Nicolas Winding Refn

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Nicolas Winding Refn
Nicolas Winding Refn Cannes 2013.jpg
Born (1970-09-29) 29 September 1970 (age 52)
Copenhagen, Denmark
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, producer
Years active1996–present
Notable work
(m. 2007)
AwardsAACTA International Award
Festival de Cannes Prix de la mise en scène
José Luis Guarner Critic's Award
Satellite Award

Nicolas Winding Refn (Danish: [ˈne̝kolɑs ˈve̝nte̝ŋ ˈʁæfn̩]; born 29 September 1970), also known as Jang, is a Danish film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is known for his collaborations with Mads Mikkelsen, Tom Hardy and Ryan Gosling.

He found great success early in his career directing the Pusher trilogy (1996–2005), the crime drama Bronson (2008), and the adventure film Valhalla Rising (2009). In 2011 he gained newfound stardom directing the action drama film Drive (2011) for which he won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director. He was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. Refn's next films were the stylistically driven action film Only God Forgives (2013), and the psychological horror film The Neon Demon (2016). In 2019, he directed his first television series Too Old to Die Young (2019) which premiered on Amazon Prime.[2] After a bad experience with Amazon and how it handled Too Old to Die Young, Refn's next project took him to Netflix, and saw him returning to his native Copenhagen for the first time since Pusher 3, and was the setting for his magical-realism series, Copenhagen Cowboy.

In 2008, Refn co-founded the Copenhagen-based production company Space Rocket Nation.[3]

Early life[edit]

Refn was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and raised partly in New York, United States.[4] Refn's parents are Danish film director and editor Anders Refn and cinematographer Vibeke Winding.[5][6][7] His half-brother is Kasper Winding, who has become a singer in Denmark.[8]

He attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts but was expelled for throwing a table into a wall.[9]


1996–2005: Early career and the Pusher trilogy[edit]

Refn made his directorial debut with the Danish crime film Pusher (1996).[10] It garnered a Best Supporting Actor Award for Zlatko Burić at the 1997 Bodil Awards.

Refn then directed Bleeder (1999), which featured much of the same cast from the Pusher Trilogy, including actors such as Kim Bodnia and Mads Mikkelsen. Refn won the FIPRESCI prize for the film at the 2000 Sarajevo Film Festival the work won Best Lighting at the Robert Festival. The film was nominated for Best Film and Best Supporting Actress at the 2000 Bodil Awards, as well as for the Grand Prix Asturias for Best Feature at the 1999 Gijon International Film Festival.[citation needed]

In 2003, Refn directed and wrote his first English-language film, Fear X, which starred John Turturro and was shot in Canada. Although a financial disappointment, the Danish-Canadian production won an International Fantasy Film Award for Best Screenplay at the 2004 Fantasporto Film Festival, and was nominated for best actor awards (for Turturro) at the Bodil Awards and the Fangoria Awards, and best film awards at festivals including Sitges Film Festival and the Sochi International Film Festival.

Refn later made two sequels to Pusher, Pusher II (2004) (a.k.a. Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands) and Pusher 3 (2005) (a.k.a. Pusher III: I'm The Angel of Death). For Pusher II, lead actor Mads Mikkelsen won a Best Actor award at the 2005 Bodil Awards,[11] Best Actor at the 2005 Robert Festival[12] (where the film was also nominated for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film, among other nominations), and Best Actor at the 2005 Zulu Awards. The film was remade as a British version in 2012, Pusher, directed by Luis Prieto and executive produced by Refn.[10]

2005–2011: Critical acclaim[edit]

In 2008, Refn returned to the European art house film circuit after his unsuccessful Hollywood venture Fear X. He wrote and directed Bronson (2008), which starred Tom Hardy as the title character, the U.K. prisoner Charles Bronson, noted for mental illness, violence and art. The film won Best Film at the 2009 Sydney Film Festival, and was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema — Dramatic) at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Hardy won a Best Actor award at the 2009 British Independent Film Awards for his portrayal of Charles Bronson (and the film was nominated for a Best Achievement in Production award as well). Hardy was nominated for Best Actor by the Evening Standard British Film Awards and the London Critics Circle Film Awards.

In 2009, Refn teamed up again with frequent collaborator Mads Mikkelsen to write and direct Valhalla Rising, a surrealistic period piece about the Viking era. The film won an International Fantasy Film Special Jury Award and Special Mention at the 2010 Fantasporto Festival, and won the Titra Film Award for Refn at the 2010 Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival. The film also won a Best Make-Up award at the 2011 Robert Festival.

2011–2016: Hollywood breakthrough[edit]

Refn promoting Drive at the Deauville American Film Festival in September 2011

In 2011, Refn directed the American action drama film Drive (2011). It premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where he received the Best Director Award.[13]

The film earned Refn a BAFTA nomination for directing. The film was also nominated in 2012 for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing,[14][15] a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture nomination for Albert Brooks,[16] Excellence in Production Design Award from the Art Directors Guild, won Best Director, Best Screenplay (for Hossein Amini) and Best Supporting Actor (for Brooks) at the Austin Film Critics Awards, won Boston Society of Film Critics Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks) and Best Use of Music in a Film (by Cliff Martinez), the Critics Choice Award at the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards for Best Action Movie, Best Director, Best Picture and Breakthrough Film Artist at the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, Best Original Score (Martinez) and Best Supporting Actor (Brooks) at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Best Supporting Actor (Brooks) at the Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, Best Foreign Film at the Fotogramas de Plata, Best Director from the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, a Top Films Award from the National Board of Review, Best Supporting Actor (Brooks) at the National Society of Film Critics Awards, the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Best Director at the San Diego Film Critics Society Awards.[17]

Refn wanted to cast Drive actress Christina Hendricks as Wonder Woman,[18][19][20] but later focused on Batgirl instead.[21][22]

The Bangkok-set crime film Only God Forgives, starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas, premiered in competition at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[23] The film was awarded the Sydney Film Prize at the 2013 Sydney Film Festival.[24]

Liv Corfixen, Refn's wife, directed the documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, centered on the life and work of Refn and their relationship.[25] The documentary film premiered on July 17, 2014, in Denmark.[26]

In September 2011, Refn said his next film would be I Walk with the Dead, with Carey Mulligan slated to play the lead; she was co-star of Drive.[27] According to Refn, it will be a horror-movie sex thriller that may be set in Tokyo or Los Angeles.[28]

In 2013, Refn confirmed I Walk with the Dead as his next project.[29] In October 2013 playwright Polly Stenham was confirmed to write the screenplay with Refn. They stated that the film will have an all-female cast. Refn admitted that he asked Stenham to write the screenplay to compensate for his perceived inability to write female characters.[30]

On November 3, 2014, his production company Space Rocket Nation, alongside its co-producers Gaumont Film Company and Wild Bunch, announced that Refn's next film would be titled The Neon Demon, rather than I Walk With The Dead. The Neon Demon would be filmed in Los Angeles, California, in early 2015.[31] The film stars Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Abbey Lee, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote.[32] On April 14, 2016, it was announced that the film would be competing for the Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival,[33] marking it as the third consecutive film directed by Refn that had competed for the Palme d'Or.

Adverts and short films[edit]

He directed an extended Gucci commercial featuring Blake Lively and himself in a brief cameo,[34] which premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. The short film is entitled Gucci Premiere. He also directed the music video for his frequent collaborator Peter Peter's band Bleeder, which featured his wife Liv Corfixen as a crazy nurse. He also directed a series of Lincoln commercials starring Matthew McConaughey.

Future projects[edit]

On August 14, 2016, Refn announced via his Twitter page that his next project would be titled The Avenging Silence, calling it "Ian Fleming + William Burroughs + NWR = The Avenging Silence" and posted images for Fleming's novel Dr. No and for Burroughs's novel The Soft Machine.[35][36] Variety reported that producer Lene Borglum described the purported plot as following: "[A] former European spy [accepts] a mission from a Japanese businessman to take down the head of a Yakuza boss in Japan".[37]


In 2019, Cannes Film Festival announced that it would host a masterclass with Refn on working in Film and TV.[38]

Unrealized projects[edit]

In 2005, it was reported that Refn co-wrote a screenplay with Nicholas St. John titled Billy’s People.[39] However, Refn scrapped the project because his films Bleeder (1999) and Fear X (2003) were box office disasters.[40]

In 2009, Refn expressed high interest in developing a film biopic of notoriously polemic and controversial English occultist, Aleister Crowley, with Bronson star, Tom Hardy, as Crowley. Refn admitted to not knowing anything about the life of the magician and referred to Crowley as a "Satan-worshipping cult personality".[41] That year, he became attached to direct a modern retelling of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Keanu Reeves playing the titular roles. The working title of the film was Jekyll. According to an interview with SciFi Wire, he wanted the film to take place "in modern America and use as much credible science as possible."[42] However, in February 2010, Winding Refn dropped out of the project in order to work on Drive.[43]

In 2010, Refn planned to direct Paul Schrader's script The Dying of the Light with Harrison Ford as the lead.[44] However, in February 2010, Winding Refn exited the project. In September 2011 during promotion for Drive, he claimed that Ford did not want his character to die, causing the film production to fall apart.[45] [46] Schrader directed the film, which starred Nicolas Cage and Anton Yelchin in the Ford and Tatum roles. Following its release, Refn joined with Schrader, Cage, and Yelchin in protesting the studio's final edit of the project, which was not to Schrader's original vision.

Channing Tatum, who was to co-star with Ford in The Dying of the Light, originally wanted Refn to direct Magic Mike (2012), which Steven Soderbergh came to direct.

In 2012, Refn became involved in the direction of a remake of the 1980s crime show The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington, but the deal with Sony fell through for unknown reasons.[47] The adaptation The Equalizer ended up being directed by Antoine Fuqua for release in 2014.

In July 2016, Refn revealed that he had turned down the offer to direct the James Bond movie Spectre.[48]

Directing style[edit]

Refn has spoken about characterization in his films:

"I've always liked characters that because of the circumstances, have to transform themselves, and in the end, it's inevitable that what they end up becoming is what they were meant to be. Take, for example, Pusher II, which is a movie about a son [played by Mads Mikkelsen] who all his life wants his father's love, but realizes he needs to kill him to free the sins of the father from him. What plants the seed for him is realizing he has his own child, and the responsibility of that suddenly forces him to take action. And it's a happy ending, even though it's a dark ending, but for the character, it is what he was meant to become. It's almost like he achieved his true meaning. And Drive is similar in the sense that The Driver was meant to become a superhero, and he's denied all these things—relationships, companionship. And why would he be denied that? It was because he was meant for something greater."[49]

Refn prefers to shoot his films in chronological order: "I read that [director John Cassavetes] had done it on some of his films, so I thought, 'That's a pretty cool approach.' And after I did it on my first movie, I felt, 'How can you do a movie any other way?' It's like a painting—you paint the movie as you go along, and I like the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how it's going to turn out."[50] Refn spoke more about shooting in chronological order in September 2011, in reference to Drive:

"It's always difficult with production. All my films previous to Drive had been shot in what I call 100-percent almost-chronological order. Where Drive is like 80 percent. The reason why it didn't go 100 was that I just simply couldn't afford the last remaining pieces. I could afford what I call "the emotional chronological order". So nobody would die or leave the movie in the middle of their shooting schedule. It would always be the end. So there was a build-up as much as possible."[49]

On his approach to working with actors, Refn has said:

"I think the first thing I ask any actor is what they would like to do, which sometimes can frighten people or can be looked upon as, 'Oh, you don't know what you want.' But I try to draw the actor in—to force them in, in some cases, because a lot of actors don't want to discuss things or go in deep; they just want to come and do the work, play their part and walk away. But for me, it doesn't work like that. You've got to get absorbed and dirty, and a way to do that is to ask the actor what they would like to do. It also forces them to be more truthful."[50]

Refn's color blindness has influenced his style: "I can't see mid-colors. That's why all my films are very contrasted, if it were anything else I couldn't see it."[9]


Refn has cited viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) as inspiration for his filmmaking career:

"I grew up in a cinema family. My parents were brought up on the French New Wave. That was God to them, but to me it was the antichrist, and how better to rebel against your parents than by watching something your mother is going to hate, which were American horror movies. When I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I realized: I don't want to be a director, I don't want to be a writer, I don't want to be a producer, I don't want to be a photographer, I don't want to be an editor, I don't want to be a sound man. I want to be all of them at once. And that film proved that you can do it because that movie is not a normal movie."[50]

Refn has said numerous times that his largest cinematic influence has been the director Alejandro Jodorowsky (to whom Refn dedicated Only God Forgives),[51] of whom he has said:

"I had been seeing Jodorowsky the last couple years in Paris and we’d become quite close. Before we’d have dinner, we’d always have a tarot reading and talk about what it means. I feel that as a filmmaker, he’s the last of the great giants of an era that’s coming to a close. A year ago, he baptized me as his spiritual son and I wanted to reward that gesture."[52]

He stated that for his first film Pusher, he stole everything from Gillo Pontecorvo's 1965 Oscar-nominated The Battle of Algiers and the 1980 Italian horror film Cannibal Holocaust.[53] Also influential to his film viewing experience were John Cassavetes' 1976 film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Kevin Smith's 1994 indie film Clerks.[50]

Other favorites include Tokyo Drifter (1966), Kwaidan (1964), My Life as a Dog (1985), Man on Fire (2004), Pretty Woman (1990), Scorpio Rising (1963), Vampyr (1932), Videodrome (1980), Suspiria (1977), Cloverfield (2008), Flesh for Frankenstein (1973), Planet of the Vampires (1965), Liquid Sky (1982), The Shining (1980), Night of the Living Dead (1968), To Die For (1995), Sixteen Candles (1984), The Night of the Hunter (1955), Alien (1979) and Beauty and the Beast (1946). Some of the films Refn help restored include Ron Ormond's The Burning Hell (1974), Curtis Harrington's Night Tide (1961) and Ray Dennis Steckler's Wild Guitar (1962).[54][55][56][57][58]

Personal life[edit]

Refn is married to actress Liv Corfixen,[59] with whom he has two daughters.[60]

After making the movie Fear X, Refn was heavily in debt. The story of Refn's recovery is recorded in the documentary Gambler, directed by Phie Ambo.[61] At the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Refn said that he was repulsed by the controversial remarks by Lars von Trier about Adolf Hitler, calling them unacceptable.[62]

His wife, Liv Corfixen, wrote and directed a documentary entitled My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, which chronicles the "behind the scenes" experience of shooting Only God Forgives when the entire family had to be relocated to Thailand. The documentary has received positive reviews after premiering at Fantastic Fest and Beyond Fest.[63] The soundtrack for the documentary is also composed entirely by Cliff Martinez, with the last track "Disconnected" composed, written and sung by Julian Winding, Refn's nephew.[64]



Year Title Director Writer Producer
1996 Pusher Yes Yes No
1999 Bleeder Yes Yes Yes
2003 Fear X Yes Yes No
2004 Pusher II Yes Yes Yes
2005 Pusher III Yes Yes No
2008 Bronson Yes Yes No
2009 Valhalla Rising Yes Yes No
2011 Drive Yes No No
2013 Only God Forgives Yes Yes No
2016 The Neon Demon Yes Yes Yes

Executive producer


Year Title Director Executive
Writer Creator Notes
2009 Agatha Christie's Marple: Nemesis Yes No No No Television film
2019 Too Old to Die Young Yes Yes Yes Yes
2023 Copenhagen Cowboy Yes Yes No Yes Also actor

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist
1999 "Psycho Power" Bleeder

Acting and documentary appearances

Year Title Role Notes
1996 Pusher Brian
2005 Kinamand Lægen ("The Doctor")
2012 Pusher Dutch Bob
2013 Jodorowsky's Dune Himself Documentary
2015 My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn Himself (subject)
2019 Death Stranding Heartman Video game
3D model only[65]
2023 Copenhagen Cowboy Jørgen Episode: "From Mr. Chiang with Love"


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  3. ^ "Space Rocket Nation".
  4. ^ Lim Dennis (October 01, 2009). "Looking at an Inmate, Seeing an Artist". The New York Times, accessed October 07, 2011.
  5. ^ McDonagh, Maitland (August 24, 2011). "Drive into darkness: Nicolas Winding Refn takes the wheel for Cannes award-winning action drama" Archived 2014-05-17 at the Wayback Machine. Film Journal International, accessed September 30, 2011.
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  14. ^ 2012|
  15. ^ Hugo Wins Sound Editing: 2012 Oscars
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  30. ^ "Now Polly Stenham gets ready to walk with the dead". 21 October 2013.
  31. ^ "Nordisk Film & TV Fond :: Nicolas Winding Refn Readies Danish/French Horror Tale". Retrieved 20 January 2015.
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  33. ^ "2016 Cannes Film Festival Announces Lineup". IndieWire. 14 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
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  35. ^ "Post a Tweet on Twitter".
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  37. ^ Kil, Sonia (10 December 2016). "IFFAM: Project Pitching Gets Lively Start at Macao's Crouching Tigers Market".
  38. ^ "Nicolas Winding Refn Will Deliver Cannes Masterclass on Working in Film and TV — Exclusive". IndieWire. 19 April 2019.
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  40. ^ McClanahan, Erik (20 September 2011). "The Road To 'Drive': The Films Of Nicolas Winding Refn". IndieWire. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  41. ^ Quick Note: Another Evil Crowley Film?|Paganism
  42. ^ Fischer, Russ (22 September 2009). "Nicolas Winding Refn Talks Valhalla Rising and Jekyll". /Film. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
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  47. ^ Goldberg, Matt (9 January 2013). "Exclusive: Nicolas Winding Refn Will Not Direct THE EQUALIZER; Sony Looking for Other Directors to Begin Shooting in May". Collider.
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  50. ^ a b c d Foundas, Scott (Summer 2012). "Anger Management". DGA Quarterly. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  51. ^ Toro, Gabe (24 July 2013). "Nicolas Winding Refn Talks 'Barbarella' & Reveals How Alejandro Jodorowsky Convinced Him To Leave 'Logan's Run'". Indiewire. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  52. ^ Hill, Logan (16 May 2013). "Nicholas Winding Refn on Being One With Ryan Gosling". The New York Times.
  53. ^ Nicolas Winding Refn's Top 10|The Current|The Criterion Collection
  54. ^ Undying Classics: Nicholas Winding Refn's 10 Favorite Horror Films - MovieMaker Magazine
  55. ^ Nicolas Winding Renf's Favorite Films: 35 Films to See|IndieWire
  56. ^ Nicolas Winding Refn Beings Rare Country Music Films to UK's Black Deer Festival - The Bluegrass Situation
  57. ^ Streaming Orphan Films, Courtesy of Nicolas Winding Refn - The New York Times
  58. ^ Nicolas Winding Refn's Free Movie Website: Here’s Why the Director Picked These Cult Movies to Stream - Yahoo News
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  60. ^ Shoard, Catherine (8 September 2011). "Nicolas Winding Refn: 'Film-making is a fetish'". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 August 2012.Poland, David (12 September 2009). Nicolas Winding Refn Video Interview. David Poland Video Interview DP/30. YouTube. Event occurs at 27:54. Archived from the original on 24 June 2016.
  61. ^ "Gambler". 2006. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013.
  62. ^ AFP news agency (20 May 2011). "Danish film maker 'repulsed' by von Trier's Nazi comments". Archived from the original on 17 December 2021 – via YouTube.
  63. ^ Eric Kohn, Review: 'My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn' Reveals the Sad Story Behind 'Only God Forgives', Indiewire
  64. ^ "'My Life Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn' Soundtrack Details". FilmMusicReporter. 5 August 2014. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
  65. ^ Hideo Kojima [@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN] (29 May 2019). "I asked my bestie, Nicolas, to be "HEARTMAN" in DS as special guest. We 3D scanned his head, body, and facial expressions to make his 3D model, but his acting and voice are done by a different performer, same as with Guillermo" (Tweet). Retrieved 30 May 2019 – via Twitter.

External links[edit]