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Nicolas Winding Refn Talks ‘My Life’ Doc, What’s Next, Dropping Studio Gigs & The Reaction To ‘Only God Forgives’

Nicolas Winding Refn Talks 'My Life' Doc, What's Next, Dropping Studio Gigs & The Reaction To 'Only God Forgives'

This is a reprint of our interview from the 2014 Fantastic Fest.

When it comes to documentaries that chart the making of a particular film, some of the very best have come from those closest to the filmmakers. The most towering achievement in this regard is probably “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” an intense making-of documentary that follows Francis Ford Coppola and the bonkers production of “Apocalypse Now,” which was co-authored by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor. Following in Eleanor’s footsteps is Liv Corfixen, the wife of “Drive” filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, who took to cataloguing the production of Refn’s polarizing, Bangkok-set thriller “Only God Forgives,” with “My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.” We had the chance to sit down with Refn and Corfixen at the recent Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.

The documentary is an intimate portrait of frustration and familial unrest (since they had to move the family to Bangkok), but you can tell that the bedrock of their relationship remained firmly in place, no matter where in the world they were. Sitting down with both of them (in a karaoke room in an Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin), you could tell that they were just as close as they were before the movie was underway (and the documentary was filmed). Whenever Refn became too prickly, Corfixen stepped in and tried to get him to talk. It was a nice dynamic, and fun to observe. (If you want to read our review from the festival, you can do so here.)

So read on as we cover everything from why Refn left “The Equalizer,” to the Japanese spin-off of “Valhalla Rising,” to this all-female horror movie he’s been talking about forever. And Corfixen lets us know that what you see on screen in the documentary is exactly what you get at home.


What inspired you to pick up the camera?
Corfixen: What inspired me was to not be a bored housewife, like to go to work. Because we were in Bangkok, I took the kids out of school and moved there and had nothing else to do. I thought it was a great way of doing something.

What did you think when she started doing this?
Refn: What was I going to say?

Corfixen: He couldn’t say no.

What did you think after you saw the movie?
Refn: I didn’t know what to say. This was her thing.

Were there things that you didn’t include but wanted to?
Corfixen: No. I think it turned out like I wanted it to. I shot everything, almost. It’s not like he didn’t want me to shoot anything. There are a few times where he’s tired of me. But it wasn’t like I wasn’t included in certain things.

How did it become this fairly large-scale release? 
Corfixen: I’m very surprised but I’m glad that it is. My producer showed it to various distributors that she had contacted, and it eventually sold in many countries.

How much of this was a reaction to the reception of “Only God Forgives”?
Refn: I feel good in knowing that everybody was wrong. Or at least that the people who were against the film were wrong and it actually competed for the Palme d’Or.

Corfixen: Yeah, I really liked the movie. I think it came out really well. I think it’s so Nicolas. 


Refn: That’s a polite way of saying, “Oh god…”

Corfixen: No!

Throughout the film you vocalize this pressure of having to follow up “Drive” with something really great. Do you still carry that pressure around?
Refn: I carry it around for everything. Going into every movie, it’s always about: how do you top yourself, how do you go further? Further out into space. 

Is the horror movie still the next one?
Refn: Maybe.

This answer seems to change every few weeks.
Refn: It depends on my mood waking up that day.

Is Carey Mulligan still attached?
Refn: Maybe… Sometimes a mystery is better left unsolved until you see it. Or else what are you going to talk about?

You last said the horror movie was next because it was part of a two-picture deal with the same production company that did “Only God Forgives.”
Refn: That’s probably true. See. You got something.

Corfixen: And it’s with women.

What is the appeal of doing a horror movie with an all-female cast?
Refn: It’s sexy.

Where are you with the “Valhalla Rising” companion film?
Refn: There will be a movie in Japan in the near future.


Does that mean moving the kids to Japan?
Refn: She already said no.

Corfixen: I’m done with Asia.

Refn: That’s why I have to do this movie. I’m working on it. I’m working on it.


Corfixen: He thinks he can persuade me to move to Japan. But it’s because of the kids. It was really tough on them. That’s why I said, “Next time, you have to do it in L.A.” It’s tough to leave your friends.

You were recently connected to some very high profile studio movies – a haunted hotel movie and “The Equalizer.”
Refn: I don’t know how that came about…

What? That you were attached to a studio movie at all?
Refn: Well, I mean “The Equalizer” I was. That one I was working on. But I just felt, very late in the game, that I wasn’t the right person for this film. When you do that, it brings up a lot of emotions from people, obviously. But I felt that it was just not for me.

Corfixen: And we would have had to move to Boston, after just getting back from Bangkok. I wasn’t ready for that.

Refn: Yeah, there were a number of factors. And Sony was very understanding about why I decided not to make the movie. There were disappointments from other people but in the end I think it was the best for everyone. This other thing you talk about, I don’t know how the hell I got attached.

Are you still looking to do a studio movie?
Refn: Sure, I would love to do a studio movie. But I’m also very spoiled. When you have financial and creative control over your own films, it doesn’t get any better. We have certain criteria of where we want to live and where we want to go. Those things are out of your hands. There are certain actors I want to work with and things that I enjoy. So why change that? Unless it’s really something that can really give you the satisfaction. And there hasn’t been that opportunity. I would still really love to do a studio movie, though.


Corfixen: It’s hard to take the girls out of school all the time, especially since the little one doesn’t speak English yet.

Are you going to be directing again soon?
Corfixen: I don’t want to make any more movies about him but at some point I’d like to do another documentary. 

There have already been a couple of documentaries about him. Why do another one? 
Corfixen: I thought a little bit about that, that there were already two documentaries out there about him. But at the same time I thought this would be different, because it’s me making it. I’m the one who knows him best. I thought I could do it more intimately and show his anxiety and abilities; all of the things he can’t tell anybody else, he can tell me. So I knew I would be the best person to show how it really is. Because I’m the closest person to him.

Do you guys have any favorite making-of-movies documentaries?
Refn: The one that I love more than anything is the one that Vivian Kubrick made about Stanley Kubrick. It’s like 25-minutes. That is the most interesting of all of them, because you actually see an insight that you otherwise would never get access to.

Corfixen: I’ve never seen that one.

How close is the movie to your actual process?
Refn: That’s it. And it’s like that every single goddamn day.

Are you and Gosling still buds?
[Refn makes a fist and gestures to his heart]

So many of the projects you guys had lined up fell through, though, like “Logan’s Run.”
Refn: “Logan’s Run” is a big commitment. You can’t just do that overnight. But we’ll do a movie together very, very soon.


What did you think of his movie?
Refn: I thought it was great. I think it was a very personal experience. And it was a very creative way to do something.

Did you mentor him at all on it?
Refn: He’s been in the industry longer than I have, so what was I going to say?

Are there genres that you’re still itching to tackle?
Refn: Oh yeah, there’s always opportunities out there…

But you’re not going to talk about what those are?
Refn: No, because then you’re going to be bored.

Does he do this all the time?
Corfixen: No. Just with journalists. But it’s just like in this movie  he doesn’t know yet. It’s a work in progress.  

What is that process like? It seems like you have a cool title and maybe a vague understanding of the plot and you just go from there.
Refn: That’s always how it is. It’s like a pin-up magazine  you start with a close-up and then you figure out how you’re going to see the rest of the body.

In the pin-up analogy, where are you with the next movie?
Refn: You’re seeing a lot of breasts.

Corfixen: My god.

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