Exclusive Interview: Nicolas Winding Refn Threatens To Kill Me, Talks Only God Forgives

Nicolas-Winding-Refn-talk-001I’ve been fortunate enough to chat with a lot of filmmakers. Some are more verbose than others. Some are more caught up in the artistic side of filmmaking, while others are more concerned about the realities of the filmmaking process. Some are funny. Others are not. Some might threaten to kill you.

Nicolas Winding Refn is probably my favorite filmmaker working today. As a long-time devotee, I’ve studied the man’s films since Pusher, which I believe to be one of the finest crime dramas to ever be put on-screen. Chances are, American moviegoers discovered Refn through the mainstream hit Drive, which starred a mumblecore Ryan Gosling as a professional wheelman caught up with some shady folks in Los Angeles. The street-level, synth-drenched noir story was beautifully shot, well-acted and gave Refn the American exposure he deserves.

As Grantland put it, Refn is the “auteur of ultraviolence,” which is a title I don’t necessarily agree with, but whatever, it’s flashy and it works. I’m not going to lie, it’s not often that I get to interview a director whose work has really had an affect on me. I was nervous. I had questions prepared. I didn’t wanna’ bore the guy.

As it turns out, Refn is probably the most quiet individual I have ever spoken to in my life. I’m talking about actual volume. I’m from New York, so, naturally, I talk fast and am pretty loud. Refn, for a guy whose filmography is looked at as ultra-violent, could perhaps just as easily be found working in a book store. The dude is unassuming. I wasn’t expecting a raving madman, mind you, but still. Super quiet.

With the release of Only God Forgives, Refn re-teams with Gosling to present a revenge drama set in Thailand. Expect a review soon.

Me: Hello.

Refn: Hey, man.

Me: How’s it going?

Refn: (after a lengthy pause) Good.

Me: I’ve seen in other interviews that you’ve done for Only God Forgives where you’ve talked about the concept as being about a man fighting God. That seems prevalent in all of your work, so, where does that come from? What’s the idea about a man fighting God that you find so attractive?

Refn: Ah, man, I wish I knew, because then maybe I wouldn’t do it.

Me: In Pusher, it seems like fighting an intense circumstance is an extension of fighting God.

Refn: There are probably parts to that that are true.

Me: Were you at all surprised to the reception for Drive?

Refn: I think that, of course, you know, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted, so yeah, that’s a great time. This (Only God Forgives) started out very similar to Drive, you either love it or hate it. It’s always been like that in a way.

Me: In the Grantland article, you refer to Fear X as a disaster. Are you proud of the movie, even though it didn’t do well financially?

Refn: It was a financial disaster. I can never hide that. At the same time, I also have to appreciate the fact that if I hadn’t gone through that experience, I wouldn’t have made Bronson, Drive or Only God Forgives.

Me: Was it difficult being filmed during the process of making Pusher 2 for the documentary Gambler?

Refn: No, it was okay. I mean, the woman who made it is friends with my wife, so she made me feel very safe. It’s always dangerous when people want to document you and you try to get out of feeling down.

Me: That documentary is pretty amazing, by the way. Was there ever any specific intention to go back to the universe of Pusher 2 or was it all out of necessity at the time?

Refn: Out of pure necessity.

Me: Do you look at the Pusher trilogy as a whole and appreciate it as a series or are you more proud of one entry over the other two?

Refn: I think 2 and 3 are the better.

Me: Have you seen the British or Indian remakes of Pusher?

Refn: No, I can’t. (laughs)

Me: Can you talk a little bit about I Walk With The Dead?

Refn: I’d love to, but I can’t. Not much to tell you yet.

Me: Talk about filming in Thailand for Only God Forgives.

Refn: It was great, hot weather, drove you insane almost.

Me: Did that add to the experience?

Refn: It added to the craziness. I loved it.

Me: Would you consider filming there again?

Refn: Umm. Hmm. I don’t think my wife would let me. (laughs)

Me: It was a spooky place, right? You had a paranormal experience there, I believe.

Refn: Well, it’s a very mystical place, it’s very Asian.

Me: Can you talk about some of the projects you’ve been attached to in the wake of Bronson and Drive that you would have liked to have seen to fruition?

Refn: Well, I mean, they didn’t come together because, eventually, I didn’t want to make them. You know, I was really into Logan’s Run. I couldn’t get it to click.

Me: Would you like to tackle science fiction at some point in the near-future?

Refn: Yeah. I guess that’s why I feel like television has become a much more interesting medium for science fiction. That’s why I’ve gotten interested in Barbarella.

Me: Can you talk a bit about Barbarella?

Refn: I’d have to kill you.

Me: (laughing nervously) I have to ask the next question, is there anything going on with Wonder Woman?

Refn: She’s called Barbarella now.

Me: Is there anything you can tease in terms of projects?

Refn: Well, I’d love to talk about them, but by the time they come up, people are sick of hearing about them.

Me: Can you talk about the ensemble concept with your films? There are so many strong actors and performances in your films from the entire cast. How do you bring casts like that together?

Refn: A good cast is really special. You know, it’s important to find the right mix of people to go on that journey with you.

Me: Was it easy to find the right group of folks to go on that journey of Only God Forgives?

Refn: Yeah, everyone was really cool all along the way. We were all wondering how we could get out of the heat and into the shade.

Only God Forgives is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.

Robert Ottone • Staff Writer

A natural bon vivant in love with cigars, finery and luxurious booze, SelfieRob aims to make light of the world around him while living the party boy lifestyle. From the Hamptons to NYC and beyond, SelfieRob lives life to the fullest.


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