Drive: Start Your Engines
A sensation at The Cannes Film Festival, actor Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn head into the fast lane with the razor sharp thriller, Drive.
There aren't many films that could boast Grimm's fairytales, Molly Ringwald, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, REO Speedwagon, and one almighty bad first date (followed by an ersatz actor-director love affair) as inspirations. But then Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive is no ordinary movie. Winning the Danish auteur behind the Pusher trilogy Best Director at Cannes this year - and for good reason - it's unquestionably the most stylish ride that you'll take in the cinema all year.
Adapted from the pulp novella by James Sallis, this tale of a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver was kick-started when producer Marc Platt sent the script to actor Ryan Gosling (after Hugh Jackman had initially flirted with the project), who immediately wanted to play the nameless driver. "He gave me this opportunity, which I'd never had before," says Gosling. "He said, ‘You can have any director that you want, provided that he wants to do it'." Gosling's first choice was Refn. "There's nobody like him," the actor continues. "This is such a well-explored genre, but I knew that Nicolas wouldn't mimic anybody. It's not in his DNA." While Refn's only previous US experience had resulted in the less-than-stellar 2003 horror flick, Fear X, he was keen to give it another go. "I wanted to live the mythology of what it was like for a European to come to Los Angeles to make a movie," he notes.
Still, the director almost blew it. A dose of flu and some heavy hitting medication left him almost catatonic throughout his initial meeting with Gosling. "He seemed bored and disinterested and unimpressed - it was like a date that was going horribly wrong!" says the actor. Refn was so sick that he would barely make eye contact with Gosling, let alone talk about the film. "I felt like the girl who wasn't going to put out," laughs the director.
Then came "the awkward drive home," says Gosling. "We didn't know what to say to each other, so I turned up the music and REO Speedwagon's ‘Can't Fight This Feeling' came on. And Nicolas...I wasn't sure, but out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw him crying. Then he started singing at the top of his lungs, ‘I can't fight this feeling anymore!' And then he said, ‘I got it! The movie is about a man who drives around Los Angeles at night listening to pop music!'"
In truth, Drive is about a lot more than that. Borrowing a sparse minimalism from both Le Samouraï and Walter Hill's highly influential 1978 film The Driver, with the film's only meaningful relationship coming between Gosling and Carey Mulligan's single mother, Refn saw the film's antihero in fairytale terms. "At night, he roams the countryside looking for someone to save," the director offers. "He's the ultimate hero."
Once the film was up and running, Refn moved to Hollywood, where he would trawl the LA streets at night, with Gosling by his side. "We were heterosexual men who essentially needed to fuck, because that's what you do...for me at least," winks Refn. "You have to build a relationship with the actor and everyone else around you. It is a sexual experience."
With Gosling's character embroiled with some nasty villains (led by a fantastic Albert Brooks), Refn sees Drive as a film of two halves. With the tender feelings evoked via Mulligan's character, the first half was inspired by the director's "first cinema love" - Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. "I wanted to catch that in half the movie," he says. And the other half? Refn pauses. "Essentially, the movie is about a man who is psychotic. But not in a bad way - he's not psychopathic, he's psychotic." With one head-stompin' scene destined for DVD replays, Drive has all the gear-shifts that you need for a cult classic. "It's ended up being more like a cross between Blue Velvet and Purple Rain," says Gosling.
Drive is in cinemas from October 27.