Interview: ONLY GOD FORGIVES Director Nicholas Winding Refn
If you’re going to tell a story that doesn’t talk an audience to death, something closer to the bone that doesn’t knock people back in their chair with explosions or other pixelated imagination drippings, there has to be something between the thump of words. All that space in the quiet has to be filled up.
I don’t know if Nicholas Winding Refn has a natural preference for the laconic, but in both Only God Forgives (out on DVD today) and Drive — the Pusher trilogy creator’s real introduction to American audiences — he doesn’t seem to eagerly embrace the chatter. Instead, Refn fills the space with mood and music. There is a dance going on, and it can come off as exotic, as moody and engrossing, or as something else — depending on your perspective.
In our interview with Refn, we asked about speechlessness in his films, his keen visual sense, working with Kristin Scott Thomas (who absolutely stands out in Only God Forgives beside Ryan Gosling), and the intimacy of blades over bullets in his violent epics.
Is your strong visual sense something that is already in mind while writing the script, or is it more a result of a collaboration during production?
Refn: Some of it is in my mind beforehand and some of it [comes] from the location, some of it is a combination. Maybe a piece of music can give you an idea. It comes from all different kinds of areas.
Do you think — moviegoers, studios, creators — are they afraid of speechlessness, of allowing motion, color, and music to move a story forward without words?
Refn: I’ve been told that that makes certain people nervous. But it is what it is. It’s language, but its strangely how cinema was born. It should be odd that we fear it so much because it’s, essentially, where everything comes from.
How did Kristen Scott Thomas come to be involved in the film?
Refn: It was a tricky character to play because they had to be so versatile. Motherhood, fear, [she] had to look a specific way… aggression, vulnerability, all those elements. And I think that, it’s just, I heard that she liked it. She wanted to meet to talk about the script. And she’s also my mother’s favorite actress. So, we met in Paris. Of course, she’s all the cliches you’d expect, she has done all those great British films. But, I was impressed by… she had no problem putting on the bitch switch. (Laughs) So I was like, whoa, please let’s do this.
Your characters – at least in Only God Forgives and Drive – seem to prefer blades to guns. That seems to be the weapon of choice. Is there any specific reason behind that or did it just fit those stories better?
Refn: Well, it’s more versatile. More physical and more aggressive in a way.
Is it intimacy also? Is there more intimacy to that?
Refn: Yeah, sure.
Was there ever a thought to kill Ryan Gosling’s character at the end in Drive. Just cut it a couple of minutes shy?
Refn: Nope, nope, nope, nope. That would have been a really depressing ending.
What does a film’s box office and critical success mean to you? Is it validation or is more about what those successes allow you to do on your next project?
Refn: Well, everybody wants to be liked. I think that, but in the end, what allows you to make films is box office. I always say that as long as you don’t lose money, there is always people that are willing to support you and you pray to God that it works out.
Only God Forgives is available today on DVD and Blu Ray.