Nicolas Winding Refn is one of today’s bravest, coolest and most visionary film-makers. His CV includes the indisputable modern classic Drive, the film that rocked Cannes two years ago Only God Forgives and 2008’s Bronson, a brutal black comedy based on the life of Charles Bronson – arguably the UK’s most dangerous prisoner – that features a still jaw-dropping performance from Tom Hardy. As the Danish director prepares to attend a special screening of Bronson tonight (September 2) in London, NME took the opportunity to look back at the brilliant film with him
Seven years after Bronson premiered, how do you feel about the film?
“Oh, very well. I love the film and I love Tom Hardy in it.”
Why did you cast him as the film’s lead?
“I mean, look, he’s just one of the greatest actors the UK has ever produced. He’s so versatile and visually he’s very intriguing to look at. And of course he has great theatrical skills from his time doing stage work, so he really understands acting and different approaches to performance. He’s also a really nice guy – I really enjoyed working with him on Bronson.”
You’ve never met the real-life Charles Bronson, but you spoke to him on the phone. What was that like?
“Well, obviously the film is inspired by Bronson’s life so I wanted to speak to him about certain technical things in his life – how he got back into prison by stealing, and also there was a relationship with a girl that I wanted to know more about. But otherwise, the film uses a lot of artistic licence. It’s biographical but not a biopic.”
Has he ever seen the film?
“No, he’s never seen it because he wasn’t allowed, which is kind of weird and sad in a way. But he declared it the greatest film ever made anyway!”
Do you enjoy watching your films back and then answering questions from fans? Some directors really hate these kind of events.
“I mean, I did a similar event for Bronson in Los Angeles a couple of months ago and it was great fun. It’s a movie I very much enjoy so I don’t mind talking about it. The weirder the questions get, the better, I tend to think. Someone in Los Angeles asked why I’m obsessed with hands, because apparently I’m always shooting hands in my films, and I was like, God, I didn’t even know that. Sometimes these people know more about you than you know about yourself.”
Your most recent film, Only God Forgives with Ryan Gosling, really split opinion when it opened in Cannes two years ago – some critics called it a masterpiece, but others hated it. How do you feel about the film now?
“It’s great. I certainly deserved to win Palme D’Or. You know, that movie was punk rock. Of course there’s a bit of a turmoil when people are very aggressive in not liking what you do, so thank God there were also people who were on my side. But actually, that’s when you know you’ve done something right – by evoking such an extreme emotional reaction in people, I became the Sex Pistols of cinema.”
Obviously Only God Forgives was your second collaboration with Ryan Gosling after Drive. Why do you think you work so well together?
“Well, me and Ryan are very similar. We have a lot of similar DNA on a personal level. We always joke that we were twins separated at birth.”
What do you look for in an actor?
“I like all kinds of actors, I don’t have any specific type. But I’ve been very fortunate to work with the three best male leads in the world – Mads Mikkelsen, Tom Hardy and Ryan Gosling. And none of them is American! I’ve also been very fortunate to have developed personal relationships with each of them. And all three actors are very different from each other, that’s what’s so exciting.”
You’re currently editing your next film The Neon Demon. I read that Elle Fanning’s playing an aspiring model, but can you tell us much more about it?
“Well, don’t believe everything you read online! And remember that seeing my films is like Christmas – you’ve got to wait until Christmas Eve so you don’t spoil the surprise. But it will be out next year for sure – that you can print!”
Finally, what’s the best film you’ve seen this year?
“Um, what have I seen this year… I really loved that movie about the bear, Paddington?”
Of all the films I thought you might pick, that really wasn’t one of them…
“It was great! I saw it with my kids and we really enjoyed it. I highly, highly recommend it. It’s very funny, you know – we laughed a lot, my kids and me.”
The exclusive screening of Bronson followed by a Q&A with Nicolas Winding Refn takes place at London’s Picturehouse Central tonight (September 2) at 7pm. Tickets are available here.