Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Bromance blooms on the set of 'Drive'

Charles Ealy

When Ryan Gosling and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn showed up for the world premiere of "Drive" at the Cannes Film Festival this year, they had an easy rapport.

But their relationship didn't start out that way.

Gosling and his producing team were searching for a director for their new project and had set up a meeting with Refn at an L.A. restaurant.

At the time, Refn was well-known for his work on such movies as "Valhalla Rising" and the "Pusher" series. And Gosling thought he might have the right touch for "Drive," which, like "Valhalla Rising," has an unusual approach to violence.

"We had a two-hour meeting, and it was like a date gone horribly wrong," Gosling says. "Nicolas had the flu and wasn't feeling well, and since he doesn't drive, I took him back to hotel."

Refn says that when he asked Gosling to take him home, "I felt like the girl on a blind date who wasn't going to put out."

So the two sat in awkward silence on the drive home. "Then I turned on the radio," Gosling says, "and it was REO Speedwagon's 'Can't Fight This Feeling.' And Nicolas just started singing. And then I cranked up the volume and joined in. And I knew that he was the right director."

And why would Gosling jump to such an conclusion?

Refn says he thinks it's because he and Gosling finally understood how to approach the movie. "I realized at that point that the movie was about a man who drives around L.A. at night and listens to pop music," Refn says. "That was the whole basis for how we approached the movie, with the music and the style. It was about a man who leads two lives — one during the working day, and another at night when he's driving."

Refn, however, had one problem in getting to know L.A. and where to shoot the scenes: He doesn't have a license, and he doesn't drive.

"So Ryan would drive me around and show me the city," Refn says. "That's how we figured out the noirish structure, the archtypes that come from noir. But in L.A., it was more like neon noir, the neon lights of L.A."

Gosling says that he and Refn also talked about how to approach the considerable violence in "Drive" on their drives around the city.

"I think we tried to make a werewolf movie without the makeup," Gosling says. "There's a violence in the character that he's afraid of. He's in a race to try and find a good cause that he can channel it into, before it turns on him."

Refn says he thinks the channeling of that violence comes through his relationship with the character of Irene (Carey Mulligan), who's raising a son by herself while her husband is in prison.

"Carey is the farm girl, and Ryan is the knight who tries to save her," Refn says.

When asked about his character's violent tendencies, Gosling says he thinks the man has seen possibly one too many movies — and that he doesn't completely understand his violent impulses. Gosling also says he sees a bit of himself in his character, who goes only by the name of Driver.

"When I was a kid in first grade, I saw 'First Blood,'\u2009" Gosling says. "And the next day I filled my Fisher-Price Houdini kit with steak knives and took it to school and threw them at the kids at recess.

"I got suspended, and my parents banned me from watching R-rated movies," Gosling says. "I could only watch National Geographic films, Bible movies or Abbott and Costello."

Gosling doesn't appear to be joking about his childhood, but he and Refn make it hard to know whether their comments should be taken seriously.

Later, when Refn leaves a table of journalists and drops by another one where Gosling is sitting, the director returns to the story about their first meeting.

"I've been telling them that you took advantage of me, Ryan," he says. "You got me alone in the car when I was tired, and you played soft-rock music to get me in the mood."

Gosling just laughs. "Then I gave you a baby, a movie-baby," he says.

Gosling then gets up and heads for the journalists' table where Refn has been.

"I hate following Nicolas," Gosling mutters as he walks away. "People are always asking me, 'So, does Nicolas really make love like an eagle falling from the sky?' I just shrug and say, 'I guess.'"

cealy@statesman.com; 445-3931