By Erin Free

“I wanted a house with a swimming pool and an orange tree,” Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn, told FilmInk in 2012. “I was living in The Hills, and I had the Hollywood sign above me.” After helming the explosive Pusher trilogy in his homeland, and the hard-hitting Bronson in the UK, Refn was keen to make his mark as an émigré director in America, joining the storied likes of Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and many more in this impressive cinematic pantheon.

Before finally getting there with the finely calibrated motor vehicular neon-noir of 2012’s Drive, Refn had first tried to mount Jekyll – a new take on the Jekyll and Hyde story starring Keanu Reeves – in Hollywood. When that project fell apart, Refn inched closer to punching his émigré director time clock with The Dying Of The Light, a thriller tracking a CIA agent forced to retire when he starts suffering the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and then races against time on his final mission as his mind starts to crumble.

Written on spec by legendary screenwriter, Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), Refn called it “a wonderful, wonderful script”, and signed superstar, Harrison Ford, for the lead role. A problem, however, soon emerged, with the actor deciding that he didn’t want his character to die at the end of the film, as scripted. “I was really into making this film,” Refn told The Playlist. “Then [Ford] realises that he doesn’t want to die. It was like, ‘Fucking hell! There’s no movie, Harrison!’” And there wasn’t. Refn’s Drive star, Ryan Gosling, laughed to FilmInk in 2012: “Nicolas really wants to kill Harrison Ford in a movie! And it almost happened…he almost killed Harrison Ford!”

In an ironic twist, Paul Schrader ended up directing Dying Of The Light in 2014, with Refn remaining as executive producer. With a reshaped script, and Nicolas Cage in the lead role (and the late Anton Yelchin in support), the film proved to be a far bigger headache for Schrader than it was for Nicolas Winding Refn, with Dying Of The Light experiencing one of the most tortured post-production and releases in the history of cinema…but that’s a whole other story.

The Neon Demon screens at The Melbourne International Film Festival on August 4. To buy tickets to The Neon Demon, click here.  

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