liv corfixen’s account of filming only god forgives lifts the lid on the stresses of movie making
The cult Danish director’s wife went behind the scenes on Only God Forgives and her marriage in a revealing account.
A film going behind the scenes on Nicolas Winding Refn's Bangkok set Only God Forgives has fanboy foray written all over it. And Liv Corfixen's short documentary My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn is certainly, at times, that. The 60 minute film gives the audience a glimpse into the financial stakes of modern movie making and a peak at the brotherly bond between Refn and his star, Ryan Gosling. There's also a delightful sequence where you get to see how exactly they slaughtered Kristin Scott Thomas's character (to which Refn quips to the bloodied actress: 'You just added 10 per cent to your gay fanclub').
But fanclubs aside, My Life is of interest because Corfixen is Refn's wife and the documentary is about her time with him in Bangkok as he shoots Only God Forgives. So it acts also as an examination of the marital bond and illustrates the strain of living with a creative on the scale of the Danish director. Corfixen keeping the camera on as her husband shifts between thinking his film is brilliant and bad and his mood alternates between depressed and elated. Here, she explains why she took up directing the director.
Why did you decide to make the film?
I decided to go with Nicolas to Bangkok with our two children. Before when he made his movies I always stayed behind with the children. When he did Drive, he was away for ten months and that was pretty tough on us as a family. So we decided to go together this time. I was afraid of being a housewife in Bangkok so I decided to begin the whole process of filmmaking.
Did Nicolas take persuading, considering it was the most stressful time making his own film?
No, he didn't. It was quite easy. He has an exhibitionistic side to him so he wasn't afraid. Also he wanted me to be happy. Bangkok is quite a different city when you are used to Europe. He thought it was fine that I had something to do; a job.
Did you both set out rules of engagement in filming?
No. If I was going to do this, I wanted to make it personal. So I said to him I wanted to film everything because if I was going to shut out of most things, like when he's depressed, then it will be too superficial. I filmed everything, every time I was there. I was surprised that Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas were pretty open too.
We get to see a little of the relationship between Nicolas and Ryan. How would you describe it?
We lived as neighbours [with Ryan] in Bangkok; it's nice that they have that relationship. It makes for a positive relationship on set.
The film looks at filmmaking but becomes more about the machinations of a relationship. Was that something you found yourself exploring?
It was very important for me to show how it affects someone like me to live with an artist like Nicolas. Every time he makes a movie he will be up and down. I wanted to show that and also how that affects you to be part of that as a family. If I only documented his filmmaking, it would have been only for Nicolas's movie fans but this movie also maybe speaks to women who live with artists or families who go abroad because of work. I received a lot of emails from women who said 'I'm so happy, I know this situation, it spoke to me.'
You've worked with Nicolas before as an actress. Did that help you knowing what to expect in a work situation with him?
Maybe but I knew what to expect because we'd been together 19 years. I was more concerned if I could pull it off. I did work as a stills photographer for some time.
In the film, you consult a tarot reader who tells you how the relationship stands. Did you worry how the process might affect your marriage?
I was a little afraid of what the tarot reader might say - like I'd have to leave Nicolas to be free. But in a way I knew the answer myself. That was how I felt at the time. Now we're different, we have developed and changed. Couples therapy is always good.
Is the film about you not sacrificing your work for the bigger career?
Yes, in a way. He probably wouldn't think that's fair. Sometimes I joke that I could have called the film My Life Dictated by Nicolas Winding Refn because his career is so much bigger than mine so to be with him in a way I have to understand that and follow him. But it's not that he doesn't understand that I am creative too and want a career. He supports that. He does also sacrifice for me. He says no to a lot of movies. When he's offered something there's always a conversation between us about if it would be fair to us as a family. [After Only God Forgives] I said I was done with Asia, we're moving to LA, he can make his next movie there. So now I'm dictating a little bit.
Are you going to do more films?
I want to do another documentary at some point. I also work as a healer / therapist. If I wanted to make a documentary I would have to be away. Maybe when Nicolas is done with his next movie, maybe I can go and make a movie.
I watched a few interviews you have done together for this film and a lot of the interviewers spent most time fanboying over Nicolas. Was that strange for you since it was your film?
No, I understand that's how it is because he has this huge fanbase. Maybe my problem is that I'm not too ambitious and I think you have to be very ambitious to be a big filmmaker. I don't care if he gets more attention than me.
My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is available on digital formats now and on DVD from March 2nd (Icon Films)
Text Colin Crummy
Film stills from My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn by Liv Corfixen