Exclusive: Since “Drive” premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival it has been celebrated, marking the Hollywood arrival of Nicolas Winding Refn (who won the Best Director award). Refn's unique filmmaking vision has already landed him a primo studio tentpole gig, Warner Brothers' remake of “Logan’s Run,” which will pair him up with his "Drive" star Ryan Gosling. Before that, however, Refn has a couple of other projects he'll get to first: “Only God Forgives,” another film with his new muse Ryan Gosling, and “I Walk With The Dead,” which reunites the director with Carey Mulligan. The Playlist spoke to Refn, who was calling in from the set of “Only God Forgives” on Wednesday, and the filmmaker teased about what we can expect from his next effort and offered a few insights about how – and why – he wants to make “I Walk With The Dead.”
Described by Gosling as the "strangest thing" he's ever read, the rough outline -- which probably doesn't do any justice to what the final film will look like -- centers on a Thai police lieutenant whose rivalry with a gangster sees the two settling their differences in a Thai boxing match. For Refn, "Only God Forgives" will very much be a culmination of his work so far.
"My 'Pusher' trilogy was very much about being rooted in reality, and after I completed those films, almost I think I went into the complete opposite direction, of heightened reality. 'Bronson' was obviously heightened reality and then 'Valhalla Rising' and going into 'Drive,' all of those three films are about transformation; they’re about protagonists who transform themselves in various ways. And you can even say that 'Bronson' is about a man who transforms himself when he realizes that art and violence are essentially the same thing – it’s the same core of emotion," Refn explains. "But the flip side is that he ends up in a cage; he builds his own castle. 'Valhalla Rising' is about a man who starts in a cage and escapes and goes through the five stages of evolution, and then ends up being human at the end, even though he starts as an enigma. 'Drive' is about a man who is human, but transforms himself into a superhero at the end for all of the right reasons. So for some strange reason I can see that 'Only God Forgives' is like a combination of all of those three movies."
One of the highlights of "Drive" belonged to its pulsating electronic score and curated songs that, though contemporary, were washed in the neon haze of the 1980s. But don't expect a repeat here as Refn, as usual, is going into a bold new direction sonically.
"The first thing I do is I try to figure out what kind of music it would be as a movie, because that’s the most important element for me to conjure up images," he says. "It’s a fetish, because I don’t do drugs any more; it heightens my reality, my emotional sense. And that’s always a struggle – what kind of music [a film] is. For 'Drive,' the feminine pop sound of early electronic music from Kraftwerk very quickly came, as in this would be the music, if the film itself was a piece of music. With 'Only God Forgives,' I started to listen to a lot of Thai country and western."
Of course, how that influence plays out in the eventual soundtrack remains to be seen, but one thing that hasn't changed for Refn is that the crew around him has some very familiar faces.
"I’m working with Mat Newman, the editor of basically all of my movies now post-'Pusher' trilogy. I’m working with [DoP] Larry Smith, who shot 'Bronson,' and I’m working with Beth Mickle, who was the production designer on 'Drive,' and I’m working with [composer] Cliff Martinez again."
Very exciting stuff. But even better, it appears his next film after "Only God Forgives" now has backing ready to go. "I Walk With The Dead" has been tantalizingly positioned as a sexual thriller of some kind with Carey Mulligan set to star. Details on what it's actually about have been kept under wraps, and it appears Refn is still piecing it together.
"Well, the film is financed, but it’s not done in my mind yet. The ingredients are there, and who knows what it will become? But I always wanted to make a horror movie, yet everything for some reason is till a mystery in my mind. And I felt it would be fun to do a movie about sex," he told us.
Refn described the nature of sex-based film as being "a huge medium," when asked how he approached and focused on the story. "I just sit and stare at a wall and think about what arouses me," he said.
Does he then examine the psychology behind that? "No, no, no, never ever. I never question it. Because if I did, maybe I wouldn’t do it."
"Only God Forgives" is now shooting. --reporting by Todd Gilchrist.