Drive has been tearing up the festival circuit since it premiered at Cannes in May. Through the Los Angeles Film Festival, Telluride and the Toronto International Film Festival, the film has wowed audiences with its brutal violence and subtle silence, omitting almost all the dialogue.
Ryan Gosling plays a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver at night. He gets into a bad deal trying to help his neighbor (Carey Mulligan). It’s a heroic turn for Gosling. As if he weren’t dreamy enough already, he described movies as putting you under a spell. Is anyone not in love with Ryan Gosling yet? Drive opens September 16.
Q: This is actually your first traditional heroic leading man role. Do you resist that because Hollywood wants you to be the good looking leading man and you want to play different characters in every film?
Ryan Gosling: Well, I’m not that good looking. I’m a pretty weird looking guy. I know that but that’s the magic of movies. If you play somebody who’s the romantic lead, it casts that spell and people believe that about you but it’s not true. Every role I got up until The Notebook was the weirdo freak psychopath nerd outsider character guy. I was playing Neo Nazis and gay football players and doing a bunch of weird kids’ TV.
Q: What was your take on Driver?
RG: When I first read this script, I felt like well, this is a guy who’s just seen too many movies. He’s going around acting like he’s the hero of his own action movie. We were just trying to justify how would somebody go around actually doing this? We thought only someone who saw too many movies would do this. The fact that he was a stunt driver kind of allowed us to explore that because movies were a part of his life. If you were going to risk it all for this woman that you’ve held hands with, had to by a hyper romantic guy who bought into those romantic film fantasies of being a hero and rescuing the damsel in distress. Could only feel by listening to pop music, like he needed to put on REO Speedwagon if he wanted to cry. I think that he’s a psychopath. And he’s delusional and believes that he has this darkness and rage in him that is inevitably going to come out. He’s trying to focus it into something heroic before he becomes a villain.
Q: What were the biggest movie influences on Drive?
RG: The films that we talked about the most were John Hughes movies. John Hughes movies are just champagne and cotton candy. No one did that better than him but maybe there’s not a lot of contrast in his films or maybe a balance. It’s all that. So we thought if we could throw some blood on that cotton candy… I always wanted to see a violent John Hughes movie.
Q: Was it significant that he’s only called Driver and has no name?
RG: Well, we also wanted the film to feel like a fairy tale and that Los Angeles is in a way fairy tale land, based and built on fantasy. And that the only way this movie was really going to resonate on a deep level for the audience if you weren’t from Los Angeles is if we dug into the mythology of these characters’ story. So we started to treat the Driver as a knight and Irene as a princess locked in the tower. Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) as an evil wizard and Ron Perlman as the dragon that needs to be slain.
Q: Is it fun to dive into acting with no dialogue?
RG: Dialogue just wasn’t necessary any more. If you eliminated the dialogue, people are smart, they can see how someone’s feeling, you don’t need to tell them. We just took away everything that wasn’t necessary and it turned out that there wasn’t a lot that was necessary. Very little had to be said to push the story forward. I think you can say more that way. Once you put a word to it, it pins it and makes it that. So for us we were able to say a lot more by cutting out the dialogue. The thing that really influenced the movie the most was the way that we made it and the way that it came about, I had had these feelings that I like driving but I don’t necessarily need to drive fast or do stunts. I don’t like that in movies necessarily. I just like getting in the car and driving around because I feel like it puts me under some kind of spell. When I get somewhere I don’t remember the drive. I like to listen to music when I’m driving so I had this feeling like the movie can be about driving, not about stunts and going fast.
Q: Was director Nicolas Winding Refn always on board with that?
RG: When I met with Nicolas, we had a terrible first meeting and it was like a terrible first date. He didn’t talk to me or look at me. He was totally disinterested in being there, or at least it seemed that way to me in retrospect. I had learned that he was high on American cold medication. It was one of those dates where you know you’re not going to get any action so you just say, “Let’s call it. Get the check.” He needs a ride home now because he doesn’t drive. I’m like how can this guy make a movie about driving if he doesn’t drive? I have to take him home. We’re in the car and it’s awful. We’re not talking so I turn on the radio and REO Speedwagon comes on. “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore” and suddenly the guy comes to life. He starts crying and singing at the top of his lungs. He says, “This is it. It’s a movie about a guy that drives around listening to music.” Which is how I’d been feeling so I knew that we were on to something. What I love about the film is that the movie never would’ve been made if REO Speedwagon hadn’t come on the radio. The movie kept going in that direction in that we would drive around all night, go to the 101 Diner, talk. We’d drive around and listen to music. We’d edit the film. Then we’d go to work in the morning and shoot it. Then when we were done shooting, we’d go back to driving around, listening to music, editing it at night and watching movies. So the experience of making the film, watching the film is a good representation of what the experience of making it was like.
Q: What kind of music are you listening to?
RG: Well, I love the music in this film. I’m really excited. I think it’s exciting to have a good soundtrack. I used to love to buy soundtracks and I kind of stopped a while ago but I think this a lot of really great bands are in here. Kavinsky, Johnny Jewell, he does Glass Candy, The Chromatics and Mirage. This whole dark disco thing that they’re doing, I’m really into it.
Q: How do you stay grounded when there’s all the buzz about the film and people saying you’ll be nominated for an Oscar?
RG: I don’t know what to say. I don’t know.
Q: Does it feel good?
RG: All that stuff, what’s difficult about praise is that when you get into this, most people tell you that it’s not possible or that you can’t do it. Nobody believes in you when you’re starting out, but for a few people. Those people, you learn not to care or listen to what people think because if you did, you would be too afraid to try. So you train yourself and numb yourself to other people’s opinions. Not because you value your own so much and you think they’re better than any one else but because if you really listened to other people, you wouldn’t do anything. You’d be too afraid to try it. Then suddenly people decide that they like what you’re doing and then they want to praise you. Suddenly you’re supposed to start caring again. But if you do, you’re still taking the same risk. It kind of in some way if you start caring about what they think, it cheapens the people who did believe in you, your relationship to the people who did believe in you when nobody else did.
Q: And buzz for Refn also. What are his greatest strengths as a director?
RG: Well, look, ever since Nicolas was a little boy, his mother’s been telling him he’s a genius and everything he did was genius, even when he was watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre while he ate his cereal before he went to elementary school every morning obsessively. She believed that he was a genius and I think that you get told that enough that eventually it becomes true. I’m not sure that he started out as one but I do believe he’s become one. He is just a very unfiltered filmmaker. He just makes what he wants to see. If it’s boring to him, he won’t shoot it. He fetishizes things in a way. He’s married, so he sexualizes things because he maybe can’t be as sexual as he’d want to be. So he talks about filmmaking a lot like having sex. It has to arouse him and it has to be sexually interesting to him, even if it’s a pair of gloves or it’s where your hand is in the frame. It has to literally turn him on so that’s unique. So his films are unique.
Q: This could be a spoiler for people who haven’t seen it yet, but the elevator scene is so brutal. What are you going through when you’re acting like that and it’s so visceral?
RG: Well, when you’re doing it it’s different because we didn’t have a lot of money on this movie. Irreversible has a head smashing in it which is the best head smashing that I’ve ever seen. So we called Gaspar Noe and we asked him, “First of all, can we do a head smashing? Second of all, how did you do that?” So he told us how but we didn’t have the money that they had to do it so we basically made these prosthetic heads to smash that didn’t look anything like the guy and they were squashed like grapes with just one kick. It was almost like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or something. It was cartoonish. So when you’re shooting it you’re very aware of the falseness of it. So it’s different. It’s harder to get lost in those kind of things because they’re so technical but I think that Nicolas did a great job of eliminating all of those elements and making it really visceral and scary, a transformative scene for the character. We also used a werewolf metaphor throughout the movie, that the Driver thought he was a werewolf and had never turned into one but was convinced that he had the potential to. In that scene, the werewolf is unleashed.