More and more of The Playlist team are catching up with Nicolas Winding Refn‘s “Drive,” and every one of us that has seen it has loved it: it’s easily one of the best movies of the year. The film was the secret screening at Empire Big Screen in London on Saturday night (we’ll have a full review later), and Refn came up for a Q&A afterwards, moderated by the magazine’s Damon Wise, which revealed a few insights into his top-notch crime drama, as well as an update on the status on what Refn hopes will be his biggest film to date. Below, ten highlights from the Q&A. Warning: some mild spoilers for “Drive” may be ahead.
1. Refn’s has been told by studio executives that his dream adaptation of “Wonder Woman” depends on the success of his first blockbuster, “Logan’s Run”
“I would love to make ‘Wonder Woman.’ And I also think that Christina Hendricks would be the perfect Wonder Woman, but Warner Bros haven’t called yet. But I’m getting closer with ‘Logan’s Run.’ I think someone said to me in a meeting that if I get ‘Logan’s Run’ right, then I’ll get ‘Wonder Woman.'”
2. “Drive” is both a fairy tale and a ‘neon-noir,’ inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville and “Point Blank”
“I really don’t know until afterwards, until someone said ‘It’s like an L.A. noir movie,’ and I said ‘It’s more like a neon-noir movie.’ The idea was to make a film in Los Angeles that was like a fairy tale…My main inspiration came from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I started to read them a few years ago to my youngest daughter, and I thought it’d be interesting to make a movie like that, because they’re very specifically structured and condensed in their storytelling, and all the characters are these archetypes, and there’s always very few characters,” he said. “And it’s yet set in the real world, but yet it’s always in an imaginary setting. So the idea was to figure out that L.A. was like a dream world. And on top of that, L.A. is very much an 80s city, it’s never left the 80s, so it was very easy to get that retro [feel], but it wasn’t an intention I went out to get, that’s how L.A. actually looks… After having kids, you start to look at other things, have other kinds of inspiration. But in terms of cinematically, there was a lot of Melville, a lot of “Point Blank,” clearly those kind of obvious choices.
3. Refn returned to Los Angeles a few years ago, with the intention of killing Harrison Ford (on screen…)
“I went [to L.A.] about 15 years ago for about a week, saying I would never come back. I only started coming back to work on a movie with Harrison Ford called ‘The Dying of the Light,‘ which died, but Harrison Ford was supposed to die in the film, which was why I wanted to do it, I wanted to kill Harrison Ford.”
4. Albert Brooks was cast as the film’s heavy because he’s “a very angry Jewish man.”
“I always wanted Albert Brooks because I thought he’d be interesting. A very angry Jewish man playing a very angry Jewish gangster. And he’d never killed anyone [on screen] before. But I’d never met him before, so the condition was he had to come to my house in LA — I wanted to live like a whole Hollywood mythology, I wanted a house and a swimming pool, and everyone had to come to me. And he came in, and he was so angry! And I was like ‘Right, part taken.'”
5. Refn lived with Carey Mulligan during the making of the film, and Ryan Gosling was his personal driver.
“Carey Mulligan moved into my house because she didn’t have a place to live in L.A., and I would cut the house, and I can’t drive a car, so Ryan would always drive me alone. So you automatically become very collaborative in that effort. Directing is very easy, it’s all about inspiring everyone else to do their best.”
6. Gosling built the car he drives in the film himself.
“Ryan wanted to build his own car. So the car, the Malibu, the old grey car he drives around, he built himself. He took it apart and put it back together.”
7. The main character’s wardrobe was inspired by KISS and Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising”
“The jacket came because I had this idea that he had to wear a satin jacket. A lot of times I worked with music, and I don’t do drugs anymore, so music helps me come up with ideas. And the jacket came from the idea that the driver has to be kind of out of time, in a way, he had to be like KISS, ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You.’ If that song had a jacket, it would be a satin jacket,” Refn said. “When you work with very good actors, you then let them choose the kind of costume they want, because it’s so much a part of who they are. So Ryan went out, and came back with different options, and he found the one he like, and it had an eagle on the back, an old bomber jacket, that emulates satin, that had that kind of 80s vibe. And then we were out in the garage, looking at various costumes, and the first cinematic reference I ever showed Ryan was ‘Scorpio Rising‘ by Kenneth Anger, and when we were out there, Ryan said ‘You should show it to Erin [Banach, the costume designer]”. It starts with a logo of a scorpion, and it was like ‘That’s it.'” That’s where the idea of wearing a gold scorpion came from. And then Ryan came up with this idea of telling Albert Brooks the story of the scorpion and the frog.
8. The film’s already infamous ‘elevator scene’ shows that the film is actually a superhero movie
“It’s more like the scene where she realizes ‘this man is psychotic.’ But also that’s the scene where he transforms himself into a superhero, because that’s where he goes on to kill all the bad guys…I like the idea he protects purity. He loves her so much that he’d rather protect her than be with her. I always thought that was an interesting dilemma for a protagonist.”
9. Refn wanted electronic music from the start, and asked composer Cliff Martinez to use the soundtrack cuts for inspiration.
“It basically comes from my editor Matt Newman… who’s more obsessive about these things than I am. When I told him I wanted electronic music for the movie, he knew about modern bands, and what was happening around now in the electronic world, so he came in with a lot of suggestions, and I just picked the ones I liked. The only one I knew from the beginning was going to be in the movie was ‘Oh My Love,’ the opera song. It’s actually taken from an Italian movie called ‘Goodbye Uncle Tom‘ [a 1971 mock-documentary about slavery directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi] and if you see that movie, it’s the most offensive movie ever made, and I thought it was kind of interesting doing that in Hollywood, cos nobody knew it,” Refn explained. “Once I figured out what kind of songs I liked, always knowing that it had to be electronic, I had Cliff Martinez emulate the sound of those songs, and that automatically made it a kind of a retro, 80ish, synthesizer europop, which in America…they didn’t really get into that kind of music, ever. When I decided to go with that route, a lot of people thought it was very strange, they thought it had never really been done in American popular movies But then I had to remind them that John Hughes did in all the wonderful movies he made in the 80s.”
10. Refn consulted “Irreversible” director Gaspar Noé on the best way to cave in a skull on screen.
“I actually called up Gaspar Noé and asked him how he did the head smashing, because he’s the king of head smashing. And he told me how he did it, and I met with him in France also, where he went through how they did it and I tried to emulate it. But it’s not as good as his. But I had a kiss. He didn’t have that.”
“Drive” hits theaters on September 16th.