Prior to the release of Luis Prieto’s PUSHER this month, THN met up with executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn and stars Richard Coyle and Agyness Deyn to discuss the British remake of Refn’s cult classic.
There’s a bit of cynicism about remakes, especially remakes from one language into English. I just want to know, specifically from Nicolas, what was different about Pusher?
Winding Refn: Well, I would say making it in Bollywood was more extreme. (referring to the Hindi remake directed by Assad Raja released in 2010) I mean I never saw that version that they made over there, but you know for many years, people were coming at me, trying to buy the rights, or wanted to buy the rights for America, there was a television concept, there were other ideas, there was even an American script written for a remake and so forth.
But, it never really materialised and I didn’t have a lot of interest in it, so it wasn’t really until Rupert Preston (Producer on PUSHER), who had distributed the first one (the Danish original in 1996), and I had worked with on all my other films up until DRIVE (2011) and was a very good friend of mine, and with that he was very interested in maybe doing a remake because we had been talking about it for a couple of years and he said now was the time do it. And I knew, that he wanted to do it, so I said, “Sure, go ahead.”
What were some of the things, such as setting it in the UK, that excited you about the project?
Winding Refn: Well, I very quickly said look, I can’t make this movie again, I’ve made three of them (the Danish PUSHER trilogy) and I’m not the right one, but I’m there to help you, whatever you want to do. But, I did go out and I found the writer, a guy called Matthew Read, who was a very good friend of mine and a very good writer, and I brought him in to adapt it and then I said “Call me, when it’s done!”
Setting the film in London, what does that bring to the story?
Winding Refn: One of the things with the concept is that it’s about an urban environment, so you could set it anywhere really. There’s nothing original in the concept. But the one thing of course, is that my PUSHER films were not about crime, but about people in a criminal environment. So, it was more about a morality tale set in a criminal situation.
But of course, London being one of the major metropolitan cities in the world, its certainly a very fitting stage and a perfect cross between America and Europe, so I certainly couldn’t imagine it taking place anywhere else, so I thought it was a very clever idea.
Giving it to someone else to remake, was there any “this is my baby, this is what we made me?” Was it hard to give away and see someone else make it?
Winding Refn: (after a lot of indecision, shuffling and laughing)…..No, not in any way.
Agyness, how did you prepare for your role, going from modelling, supplement, stripper?
Deyn: I think originally, getting cast as Flo, made me realise I didn’t have to literally transform myself into the typical stripper, that I was able to have a play with something different. The way that I interpreted her when I read the script was that she had this real child vulnerability about her, which I fell in love with straight away when I read the script.
Then, while she’s at work and having this persona, because of that, it has to be the opposite, so preparing for it, I worked with a girl called Jen, who was amazing, so generous and taught me to work and stuff and introduce me to the scene, and people, and everything. Just speaking to people and being in the environment, like I would just go to hang out with the girls at work and stuff like that.
How has the transformation from catwalk to sets gone for you? Has it been an easy transition or a lot of hard work?
Deyn: I suppose hard work in a way of being dedicated and I want to work hard and I don’t expect to be given anything for being a model, or vice versa. I made the decision and I wanted to throw myself into it, but in a gradual way. I believe in gradiance and I don’t want to go from one extreme to the other so I started off doing little things and learning and absorbing everything I could.
Visually watching people on set, and like Richard (co-star Richard Coyle), who was from drama school in 30 days or less than that, and with Luis (director Luis Prieto) and Bronson (co-star Bronson Webb), I took from him the fun and enjoyment of working, and Richard the dedication and hard work. So, just picking up from everyone and because the set was so family orientated, it really gave me the confidence to be involved in it and be a part of it and feel like it was worth being there.
We’re still asking about that shift from modelling to actor, and I was just wondering if, opening up to Richard and Nicolas, internationally now to a certain audience knowing you from DRIVE, do all these expectations weigh on your minds throughout your career decisions and so on.
Coyle: Well, I guess it can be a blessing and a curse from my perspective. I am an ambitious actor and there’s a lot of things that I want to do and it’s frustrating to be pigeon-holed and I work very hard at trying not to be. I work very hard at trying lots of different things.
Nicolas, can you tell us what you think Richard, Agyness and Luis all bring to PUSHER? I’m sure you’ve had some masterminding effect over the whole project?
Winding Refn: (laughing) Not really. I felt I should just stay out of it because if you don’t, I mean, it was very important for me to say that this was not my movie. When Rupert called, I was in Bangkok, so when he said he had met Luis after the script had been written and we were happy. It was very much like who do you want to be in it, who do you want to make it, so with Luis, I met him once. I said “look I don’t know who you are, but this is your movie and good luck.”
I didn’t want to interfere because I felt that would be disrespectful, I didn’t want to interfere with their choice of actress, which I think turned out very, very good, but if they wanted to talk about anything, whatever, which they didn’t (cue laughter from Deyn and Coyle), then I was there.
I went to the set once, which was kind of strange, a bit like déjà vu, with Richard and Agyness there, but it was very much for me, it was their movie, Richard was playing this character and he was going to play it in a certain way that was going to be different from the people that I worked with, and that’s great, because why would you want to do the same thing again? He has to do things, the way he wants to do them, with Luis and it’s not my place to interfere with those decisions and I made that very clear and it was important for me to make that clear.
Talking about Nicolas’ original, did either of you (directed towards Richard and Agyness) watch the original as inspiration when you were playing your characters?
Deyn: Luis asked us not to watch it, before we did it, I suppose because he didn’t want us duplicating what somebody else had done.
Coyle: I hadn’t seen it, but I was fully aware of it, and its status and the esteem in which it’s held, but I didn’t think it was going to help me. It’s a long shadow. That film casts a long shadow and we were trying to make our own take on it. Probably trying to carry Kim Bodnia (the actor who played Frank in the 1996 original) on my back is probably going to be…
Winding Refn: (laughing) you’d die.
Coyle: I would die, so that wasn’t going to help.
Richard if you don’t mind me saying, you looked pretty terrible by the end of the film…
Coyle: Yeh, I felt pretty terrible.
Was it a pretty intense shoot, to step into heightened paranoia?
Coyle: Yes, it was quite intense and it was an intense shoot and I wanted to look as rough as I could. I think it’s important. It’s a pretty battering week in a guy’s life. I don’t think there was any place for vanity.
Was it hard to come off set sometimes?
Coyle: I was walking around like a mad man in the end. I was going home and smashing up my apartment. Well…not really but I wanted to. I was pretty aggressive with everyone in my life. It’s hard to leave that at the set when you go home at the end of the day.
I nearly got into a fight with the shopkeeper at my local shop. He wouldn’t let me off with 5p. I didn’t have any more change so I had to stop myself and walk away, because I wanted the grab the till and stove his head in.
Is that gone now then?
Coyle: (laughing) Yes, but it might come back.
How did you prepare for that? How did you get into that mind set? This role was fairly intense, and the role you had in W.E. (playing William Winthrope in Madonna’s 2011 directorial debut), both completely different from your earlier stuff.
Coyle: Yes, I read the script, I prepared, I did my work and I went out and made friends with a couple of drug dealers that I found. (laughing) I’m going to shut up now.
Agyness and Richard, you are two big names associated with this film, and two other big names are the Hartnoll brothers, otherwise known as Orbital. So many of the scenes, in clubs and so on, were built around that music. Was that in place when you had to react to it, or did all come afterwards, or were they collaborating from early on?
Coyle: I think it was the other way round actually. They came on board subsequent to the film and they wrote to suit what they saw.
Deyn: The club scenes were really fun and tempermental at the same time, because we would literally go in, on a club night, so it was a raging drum and bass night and you were just engrossed in this whole atmosphere and was mad.
Coyle: It was pretty much the only place, in drum and bass clubs, where you could walk through the crowd, have the whole crew following you with a handheld camera and no one bats an eye lid.
Deyn: Yeh, because everyone is so off their head, dancing away.
Coyle: It was bizarre. But brilliant.
And, the last question for Nicolas, what makes a good, engaging, entertaining film? What are the elements?
Winding Refn: I think that drama is heightened reality, and heightened reality, the loss of life, is the essence in a way and around that, so many different fractions can spin off. Life and death can be played in many different ways, in different scenarios, so there is never one straight answer.
PUSHER is in UK cinemas now.