My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn: Exclusive Interview
Fantastic Fest had the world premiere of My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, a documentary about the filmmaker’s time in Bangkok directing his previous movie Only God Forgives. Refn’s wife Liv Corfixen filmed Refn’s struggles and presents a very candid portrait of his insecurities as he reads the hype after Drive and struggles with nailing down his vision. Refn and Corfixen were in Austin to discuss the film, and we sat down with them over a plate of barbecue.
CraveOnline: Nicolas, do you go through something like this on every film?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yeah, pretty much.
Liv Corfixen: Yeah, he does. I feel it’s not something new to me. I could have made documentaries every single time. It’s just this time we came along the whole time to Bangkok. He goes through all these depressions and anxiety attacks almost every time.
Which other films of yours would have presented as revealing a portrait following you behind the scenes?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Every one. Drive, Bronson, Valhalla Rising.
If your concerns on Only God Forgives were following up the success of Drive, what then were your concerns making Drive?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Was this movie going to be any good. It’s always painful to make these things. you never really know what it’s going to be like.
You always struck me as a filmmaker who didn’t care what other people, certainly critics, think. Was I wrong?
Nicolas Winding Refn: No, no, I don’t really care what anybody else thinks but you still want to be valued. You still want to matter, but it’s more about vanity. Criticism is all about vanity because it’s unreal. In the end what really counts if you want to make more movies is that your movies make money. It’s very, very simple. Criticism, festivals and awards, it’s all just vanity.
Liv Corfixen: Besides the creative process, his biggest concern really is not if people like it but does it earn its money back. That’s always what he thinks about.
Did Only God Forgives ultimately make its money back?
Nicolas Winding Refn: A lot, yes. So much that my new film got greenlit without a script.
Which film is that?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I can’t tell you, but I’m making it in February.
So this is one that hasn’t been announced yet, and you’re making it before some of these others?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
I know, I do my best to clarify every time I talk to you. So if you were concerned about following up Drive and comparisons to Drive, you had been developing Only God Forgives long before Drive, even before Valhalla Rising. Did it change a lot from the original concept?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yeah, because it took some time before I decided to make it, and I took these detours like making Valhalla Rising first and then Drive. I was basically off to Bangkok and then I decided to go and do Drive first. But I think it was good for the movie. I think it was good that I waited that long because then it became what it relaly needed to become. I always think there’s a reason for everything.
You originally described Only God Forgives as a Thai fighting movie. Was the original concept more of a traditional martial arts movie with a few set piece fight scenes?
Nicolas Winding Refn: That’s how I sold it to get the money.
But you knew all along?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, I knew all along that if I just made it at a certain budget level than I would be left alone. That’s really what it is. It’s about a number. You may have all the creative freedom contractually, but it really doesn’t mean anything because if you make a movie that’s X amount of money, it needs to make X amount of money and you have to make a certain type of movie. That’s just how the market values [movies]. Again, the more money you have, the more headaches you have and the more pressure is on you.
I noticed you have a Once Upon a Time in the West poster on your wall. What is your love for that film and what inspiration do you derive from it?
Nicolas Winding Refn: It’s a movie where it’s got a soundtrack that my mother had the soundtrack. When I was little I would listen to it a lot before ever seeing the movie. So it’s a movie that built up in my mind as this experience really. So I always had a very deep love for that film, and I always felt that Liv looked a little bit like Claudia Cardinale.
60 minutes is a little short for a theatrical film. Why was it the right length and what are the plans for releasing it?
Liv Corfixen: Yeah, everyone was trying to persuade me to make it longer but I didn’t feel that it could take it. We just felt this was the right length, even though we knew it might only be for TV. They put it in the cinema in Denmark this summer. France and Germany bought it, the U.K., Japan and here in December on iTunes, the soundtrack also.
You joked at the press junket for Drive that there’d be a Drive 2. I spoke to Hossein Amini this summer and I think at one point he didn’t know you were joking. But there was actually a sequel to the book, right?
Nicolas Winding Refn: For some reason, the writer of the book decided to write a sequel. I never read it. Right when the movie came out and the movie did well, he wrote a sequel but the sequel was purely written because of the success of the movie. I never read it, and also there was never going to be a Drive 2.
Is “Barbarella” moving along?
Nicolas Winding Refn: It’s moving but it’s big machinery you have to move, so it’s not just something that’s decided in a meeting.
Is it any closer than when we talked last year?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yeah, it’s a little. It’s a little closer.
Not any closer to casting?
Nicolas Winding Refn: No, no, we’re still just at the script stage. Because it’s sci-fi, it’s a lot of of world inventing.
Are you attached to a Maniac Cop remake?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Well, I own the property with my friend Bill Lustig so we’ve been, for some time now, talking about doing it. We’ll probably end up in the near future deciding who’s going to direct it.
It was a great underground cult film series. Do you think there’s a way to reach a bigger audience with a new version or keep it in that realm?
Nicolas Winding Refn: Of course, it’s a new version, a new audience, new possibilities.