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CANNES 2019 Out of Competition

Nicolas Winding Refn • Director of Too Old to Die Young

“We all have perversion within us”


- CANNES 2019: We chatted to Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn about his violent Amazon series Too Old to Die Young, starring Miles Teller, shown at Cannes ahead of its launch on 14 June

Nicolas Winding Refn  • Director of Too Old to Die Young
(© Scott Garfield/Amazon Studios)

As proven by two episodes presented out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, the upcoming Amazon series Too Old to Die Young: North of Hollywood, West of Hell will see Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn revel in his dark side as a police officer (Miles Teller) descends into the underworld, seemingly with just one goal: to right at least some of the wrongs he witnesses on daily basis. Only this time, he can actually do something about it. Too Old to Die Young launches on Amazon Video on 14 June 2019.

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Cineuropa: Crime stories very often have this rat-a-tat dialogue, but not yours. Why did you opt for such a slow delivery?
Nicolas Winding Refn:
 We live in a very stressful world, and part of what art should do is to de-stress you. Stillness, strangely enough, is something that many people find very uncomfortable, either to be a part of or even to look at. But the whole design was to make a show that would have a different rhythm to that of our everyday life. I thought it was more interesting to go for the exact opposite of what most traditional shows are all about. The viewers can’t get the information fast enough, but I always found this reality of binge-watching rather surreal. If you can consume that amount of information, it certainly doesn’t resonate too much; it just flows through you like liquid. It was important for the pacing to be a bit disjointed.

Did the fact that you were making a series influence your way of working at all?
It was just like making a movie – but for a very long time. I don’t have an interest in episodic narrative. I don’t have an interest in anything else but myself. The workload and the amount of material I had to produce were tiring, but also very, very satisfying. It’s like walking into a studio and getting to paint every day for ten months – I am usually used to six weeks! Sometimes you realise that you are going a bit crazy in that room, but it’s still fun.

Streaming is how we live our lives now, so creating entertainment with these resources is, in a way, a new frontier. It doesn’t mean that traditional film is any less interesting, but it’s a canvas that’s bigger than we could ever have imagined. I think the two will co-exist because cinemas will always be a part of our culture. Unfortunately, it’s becoming an elitist format – I have to pay my eldest daughter to go and see a movie. Her generation has moved onto something more sophisticated, so thank God Amazon was supporting what I wanted to do and left me alone to do it. So much of modern television has turned into a factory concept, and I don’t want to spend a few years of my life working in a factory.

Where does this penchant for darkness even come from? After all, Denmark was supposed to be the happiest place on Earth. 
You have to remember that’s where Hamlet came from as well, and he ended up in a pretty messed-up situation. We all have perversion within us, whether we like it or not. I just get an enormous amount of pleasure out of it. It’s like an exorcism. Even with Shakespeare, the darker the drama, the better the entertainment. 

Still, you seem to suggest more than you actually show. There is one lengthy scene that’s all about a build-up to a brutal sexual assault that you don’t even get to see.
Were you disappointed by that? It’s not so much looking away, as knowing that less is more. I always say that style is part of the craftsmanship. It’s part of the storytelling, fantasy. I don’t make documentaries. I started out by making films that were all about reality, but I realised at a certain point that it would never be authentic enough. It’s not real! So I went: “I want to make it about unreality now.” That doesn’t mean I don’t want to make it relevant, but it’s more like a painting or an abstract installation. When people say “style over content”, I always wonder what they mean. The content is still there; it just looks better.

And familiar, as it’s still a neon-lit world that fits right in with the likes of Drive or the revenge-driven Only God Forgives [+see also:
film review
making of
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
film profile

The human mind needs release, and revenge is one of the oldest instincts we have besides hunger. There is a perverse sense of satisfaction we get out of it, and rather than experience it in real life, which I guess we shouldn’t do, we can fantasise about it. I have done what I have done, and I am just going to repeat myself unless I force myself into a different situation, one that at least gives me the desire to learn. For me, at the end of the day, it’s not about the end result, but rather the process – those are the memories you will die with. Everything else is about your ego or your wealth, which is all fantastic, and I certainly indulge in that. But this entire creative process – this is what I live for.

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