It took a pandemic and shutdown for “Drive” director Nicholas Winding Refn to return to directing in Denmark, where he presented the “Pusher” trilogy early in his career.
“Sometimes the strangest things come in mysterious ways, and this is one of them,” Raven says of Copenhagen Cowboy, the Netflix original series, set to premiere September 9 at the Venice Film Festival.
Since “Drive,” Winding Refn has directed the Bangkok-based thriller Only God Forgives, with “Drive” star Ryan Gosling; “The Neon Demon” with Elle Fanning plays an aspiring model in Los Angeles. And the Amazon Prime video series “Too Old To Die Young” stars Miles Teller as a grieving cop in crime-ridden Southern California. He was preparing another overseas project when the pandemic hit.
“We hung out as a family in Denmark and I had the idea,” he says, noting that his wife, Leif Korviksen, the CEO produced the series, and his two daughters, Lola and Lizielo, their star. “It has become a wonderful creative process as I no longer live in two separate worlds as a creator by day and as a family man by night. It is a new chapter in my way of working but also in our lives.”
Refn has faced some criticism for the use of gratuitous violence in his films, particularly “Only God Forgives” and “The Neon Demon”. But he says he’s “not a violent person.”
“If there is violence in what I do, it is because I think that is what painting needs,” he says, adding that “art is a violent act. .”
While the plot for “Copenhagen Cowboy” is still kept secret, Refn notes that it has more depth than some of his earlier works.
“It sounds like a cliché, but the older I get, the more concerned I become about the world. I think it’s a responsibility that we take that seriously,” he says.
Too old to die was surely a prediction of what America has become after Trump. It was a show on time with what is being fed to me through the media and what are my particular interests and obsessions. “The Copenhagen Cowboys” is a continuation of that,” he continues.
The director also says that the new series has a fantasy element, “similar to what Hans Christian Andersen would do, a fairy tale that reflects everything around it.” He says the “champion” of the show (played by Angela Bundalovic) “relies almost entirely on his wife,” at least when it comes to her powers.
Refn also praised Netflix for understanding his vision from the start and giving him “a lot of enthusiasm going forward”. “It was a really fast and fun process. I created the show, made a deal with Netflix and hired some great female writers (Sarah Isabella Johnson, Johann Algren) from Denmark and we wrote it in six months. A year later, we release it in Venice.” He also produced the show with his NWR banner, along with Lene Børglum and Christina Bostofte Erritzøe.
“Copenhagen Cowboy” looks as elegant as Refn’s previous work, with a main cast that includes acclaimed cinematographer Magnus Nordenhof Jønck (“A Hijacking”), production designer Gitte Malling (“Land of Mine”) and music by Cliff Martinez and Peter Peter, Peter Kidd and Julian Winding.
Although he made several films in the United States, Winding Refn never went out to any studio. He admits he was approached to direct a James Bond movie (thought to be “Spectre”) but that’s it. “We just met and it was a great meeting. But you know not everything is supposed to happen. Sometimes it’s more fun talking about it than realizing it.”
He says the best advice he ever received was from Elia Kazan, who told him about 26 years ago, after he brought out “Pusher”: “Do it your way.”
While he has had a therapeutic experience working from home in Denmark, Refn suggests he hasn’t finished exploring Los Angeles.
“I have a great love for Los Angeles and working there,” he says. “It’s based on a desert – it’s like a strange landscape and an alien environment. So to me, it’s like flying to Mars and shooting there.”
It could also be a reunion with Gosling in Refn Cards. “Ryan is a big part of my life. We are so attached to having each other creatively and personally, I love him so much and am sure we’ll be working again in the future. We talk about it all the time.”
Watch the trailer below: