Nicolas Winding Refn Barbarella

Few filmmakers have quite the crowded dance card that Nicolas Winding Refn boasts. Speaking to The Playlist on the eve of the North American premiere for “Only God Forgives,” Refn seems deeply pleased by having attached himself to so many projects, each one sounding more exciting than the last (particularly the mooted “Valhalla Rising” continuation). However, Refn’s next project is a detour into television, with the series “Barbarella,” which he describes, in typical Refn fashion, as “the ultimate fetish.”

“Sci-fi television is still a very undiscovered medium,” he says of production company Gaumont’s offer to spearhead the show. “’Barbarella’ is what ‘Barbarella’ wants to be for every given generation. By just making a movie, it would take out the possibilities.” 

Surprisingly, Refn’s passion for the series came from a more familiar place: apparently the rumors of Refn’s involvement in a “Wonder Woman” movie were one-sided. “I certainly still am dreaming of doing 'Wonder Woman,' and also because my special favorite Wonder Woman is Christina Hendricks,” he says. “But it seemed like an impossible dream, and that’s why I switched my attention to ‘Barbarella.' Because ‘Barbarella’ came at a time when I was very vocal about wanting to do ‘Wonder Woman,’ and not getting very far with it.” When the offer came to get behind “Barbarella,” Refn recalls thinking, “Damn, that’s even better. But also I have daughters, and I want to make a movie that shows that women are more powerful than men.” 

As for his involvement in the show, expect it to be active. “I would probably like to [direct] all of them,” he plans. “But realistically with a schedule for these types of shows, it might be difficult. I would definitely do the beginning and the end.” Refn is certainly thinking ahead in what looks like a fairly ambitious slate. As he’s said before, he’s still looking to do the Carey Mulligan thriller “I Walk With The Dead” as his next feature. “’Only God Forgives’ is part of a two-picture deal, so contractually that has to be my next picture,” he explains. His post-“Barbarella” efforts involve two more films (one of which would be “I Walk With The Dead”) before Refn promises, “And then I would like to make one giant science fiction film.”

Enter “The Incal,” which recently surfaced as a project Refn was working on. The famous graphic novel from Alejandro Jodorowsky (to whom Refn has dedicated “Only God Forgives”) is an epic, universe-spanning science fiction story very much derived from the unused concepts Jodorowsky and company planned for the infamous unmade version of “Dune.” Though Refn has flirted with a number of big budget studio genre pictures, it appears that “The Incal” is the one that has taken precedence. Describing it as “the ultimate graphic novel,” Refn explains, “It all came down to ‘Logan’s Run.’ When I pulled out of ‘Logan’s Run,’ it was the decision that if I was gonna make one of these mega-blockbusters, I would control the material.”

Refn explains how the hyper-expressive Jodorowsky is the one that gave Refn the courage to avoid the big blockbuster sinkhole. “I called Jodorowsky in Paris and he says to me, ‘What is this shit in Hollywood, why?’” Refn says, launching into an impassioned Jodo impersonation. “And I thought I was being yelled at! ‘You must not let your vision be destroyed!’ And I was like, I know, I know, I was wrong. ‘You have to stay true, or else I’ll not like you anymore!’ He’s like ninety, but he has the mind of a comet. So I said, I would like to do ‘The Incal,’ and he was like, ‘That… you will HAVE!’” Originally it seemed like Refn’s hopes for “The Incal” were merely a pipe dream, though he hints, “Actually it may happen faster than I anticipated.”

Refn is also active as a producer, lending his guidance to a project he was originally going to direct, “The Dying Of The Light.” Written by Paul Schrader, who is now going to direct the film himself, the project apparently came apart for Refn when Harrison Ford wanted to change the script, but Refn is back in the mix saying, “I’m a huge fan of Paul Schrader. I have made myself completely available to whatever Paul needs.” Refn is also still producing a remake of “Maniac Cop with the original film’s director Bill Lustig, suggesting that the delay on this project had to do with a rights issue. Refn says, “Right now, we’re just going through writers and getting the script ready, and we hope to go make it in the future. [Lustig]’s a very underrated director. His films are very influential still, and it’s a great privilege to be able to work with him. We’re taking it one step and a time, but very soon we will find a director and they will make it his or her movie.”

With this schedule comes the possibility of some films falling by the wayside, some for practical reasons, others creative. It seemed like the latter when Refn left action-thriller “The Equalizer,” cryptically referring to a subpar product. But Refn still holds a torch for the film’s star. “I would love to make anything with Denzel Washington,” he raves. “To me he can read the phone book and make it interesting, he has an incredible gift. But things happen for different reasons. And sometimes you realize that God has plans, and you may not know what the outcome’s gonna be.” When pressed for details, Refn could only offer, “It was not the right combination at the right time. The tradeoff was… not good enough.”

Meanwhile, it seems pretty clear that graphic novel adaptation “Button Man” would be the odd picture out in this lineup. “It’s hard for me to really talk about that right now, because it’s at a stage where they’re writing the script,” he says, noncommittally. “Right now in the scheme of things, I don’t know when I’m gonna have time to commit to it. So it’s a project to me that I think is terrific, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the producers, but it’s hard for me to put it in any kind of calendar.” But he cautions that it could all change tomorrow, winking as he notes, “Remember, the greatest part of a mystery is not knowing the answer.”

“Only God Forgives” opens July 19th.