Back to IndieWire

Ryan Gosling On Not Understanding All of ‘Only God Forgives’ and How He’s ‘Highly Influenced By Violence’

Ryan Gosling On Not Understanding All of 'Only God Forgives' and How He's 'Highly Influenced By Violence'

Nicolas Winding Refn is back in theaters (and on VOD) this Friday with “Only God Forgives,” his second film to star his “Drive” muse and good buddy Ryan Gosling as another largely silent and morally corrupt protagonist in a film as equally violent as its wildly popular predecessor. Set in Bangkok, the Cannes entry stars Gosling as Julian, a boxing club owner who is sucked back into his family’s sordid criminal history when
his brother is murdered and his tough-as-nails mother (Kristin Scott
Thomas) calls upon him to avenge the death.

I sat down with Gosling in New York to discuss re-teaming with Refn, how his directorial debut “How to Catch a Monster” (which was recently acquired by Warner Bros.) is shaping up, and the challenge of playing such an opaque character.

You weren’t by Nicolas’ side at Cannes for the film’s big reveal. Was that tough?

It’s like the worst feeling, because you work on something as intimately as we did on this and to not be able to be there with it is an awful feeling. But also I was directing a film at the time, so it was like “Sophie’s Choice,” you know? Because you’d have to leave halfway through the shoot in the middle of a shoot week to go to Cannes. It was like a “Sophie’s Choice” situation.

How is your film coming along?

It’s coming along…

From the sounds of it, your debut seems to tackle with existential themes like “Only God Forgives” and shares a dark bent. Were you inspired to write it based off of your work with Nicolas?

I guess I’m in the process of figuring out what it tackles. But yeah, absolutely working with Nic was a huge influence. He’s very helpful in the process of it coming together and in terms of advice and support. But I think that Nic makes movies that are very personal films. I think this is such a great example, because after “Drive,” he could have done almost anything he wanted. He was offered very big things, but instead he chose to make this film that he’d been planning on making for years, a much smaller film that was more guaranteed to divide people. But he put his head down and made the movie and made it the way he wanted to make it. And there was never a lot of discussion while making the film about what other people would think, it’s mostly just about what he thinks. And I think if you’re going to put this much of your time and yourself into something, now it seems crazy to do it any other way, whereas when I first started working with Nic it felt crazy to do it the way he was doing it, because it’s not the common way of approaching a film. Most people approach films for the audience.

READ MORE: Kristin Scott Thomas Talks ‘Only God Forgives’ at Cannes: ‘This kind of film is really not my thing’

At the Cannes press conference, Nicolas spoke of how the film was born out of an existential crisis he was having with himself at the time, and that the film is essentially about a man at war with god. Did he relay all of this to you before you read the script?

It was really about working with Nic and that we had just had this great experience on “Drive,” and he was going off to do this thing that seemed pretty hard considering what he was up against. I just felt a certain brotherhood or something where I couldn’t see letting him do it alone. It seemed like an experience that I wanted to have too.

You wanted to hold his hand along the way?

Yeah [laughs]. I wanted to be part of that experience because it’s not often that people make films that are so personal, even though I didn’t always understand the film or what we were doing. I admire him enough as a filmmaker to help him realize it. It’s interesting to be close enough to watch somebody who is making something for such personal reasons. His description is different, it’s more fetishistic. I don’t like to acknowledge that or think of it in that way since I’m so involved in it.

In speaking to the press about this film, Nicolas has admitted to having a fetish for violent images. Do you share that in any way?

It’s not as much a part of the fabric of my creativity as it is for Nic. I mean, he was watching “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when he was a kid before school, so it’s just a part of him. I was highly influenced by violence. When I was a kid I saw “Rambo First Blood” and the next day I took knives to school and threw them at everybody. So I was definitely influenced by violent films before “Drive.” For me it’s been a completely new way of working. It’s a new kind of film language that I’m not really adept at.

You said you weren’t exactly sure of the kind of film you were making while on set. What kind of questions did you have for Nicolas given the fact that your character is so silent for most of the film, even more so than in “Drive”?

Nic shoots his films chronologically, so he’s deciding the film he wants to make as he goes on. And in that case, it’s like — in “Drive” I was the driver, but in this film I’m more like the vehicle being driven.


I think ultimately by Nic, but I think the audience is the driver in a sense, and that my character is more like an avatar, a vehicle in which to experience this world and the characters in it. And so I didn’t approach it like a regular film where you would think about the character’s back-story or character quirks or traits. It was much more about getting out of the way of the character and just allowing myself to be the vehicle.

MORE: ‘Only God Forgives’ Composer Cliff Martinez on Reuniting With
Nicolas Winding Refn and Why He Doesn’t Consider Himself a Cinephile

Could you do that for anybody else but Nicolas? It sounds like you had to put so much trust in Nicolas, because you’re playing, as you said, an avatar.

Yeah, but I’m friends with Nic. I know his intentions when he makes a film, and I also want to have that kind of a relationship because I’ve been doing this for twenty years, you know? At a certain point you have to put your trust in somebody if you want to have a different kind of experience other than trying to sort of hijack someone else’s vision in order to realize your own. That’s the worst case. Sometimes you have the same vision, but in this case this is a person who wanted to make something that was nonverbal, very much a mood piece that was very personal for him. We couldn’t talk really in literal terms about it and it was something that was a challenge for me to put myself aside and just allow myself to be an organic vehicle.

Especially when so many actors surrounding you weren’t — especially Kristin Scott Thomas, for example, in the film.

Yeah, but you know, I’ve had those roles and so this is part of it. Part of it is getting — I’m sorry to be using so many lame driving references — getting in the passenger seat and letting somebody else be the focus. I’ve had those roles and this was a chance for me to step aside from that.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged , , , , , ,



Great interview. Compelling film. Well-acted.


Loved this movie. Going again tonight.


I reviewed this film here:

My thoughts on the film, to quote from my review:
"If Refn would have traded in some of the leisurely mise en scene for actual character and plot development, then the end product would have been stronger. "


sorry for those repeats… the safari browser evidently burped.
Once was enough on my comment.


It was like Sophie's Choice? Really?
You narcissistic idiot.


It was like Sophie's Choice? Really?
You narcissistic idiot.


It was like Sophie's Choice? Really?
You narcissistic idiot.


It was like Sophie's Choice? Really?
You narcissistic idiot.


I cannot wait, i have a feeling this movie is going to be even more enigmatic, and, excruciating than "Drive" if possible, and, definitely, hearing such a terrific actor and an incredible presence like Ryan, calling it a personal film, so many times, with no resilience, it definitely has perked up my interest, to such an extent, to the top, i should say! I love personal films the best, and, i believe Ryan is right when he says that he wanted to make "Only God Forgives" more than anything else, just because mainly, today there are not so many directors, unfortunately, making extremely personal films, and, not on that account, and, especially after such a huge success, like "Dive" had been, no they all run to make the big Hollywood studio movie, like if that could be the real "acme", the Nirvana, of all great filmmakers! At the contrary, i often thought, that many potentially great directors, after a first, more original, and, ground breaking, or, an least, controversial film, they just get lost on the Hollywood Hills, spending huge pay checks, and, living out of their souls, just to cut it short: always looking "for that great script" that never truly really comes, while, making expensive block busters at the service of a studio system, that's been proving itself never as poor, as quality corrupted, as the one we have had actually to deal with, for these past 2 or 3 years, a gap or a "dark age", if you would, that belongs to historical low's in terms of real quality, while Independent filmmakers have to struggle in making films with virtually no budgets, struggling with a general market, that is what it is, also considering the transition we are sadly going through, this "passage" from a theatrical cinema, almost about to die, unfortunately, and, this other huge phenomenon of VOD, or Stream, for example, that have also proved so hard to rule, financially wise, making collapse all the middle, and, low middle size production of the Industry, with independent producers, kneeling in front of Distributors, who either lie, but, why again (especially when greater content is coming to an halt) or don't pay anymore back, and, certainly never even close to what a movie truly is worth, just mainly, not wanting to properly "quantify" the real revenues,and, so the VOD, mainly, that is, since, that's supposedly a very hard market to keep your eyes on and full time, while making sure, you are owed what was spent in the making, and, at the same time, enough to make a profit that should be equal to the ones of those who distribute the films through all this new intricate web of new media's! So, since, again, there are very few making "watchable" and honest films with a soul, but, many instead opting immediately after a breakthrough instead, to go to those packaged projects, where they get to make huge amounts of money, but, quite normally, just to be directing really bad, or worse, and, never provocative, never innovative, Studio's films! Refn however seems to be truly clever and to have stood up for himself and his ideas of Cinema, both stylistically or story wise, so Gosling most of all, seemed like he wanted to be there just so much more for the experience, for working in such creative and never formal conditions, and, even for his own life, almost! It's a beautiful, pure concept, that for me should stand more often at the very foundations of greater filmmaking, a concept normally shows the difference between a new movie from P.T. Anderson, or from the one coming from one of those many gifted and more "independent" European directors (i am thinking of Von Trier, Haneke, Almodovar, Arcand, Julio Medem, Von Dormael, Gaspar Noe, Beneix, Alfredson, Vinteberg, Tornatore, and, so on..) than those from, let's say, Roland Emmerich, Wolfgang Petersen, Marc Webb, Bryan Singer, or Tarsem Singh, for example!
The fact also that they did cast an extraordinary actress like Kristin Scott-Thomas, looking still extremely glamorous, as Gosling's character's mother, who appears to be a truly leading role, makes the whole movie even more appealing to me! I just cannot wait! I know, it must be one of the best movies of the year, and, for sure, one of the most personal, yet affecting, truly affecting, American movies of the year! A year, that so far, it's been quite under a dry spell, and, full of huge disappointments, or of movies as bland and shabby, you sometime wonder, why someone would even wanna make them, and, go through all that ordeal (that making a movie is, i mean!)…

Guillaume Harvey

Sophie's Choice? Wait, what? Nazis?


Terrible title…

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *