence in a movie like this?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "No, I don’t think there’s any limit. It’s just about how you do it. But, you must understand that violence is only a tool. If it’s used badly, it will be horrible. If it’s used correctly, it can be very interesting. But, essentially, it’s just a tool."
Are there other directors who you think use violence well?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Well, I think that Sam Peckinpah certainly was one of the great masters of violent cinema. John Ford certainly had a very violent impulse in his films and characters. John Woo is another example. [Jean-Pierre] Melville from France is a good example. I always admire Tony Scott’s films. People use it in different kinds of ways."
So, you and Ryan Gosling really clicked and you’re going to do another project together?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "We’re doing two movies together. We’re doing Only God Forgives in February, and then we’re doing Logan’s Run."
Logan's Run is still on?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Oh, yeah. When I have a script that I’m happy with, that Ryan is happy with, and that Warner Bros. is happy with, then we’ll make the movie."
Are you close to that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "I’m close to presenting how I would like to make it."
Knowing that sci-fi movies like to over-explain things, would you be able to strip the dialogue from that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "Well, that’s the big trick. Sometimes over-explaining it is actually what makes it more complicated."
What is it about Logan’s Run that made you think that it was due for a remake?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "I’ve always been obsessed with the film, ever since I was little. So when they called and asked if I was interested, my answer was just, 'Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!'"
Why is it so difficult to get that film off the ground?
Nicolas Winding Refn: "I haven’t been in the other meetings or been around with it before, but I know they’ve been trying to make it for 25 years. I think one of the problems maybe has been that they’ve been trying to remake the original film, which is impossible because it’s already dated. How do you remake something that’s dated, about the future which is much more advanced?"
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Drive hits theaters on September 16, 2011 and is rated R for strong brutal bloody violence, language and some nudity.