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Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive'

The Danish director discusses his electric, neon-noir feature starring Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Valhalla Rising) presents another visual treat in Drive, a stylised throwback to the best 80s action movies. Ryan Gosling delivers a smoldering performance as an unnamed man who works as a stunt driver during the day and a getaway driver at night. Following an encounter with his beautiful neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) he becomes embroiled in a heist that goes badly wrong. Drive is a thrilling, violent and over-the-top ride set in the shady streets of downtown LA.

Dazed Digital: How did you become involved in the project?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Ryan Gosling arranged to meet me in Los Angeles. Ryan's agent called my manager and it became a dinner date. But I had gotten a fever on the plane so I [had a] really, really high temperature. I dragged myself out of bed and took these drugs which bring down your fever but make you high as a kite, so I was really stoned. I read the script high as a kite. It was very well written but it was maybe not so much a thing for me, or at least I couldn't connect with it.

I went to the dinner and it felt very strange because it was like a blind date, there was an expectation that we would walk out with an agreement to make the film. And there was no agreement because I was so out of it that I hardly spoke to Ryan at all. After a couple of hours I asked him to drive me home. And on the way home, you know when you have a fever you're very emotional, and REO Speedwagon, Can't Fight This Feeling was on the radio and I start singing to it and I get really emotional. For the first time I turned to him, and I hadn't really looked at him all night, and I said to him 'I got it, we make a movie called Drive about a man who drives around at night listening to pop music because that's his emotional release.’ And so, in a way, that's how the movie you saw got born.

DD: The unnamed central character is captivating, an old school anti-hero of sorts…
Nicolas Winding Refn: I wanted to create a mysterious character, like an enigma in a way. The Driver very much becomes the man who represents all the other characters’ needs but also their fears. The way he’s dressed at night… he wears a jacket with a scorpion on his back; it’s almost the mark of a knight.

DD: The music is such an important part of the film, it sets the whole tone…
Nicolas Winding Refn: The music came about after listening to a lot of Kraftwerk and early electronic music and the idea that the driver of the film was half man, half machine. And this machine is antique, it’s very delicate, it’s not manufactured, it’s built by hand. The idea with Kraftwerk, when they started creating music in the 70s, [was that they] used antique instruments to create very crude but ultimately beautiful tunes. So the idea of an electronic music score was born out of that concept.

DD: You won the Best Director Award at Cannes - what was that like?
Nicolas Winding Refn: It was pretty fucking cool!

DD: Were you expecting it?
Nicolas Winding Refn: You never expect anything. What happens is that they call you back Sunday if you get anything. So Sunday morning, even if you want to play the 'I'm so relaxed card', yes of course you think about it, of course you do. By 11, I hadn't heard anything, 12… I thought well whatever, great press screening, great reaction, great sales, you know, everybody happy. At 1:30 my French distributor called and said you have to come back tonight. I hadn't realised how much it was a release until it happened.

DD: At the press screening in Cannes there was a lot of laughter. Do you see the film as a comedy? What did you make of the audience reaction to the film?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I think as long as people have a good time: laugh or cry, feel scared… all good things. Like a great melodrama by Douglas Sirk, you laugh a little, you cry a little and not necessarily in the right places.

DRIVE is out on Sept 23