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Nicolas Winding Refn Says REO Speedwagon Helped Him & Ryan Gosling Seal The ‘Drive’ Deal

Nicolas Winding Refn Says REO Speedwagon Helped Him & Ryan Gosling Seal The 'Drive' Deal

While Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “noir thriller Drive” threatens to be one of the most talked about films of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, especially considering its A-list cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks and “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston to name a few, the film has not screened so far, nor has the cast assembled to talk about it yet.

However, if you do want an early peek into the creation of the picture and a few interesting details about the film, the press notes from Cannes provide quite a bit of info and if you’re like us, you can’t really wait until the cast descends upon the Croisette to talk about it (and let’s face it, these are like “first listen” quotes, talent tend to repeat themselves).

Gosling already told The Playlist he’d love to do a sequel to “Drive” with Refn when we talked to him during “Blue Valentine” press, and described the thriller as a “crazy cross between ‘Blue Velvet’ and ‘Purple Rain.’ ” Why “Purple Rain”? We’re not completely sure, but it may have to do with the pop music used in the film which the filmmaker revealed was his key entry point into the picture about a solitary Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver and then discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist goes wrong.

Before sealing their deal, mutual admirers Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn (known for his excellent international pictures, “Bronson,” “Valhalla Rising” and “The Pusher” trilogy) met for dinner in L.A. and while they got on well, they didn’t really discuss “Drive.”

“We didn’t talk about the film very much at all; we just talked about movies in general,” Gosling said. Refn then asked Gosling to drive him home because he was tired (and ironically, he told us he doesn’t drive) and the ride got strange and quiet. “There was this very awkward silence in the car when we really didn’t know what to say to each other,” Refn said.

But then a classic ’80s pop song came on the radio and not only broke the ice, it gave Refn an “eureka!” moment. Gosling recalled, “As I was driving Nicolas home, that song, ‘I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore’ by REO Speedwagon came on the radio and I turned it up because we weren’t talking. He started singing at the top of his lungs.”

In the film, Gosling plays an unnamed and taciturn man simply called “Driver” in the screenplay written by Academy-Award nominated screenwriter Hossein Amini, who actually says very little and lets his action do most of the talking. “When that song came on the radio, for some reason it gave me some kind of understanding of what this movie could be,” Refn said. “Hearing that song, I screamed in Ryan’s face, very loudly, ‘I know what this is!’ and I turned up the music, singing along to the song, drumming to the beat. I’m sure Ryan was a bit like, ‘how can I get this guy out of my car?’ I said to Ryan that this movie, “DRIVE” is about a man who drives around listening to pop songs at night because that’s his emotional relief.”

“I knew in that moment that Nicolas was the right filmmaker for the film,” Gosling laughed. So aside from Cliff Martinez (“Solaris“) who is already scoring the picture, does this mean the L.A.-set noir will be filled with a few big pop music moments? Considering the excellent and well-placed use of Scott Walker and New Order in “Bronson” — non-banal placement of pop music being a rather increasingly rare thing in films these days — count us in as being very intrigued.

Meanwhile, as some readers have noted there were some fairly significant changes in the script that came with casting. The female lead, played by Carey Mulligan, was originally Latina in the story. “Originally I was looking for a Latina actress. I met a lot of great actresses—famous and not famous—but there was just always something wrong,” Refn said. “I hadn’t seen Carey’s films, but the minute she walked in the door, I knew we had our ‘Irene’. It just cemented the love story in a much more interesting way. It made it more of a “ROMEO & JULIET” kind of love story without the politics that would in this day and age be brought into it if you had different nationalities or different religions.”

Oscar Isaac’s role of Mulligan’s husband also changed significantly when he came on board. “The part was originally written as this thug, a career criminal,” Isaac recalled. That didn’t really appeal to me. As soon as I sat down with Nicolas, he explained this universe and world of the story, so we made the character into someone interested in owning a restaurant, someone who made some wrong decisions in his life, ending up in a bad place. By making ‘Standard’ more specifi c and more interesting, we found that it made the story that more compelling.”

Musically, it will be interesting to see if the picture does have a score. We talked to Martinez just three weeks ago and he hadn’t yet started composing on the picture. We’ll see soon enough. “Drive” debut in Cannes next week, Thursday May 19. If you haven’t already seen it, make sure you watch the excellent teaser clip that was release last week. For those of us that will have to wait, “Drive” hits theaters September 16 (making it a sure-fire Toronto Film Festival entry), but it will also screen at the upcoming L.A. Film Festival as well in June which will at least appease the lucky few West Coasters who get in.

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