Exclusive Interview: Nicolas Winding Refn on Only God Forgives
I want to emphasize how emphatically Nicolas Winding Refn answered my first question. It was a one word answer, but he was enthusiastic and he totally got it. Nicolas Winding Refn likes to give short answers sometimes, perhaps to keep certain elements of his movies ambiguous. His latest, Only God Forgives, is about a drug dealer (Ryan Gosling) in Thailand whose fights Thai gangsters to avenge his brother’s death. His brother in turn was killed in revenge for a crime he committed. The boys’ mother (Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives to put pressure on the surviving son, Julian, as well. The film was divisive at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and played again at the Los Angeles Film Festival. We got to speak with Refn by phone as he was driven between other press engagements in Los Angeles.
CraveOnline: Can we call going to see a Nicolas Winding Refn movie “getting Refned?” People who go see Only God Forgives can say, “Let’s get Refned!”
Nicolas Winding Refn: Yes!
Let’s get that started.
Thank you. I actually saw a Gaumont sizzle reel for the film a while ago. The sequence where Julian is in the club, he slaps the guy and drags him into the hall, was much longer. Did you shoot a lot more of that and scale it back?
I think it was all about rhythm. I think back then it was basically Cannes wanted a short sequence from the movie. We just took two scenes and put them together. That was before the film was constructed.
Was there more extended action that you then cut?
No. No, no, no, no. It was all about the anticipation of action.
Did you pitch Only God Forgives as a Thai fighting movie?
I said to them, “I want to make a fight movie in Bangkok.”
Does that sort of oversimplify what it actually is?
Well, genre movies are about what you put into them. On the surface, whatever they are, then it’s all the subtext. Gaumont and Wild Bunch were extremely supportive of me and have been for a very long time. I was to do Only God Forgives before Drive even was going to happen. It all started with me going to France and meeting with Gaumont and Wild Bunch and basically securing a two picture deal from them that I would write, produce and direct. The budget would be 3 million euros per movie. So they have been very close to my feature career.
Would you be happy to do away with narrative completely?
You mean I haven’t done that yet? Damn. That means I have to do it again. Thanks, Fred. I think in the end, at one point in my life, I will do that but only after I’ve done a $100 million studio movie.
Why then did you even want to use the trappings of a revenge story?
Because revenge is primal, like God in the old testament. He said, “You have to fear me because I will be cruel and you have to love me because I will be kind.” All those emotions have nothing to do with narrative storytelling. They are purely instinctual cause and effect. So you see, you can take out narrative structure of a film but you still have cause and effect, which essentially is structure.
You’ve described yourself as a fetish filmmaker. Is this your mother fetish movie?
Heh heh heh, very sneaky. I love my mother. Let’s leave it at that. [Laughs]
I saw Jodorowsky’s Dune and you were in it describing his entire book of storyboards.
I was very fortunate.
Did you see the final cut of Jodorowsky’s Dune?
Yeah, I found it very enjoyable.
Did Frank Pavich capture all of the Dune that you got to see firsthand?
Yes, because he captured a great illusion of what it would be like, but I had a very special event because I was at Jodorowsky’s house going through his whole storyboard with Jodorowsky explaining what would happen. So in a way, I’m the only one who has seen Jodorowsky’s Dune.
We saw a few segments from it, but are they all as crazy as what Pavich showed?
Ohhhh yeah, but what a trip it would have been.
Did you actually meet with the Bond producers, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson?
Who told you that?
It was reported. It seems like they wanted the Skyfall team back all along, so how far did you actually get with them?
We talked. They were very nice. They were very nice.
Could that have been your $100 million studio movie?
I think that I’m really into wanting to do my TV show “Barbarella” and concentrate on that this coming season for the moment.
How far along is “Barbarella?”
Well, we’re in the process of finalizing the writing and hope to know soon.
When would you start casting?