You should already know about Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive." We haven't been the only ones pumping the picture, and for good reason -- it's one of the slickest, coolest pictures of the year; a tight genre picture with substance and style. Following an unnamed Hollywood stunt actor simply referred to in the credits as 'The Driver' (Ryan Gosling), the story is a minimalistic fairy-tale/noir mash-up involving Jewish gangsters and a family in danger. The attractive cast also includes Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, and Christina Hendricks.
There's been Oscar mumbling since Cannes, but the loudest (and strongest) voices have been purporting the villainous turn of Bernie Rose by "Real Life” director Brooks as a lock for Best Supporting Actor. It's a category that the man has already tasted before, tragically losing to the most Scottish-sounding Irish cop ever, Sean Connery, in "The Untouchables" in 1988. Will the Academy redeem themselves for this mistake over 20 years later? It's exactly the kind of yarn the board loves to spin, but there's always the chance that random spurts of violence in "Drive" will turn off certain voters, Brooks or no Brooks.
Either way it's a fantastic performance, a highlight in an already insanely consistent film. Earlier in the week we posted part of our conversation with the “Modern Romance” filmmaker concerning Judd Apatow’s untitled film and possible future collaborations with Refn. Here we’ve collected the rest of the dialogue, which includes the birth of his character and rumblings of a new directing venture.
1. Real villains, for better or worse, look less like Hugo Weaving and more like Albert Brooks.
We do love our menacing, purely evil, and quite obvious movie villains. But Hollywood has a tough time acknowledging the fact that people who do really awful things aren’t so easy to pick out in a crowd. “In real life you never can tell. That's why they get away with it. Nobody gets into a serial killer's car if they know 'I'm gonna get killed.' It's the most charming guy in the parking lot. That's the way life works and the way it should be in movies, but it isn’t,” Brooks lamented. And it’s much to the system’s own detriment. “There's always the standard six people you can hire that have played all these villains in Hollywood. Instinctively, when they come on screen, you know what's going to happen. You don't know the story, but you know what they do. In this movie, when you first see me, you don't know what's going to happen. You haven't seen me do this before, it's not a cliché part.”
2. Was Bernie Rose the tallest kid in his kindergarten class? How many wedgies did he receive (or give)? Only Albert Brooks knows.
Pre-production preparation always varies among projects, but occasionally you’ll hear about a director making actors write biographies of their characters and other similar exercises. For Brooks, it's essential, and it sounds like he's amazingly thorough about it. “I fill out the background of somebody. I make a chart -- where this person went to school, who was his first girlfriend -- just so when I'm sitting there that I have a background that I know about.” He likens going in cold, without the history, as having Alzheimer’s. “If you look at somebody who has that disease, they're sitting in the room with you but they're vacant. Because the things that made them this person, they can't recall. So they're still looking at you but there's something missing. As an actor, if you're just sitting and staring and you don't know who you are in your own mind, it's vacant. And sometimes the camera is an X-ray machine, it can pick it up.” Acting majors take note! “I would suggest that to any acting student, it just fills in the blanks, literally.”
3. Those were not prop knives.
“There was a guy on set that I worked with to handle knives correctly, not so it would just look correct but also so I wouldn't slice my finger off. Those things, you can't fool around, believe me. You'll cut yourself. You hold them in your pocket and you’ll cut off your testicle.”
4. Despite the Oscar talk and possible ‘career renaissance,’ Brooks is keeping it cool.
“If you talk to me in a year I'll be able to tell you if it did anything in my acting. It would be great to get two parts that nobody ever thought of because of this, but I don't know if there's any other Nicolases out there,” he explained. It’s something that people are overlooking; if the movie fizzes then all this talk is basically for naught. “I feel that stuff happens when you least expect it not when you really expect it, like when anybody tells me 'This is going to happen now!' it's never happened. But sometimes three years later on a Monday it'll happen. This came out of nowhere! A call on a Thursday morning!” For now he’s letting it play out and seeing where things go, but he does seem to have more than one option.”I've always been in the middle of making my own movies, so taking acting jobs that take me away from that has been impossible. Someone in Toronto told me that they'd finance a movie if I wanted to do one. So I go back to my hotel and think about it, but if I start that I can't do the parts.” Though it sounds like it’s a tough call (yet also a position I think most people wouldn’t mind being in), Brooks’ closing line seems to suggest he has come to a decision on the matter. “I think I'd like to see if this does anything because I enjoy acting.”
5. If he does make another film, it will be “odd” and may contain a sufficient amount of nudity.
Brooks has only directed one film in the last decade, the coolly received "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World," but if he does find himself behind the camera again, it sounds like it'll be on something that'll break with his previous films. “I'd like to do something that's odd, and by that I don't quite know what I mean, but I'm trying to think of something that's a little bit different. When I wrote this book ('2030,' which he deemed 'too expensive' to adapt as a film), it took me on this track that I had never been on before. It was a really good feeling, and I thought if I'd come back and direct again it'd be something different. I know it sounds too vague but I'm just starting to think of what I'd like to spend two years on. And…maybe I’ll include a lot of nudity.”