Ryan Gosling's career Drive

Jay Stone, Postmedia News

Published: Friday, May 20, 2011

CANNES, France - It's a tough action film about a getaway driver who takes on a mob of violent criminals. People are kicked to death. Cars are pushed over cliffs. The blood flows.

So it's something of a surprise to hear that Drive, the European-tinged thriller that stars Ryan Gosling as an unbeatable hero, began with a dinner between Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn that was like a date gone wrong.

"We were two very heterosexual men who essentially needed to f---," Refn recalled. "That's what you do. You have to build a relationship with the actor and everyone else around you. It is like a sexual experience."

Ryan Gosling poses during the photocall of Drive presented in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2011.

Ryan Gosling poses during the photocall of Drive presented in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2011.

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The London, Ont.-born Gosling had called the meeting after he got the script for Drive, in which he plays The Driver, a Hollywood stunt man by day and a getaway driver by night. When he needs to help out an attractive neighbour (An Education's Carey Mulligan) and her young son, The Driver turns out to be a formidable force. Filmed in Los Angeles with Canadian and British stars and a Danish director, it's a neon noir that marries the myth of the nearly silent action hero to the feeling of a European art film.

It began when Gosling said he would make the movie if Refn -- who made such edgy fare as Bronson and Valhalla Rising -- would direct it. The two men went to dinner, but Refn was fighting the flu and was on such strong medication that he could barely speak.

"For two hours he wouldn't look at me or talk to me," Gosling said just before Drive had its gala screening at the Cannes Film Festival. "He seemed very bored and disinterested. Eventually this was like a date that was going horribly wrong. I felt terrible about myself, terrible about him. I just felt terrible." Gosling eventually drove Refn home -- "I felt like the girl who wasn't going to put out," the director said -- and in the uncomfortable silence, he turned on the car radio.

The REO Speedwagon song "Can't Fight This Feeling" came on, and Refn began to sing along. "I got it," Refn said. "This is the movie. The movie is about a man who drives around Los Angeles at night listening to pop music."

It was expanded a bit, but the finished product includes the stylish feel of nighttime L.A. as The Driver races down the streets, speaking little but taking control when it counts. It's a tribute to the genre of car films, but with a feeling of existential courage.

"I'm a child of the '70s," Refn said. "I wanted to live the mythology of what it was like for a European to come to Los Angeles to make a movie. Usually, most of the time, you just hear the horror stories of everything going wrong. But on this one, it was the f---n best." He moved to a home in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, complete with pool and orange trees, and demanded that the cast members and screenwriter Hossein Amini -- adapting a novel by James Sallis -- move in with him. They wrote and filmed all day, then watched movies, edited or drove at night.

"If you watch the film, it's somehow the essence of the experience of what it's like to make the movie," Gosling said.

One of the reasons Gosling chose Refn to direct was the way he handles violence. He recalled seeing Valhalla Rising at a theatre. There's a scene where the hero, played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, kills a rival by pulling out his intestines.

"Everyone in the theatre started laughing," Gosling said. "And they were hitting each other and they were turning around. And the whole theatre came to life. And suddenly it was fun to go to the movies. It was allowed to be poetry and it was also allowed to be funny and to be fun. It didn't have to be serious all the time."

There was the same feeling at the press screening in Cannes, where viewers cheered some of the scenes of extreme violence. They were rooting for an iconic hero. Refn said wanted to make a movie of archetypes, and he sees The Driver as a knight who roams the countryside looking for people to save. The director said he may be psychotic, he's not psychopathic.

You can't say the same for the film's villains, headed by Albert Brooks as an amiable Jewish gangster named with an unexpected sadistic streak. It's a departure for Brooks, the former standup comic, but Gosling said, "The movie officially became cool, when Albert Brooks signed on ... You love him and it's even more terrifying somehow if you love your villain."

And while Drive evokes memories of classic car movies, like Bullitt, Gosling said he wasn't inspired by its hero, played by Steve McQueen.

"Mainly we just wanted to make something that wasn't macho," he said. "Somehow make a film that was tough but that wasn't posturing or macho." Even the title sequence was pink. And while The Driver is laconic, the sparse dialogue isn't designed to make him seem tougher, but to soften him.

"There's a dynamic in this film between a man a woman and a child and there's a natural harmony that happens when those energies are in a room together," Gosling said. "And you can hear it if you can listen. As opposed to talking and me acting like a macho man and Carey acting like a sexy lady and the kid acting cute and funny and ironic."

Refn agreed: "In a way, Drive is a very feminine movie. Feminist is actually more masculine than what masculine is. Feminism is much more interesting."


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