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Nicolas Winding Refn on “Drive,” Ryan Gosling’s jacket, and his “Logan’s Run” remake

Nicolas Winding Refn on “Drive,” Ryan Gosling’s jacket, and his “Logan’s Run” remake (photo)

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I’ve interviewed a lot of directors. Nicolas Winding Refn is the first I’ve ever spoken to who actively solicited negative feedback about his movie. As we were wrapping up our conversation about his new film “Drive,” he pressed me to tell him something I didn’t like about it. You’ll see what I said, along with his great response, at the end of our interview. I just appreciated talking to a director who takes criticism, even negative criticism, seriously.

Or maybe Refn knew he’s got a really good movie on his hands and there wasn’t much to complain about. He would be right, too. “Drive” is a superb film, a successful blend of action and romance, violence and beauty, high and low art. Ryan Gosling stars as Driver, a part-time mechanic and stuntman who moonlights as a wheelman. He takes a shine to his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), but she has a secret she’s not telling him, and he’s getting in over his head with his boss Shannon (Bryan Cranston) and some of his unsavory underworld associates (Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks, wonderfully surprising as a pragmatic mobster).

The film draws on all sorts of older inspirations — John Hughes movies, Japanese samurai films, 70s crime fiction — and combines them in a refreshingly new way. As Refn famously described in front of a packed house at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the whole project began with an awkward meeting between the director and his star. Refn was sick and high on flu medication. He doesn’t have a driver’s license — more on that in a bit — so Gosling drove him back to his hotel. When REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” came on the car stereo, Refn burst into tears and song simultaneously. Somehow, Gosling understood: this was what their movie was about. A partnership was born.

So I started with the somehow: how did the Danish-born director of foreign indies like the “Pusher” trilogy, “Bronson,” and “Valhalla Rising” know this was the right project to make as his first Hollywood movie? After that, we tackled all sorts of topics about “Drive,” including Refn’s chronological shooting method, his vision for Gosling’s costume, even his unusual choice of opening credits fonts, before we wrapped things up by briefly discussing his upcoming project with Gosling, a remake of “Logan’s Run.”

Remaking beloved science-fiction classics? Good thing the guy’s cool with negative criticism.

So I’ve read the story of your first meeting with Ryan Gosling when you were high on flu meds, crying, and singing REO Speedwagon. But what was it about this project that made it the one for you guys to collaborate on?

It wasn’t this project. It was basically that during the course of that drive home, when I was singing REO Speedwagon and crying [laughs], I saw an emotion that I could make a movie out about.

What emotion was that?

I told Ryan, “We’re going to do a movie about a man who drives around in a car at night listening to pop music because that’s his emotional relief.” He was like “Cool, let’s do it.” And that’s how the film got started. After that, I looked at the material, and I wanted to change a whole lot. Then I read the book, and I wanted to infuse much more from the book.

Can you give me some specific examples of things you changed?

Everything about it. Eliminating Driver’s past, casting Carey Mulligan instead of a Latino actress because that’s what the character is in the book, condensing the script by 25 pages, the elevator scene, the ending. So many things. It’s hard; every detail added up to a complete transformation.

I also read that you’ve failed your driving test eight times.

[laughs] Yeah.

First of all, how is it possible to fail eight times? Did you screw up a specific thing, like parallel parking?

I don’t even know what that is.

You don’t even know what that is? Maybe that’s part of the problem.

I just failed, failed, failed.

When you can’t drive, does that have any impact on the way you make a movie called “Drive” about a guy who drives a lot?

No, because I wasn’t making a movie about cars. I was making a movie about a man who owns a car.

There are some really cool driving sequences in the movie, though. How much control do you have over those? Do you design them or do you leave that to the stunt people?

Well, a good director is not an expert in anything in particular. A good director just knows a little bit about everything. And then he utilizes the various experts around him to help him realize what he wants to do.

So in the case of the driving, you have your experts, but how much direction do you give them? Does the script just say “Chase Sequence” or is it detailed?

It said “Chase Sequence” when I was done with it, because I would constantly
change things. I was shooting in chronological order, and that changed things constantly.

Why chronological order?

It makes it more interesting, seeing what will happen. It makes it more dangerous to perform, and it makes [shooting] more of a discovery process.

The silver jacket with the scorpion on the back that Ryan Gosling wears gets a lot of screen time. How did that become his signature look?

I wanted [Gosling] to wear a white satin jacket that would illuminate him at night. Good actors find their own costumes, so Ryan found a type of jacket that he really liked. And then we had that type of jacket made in satin. And then on top of that we incorporated the scorpion logo on the back.

Who has the jacket now?

I have a jacket, Ryan has a few, and my wife has more. Only the three of us.

Have you ever worn it?

My wife wears it sometimes.

Ryan is playing this figure we’ve seen before, the tough, brooding wheelman. But he does something that very few of these characters do, which is smile. He has this very warm smile that he shows Carey Mulligan’s character.

Absolutely. He is a combination of violence and romance. That was based on Grimms’ fairy tale structure. By day, he was a human being, by night he was a hero. And the movie is about his transformation into this superhero, by bringing his human morals into the hero role, so that he does what he does for the right reasons.

So the scorpion jacket is almost super-heroic.

It’s part of his costume.

Right. For months, I’ve been really intrigued by the posters for this movie with the title written in hot pink script letters. Then I saw the film and realized that’s the font of the opening titles. It’s such an unusual, striking choice. How did you come up with that?

I wanted that kind of font because it’s timeless, in a way. It’s like a hand drawn logo, which is also like old fairy tales. If you look at old fairy tales, they’re always beautifully choreographed and designed.

The violence in the movie reminded me a little of the violence in “Bronson,” where it appears in the sudden explosions after moments of stillness. Both seem to be about the anticipation of violence as much as the violence itself. Is that fair to say?

It sounds fair. I’m a fetish filmmaker; I just make films based on what I want to see.

So you don’t intellectualize it at all?

On the contrary. I fear it.

So are the feelings primarily on the set or in the editing room?

It depends on what you do. Car chases are all about editing. And more physical violence, emotional violence, is more about the performances.

Ryan’s character has these rules that he follows as a wheelman. Do you have have any rules that you follow as a filmmaker? It sounds like following your instincts would be one.

Also: making sure you’re always a little bit out of your depth. That forces you to be more creative. Art thrives on obstacles. The bigger the obstacle, the better the drama.

All right so you have two more movies you’re working on now with Ryan Gosling including a remake of “Logan’s Run.” Why did you want to remake that film?

I’ve always been obsessed with the original. I remember seeing it when I was really little on television. There was something about it that was so hypnotic. This whole disco world that they walk around in was like “Wow!”

Do you plan on making a faithful remake?

No.

A total reimagining?

Well, it would only do it justice. What I have to do is reinvent it. Otherwise, why make it?

Looks like our time’s up. Thanks very much.

Thanks. Did you like the movie?

I did.


What was your favorite part?

Well, I see a lot of action movies. Most are pretty derivative. I appreciated the fact that this looked nothing like the other action movies out there.

What was your least favorite part?

If I’m being totally honest, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more with Carey Mulligan’s character. Maybe that was by design, but after you build up her relationship with Ryan, she doesn’t have much to do in the last third of the film. I really liked her performance and I wanted to see more.

That’s good. Wanting to see more is good. You don’t want someone to say they’ve seen enough.

“Drive” opens this Friday. If you see it, tell us what you think in the comments below, or on Facebook and Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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