Exclusive: DRIVE Director Nicolas Winding Refn on Flunking Driving Tests, Practical Effects, and WONDER WOMAN

     September 15, 2011


I recently had the great privilege to sit down with Nicolas Winding Refn, the director of one of my favorite films of the year, Drive. As with most of my interviews, my goal is to try and find out new things and not have him rehash the same thing he has answered numerous times. You have a limited amount of time, and likely one go, so why not ask something you don’t already know the answer to? So, that’s exactly what I did. Along the way Refn spoke about the fact that he doesn’t have a driver’s license, his reasoning for going with practical effects, and how his fetish with Wonder Woman came about. So hit the jump to read what he had to say.

Ryan-Gosling-Drive-movie-Nicolas Winding RefnWhile I did a video interview, I think providing context to some of the non-spoilers/specific elements will create more interest without having to see the film first. Then, on Saturday or Sunday, we will post up the full video interview.  Anyways, onto the film.

Right from the opening scene, Drive captivated me. Ryan Gosling as a knight in shining armor (or leather jacket with the golden scorpion as his sigil) with his driving gloves and toothpick in mouth is infinitely cool. The film practically screams that point at you throughout, but it somehow never feels forced. Everything about Nicholas Winding Refn’s woven storyline of Hollywood bravado and fairy tale archetypes comes straight from the heart. Refn makes films he wants to see, and with Drive, I think he has finally hit upon one that will pull in audiences from broad interests. The film isn’t mainstream enough to rake in the cash like a summer blockbuster the script was once destined to be, but it will likely stand the test of time and elevate Refn as a filmmaker to keep an eye on for American audiences.

Nicolas-Winding-Refn-Drive-movie-imageDrive is very much about Driver (Gosling) escaping everything in his car. He feels comfort there as his entire life is built around these machines. Stunt car driver by morning, mechanic by afternoon,  and getaway driver by night. Yet, with the film so heavily centered on a gear-head, I found it incredible that the director, Refn, not only doesn’t have a driver’s license, but failed his test eight times. When asked whether he doesn’t drive, Refn quipped:

“I just don’t have a license.” He added, “I 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… practical… and I failed it again, of course. And, you know. Hey man. God works in mysterious ways and I wasn’t meant to drive.”

I dug further, wanting to know if the film gave him an itch to get a license or if he was just content. Refn instead went back to the beginning.

“Well, it all starts from when I was 18 when I was trying to get my license in Denmark”, Refn said. “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.”

drive-movie-image-ryan-gosling-albert-brooks-01Refn’s films, whether it is Bronson, Valhalla Rising, or Drive, have a grounded feel. Part of that is the settings he places his characters, but part of that is also the lack of CGI in his films. In a world where Hollywood seems to be increasingly obsessed with what a computer can create, here is a Danish filmmaker that seems hesitant to stand in a big green room. Considering he is on the cusp of taking on the large-budget remake of Logan’s Run, this is an interesting things. He wants to be there and wants to touch things. I asked if this was mainly a budget thing or if it was his general aesthetic.

“I think a lot of it has to do with budgets,” Refn said. “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.”

nicolas-winding-refn-imageWhen I got the wrap-up signal, I had a few questions left but I knew I had to test Refn’s knowledge of a certain comic book character he wants to get his hands on: Wonder Woman. One thing he hadn’t mentioned to that point is what set him on that path and how much knowledge he is going in with. Was he always a fan? Did he read the comics? So, I asked if two of the biggest names in shaping Diana Prince’s comics run, writers Greg Rucka and George Pérez, rung a bell. “Who are they?” Refn asked. When I explained to him their importance, he seemed to sense I was curious where he was coming from as far as the film was concerned.

“I think my whole fetish and my interest in Wonder Woman came from three or four years ago,” Refn said. “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.”

I certainly hope he gets his shot at making that film, and many more for that matter. Drive barrels into theaters at 2,400 locations this Friday through FilmDistrict with a hell of a lot of hype. Try not to get caught up in it and instead focus on opening your eyes and ears. Refn’s film rewards repeat viewings, as I’ve already learned, and I cannot wait to see how the nation reacts to it. And once you’ve seen the film, check back for my full video interview with Refn that will hit this weekend.

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