By Junsui Films | October 2012
The Director talks exclusively to Junsui Films about remaking a cult classic, Nicolas Winding Refn’s god-like presence, and tells us all about his latest film, PUSHER…
Junsui Films: What attracted you to an English language remake of Pusher?
Luis Prieto: Prior to directing Pusher I was living in Italy where I directed a couple of small romantic comedies and was therefore getting sent a lot of scripts for more rom-coms. So the idea of doing something completely different was always in my mind, especially since my short film Bamboleho, the movie that essentially started my career, was anything but a romantic comedy.
JF: Did you have any reservations about taking on the remake of what has now become a well recognised cult franchise?
When the producers at Vertigo approached me with the idea of remaking Pusher I refused, as I didn’t have any interest in remaking such a great film. I admired [original director] Nicolas [Winding Refn] way too much to dare make a “remake” of his work. But the producers were persistent and insisted that they didn’t want to do just a “remake”, but rather a new interpretation of Nicolas’ original film.
JF: How aware of Refn’s original film(s) were you before reading Matthew Read’s script, and what do you feel made London’s underground scene such an ideal location for the remake?
I knew Nicolas’ film well. In fact, I had seen it at a film festival when it first came out around fifteen years ago or so. So I was aware of it when I read Matthew’s script, which I thought was wonderful. I then proposed what I would do with it and everyone seemed very excited by my “reinterpretation” of the narrative and my vision of how to make it happen in present day London.
For me, London is the coolest city in the world, a city where many worlds co-exist and collide, which instantly makes for a great setting, especially for an action thriller. London just felt a perfect fit for Pusher.
JF: How involved was [Executive Producer] Nicolas Winding Refn during the making of the film and how important was it for you to have his blessing?
Nicolas had seen my short film Bamboleho and gave the green light for me as the director of Pusher. After that moment, it was my job to put my own ideas forward. In the process of doing something “new and contemporary” I think we actually did something very different to Nicolas’ Pusher, but yet very truthful to his film.
Nicolas was a great executive producer. He was like God: everywhere, yet you never see him! Having Nicolas on board was the best guarantee that we were doing something worthwhile.
JF: With a drug dealer as a protagonist how did you approach the task of moulding Frank into an empathetic character and how crucial was the casting of Richard Coyle?
For me the film was only interesting if the audience was able to identify with Frank and share his journey. Essentially, Frank is a nice guy – he just also sells drugs. Of course, as the movie progresses he goes on to do even more stupid things, but I wanted to show why he does what he does. How he was just like any of us, yet at some point in his life things got twisted and he ended up selling drugs instead of going to college and getting a normal job. In many ways, Frank is a victim of the system. He is what is he is and does what he does, but deep down he longs for something better.
I needed a great actor, that in spite of what the character did in the film, people would still empathise with him. And Richard Coyle is the man. He’s a gentleman, very tender and has incredible eyes that transmit so much. But at the same time he is very physical and strong and he was perfect for showing both sides of Frank’s personality: the kind and fun and the violent and destructive. Honestly, the film could have been called Richard Coyle instead of Pusher, that’s how crucial his casting was.
JF: Despite the frenetic nature of the narrative Pusher is anchored by the relationship between Frank and girlfriend, Flo (Agyness Deyn). How challenging was it balancing the film’s romantic elements within the remits of the thriller genre?
That was one of the aspects that I really wanted to bring to the film. Flo closes the movie and what she does at the end is crucial, and I felt we needed to understand why she does it. She has been let down by Frank – again, but she loves him (and probably ends up saving his life) but this is only important if you care for their relationship and their love story.
Maybe coming from romantic comedies, I felt I needed their relationship for us to better understand Frank, to love him and forgive him no matter what he did. And the character of Flo is such a beautiful part. She is the girl who, no matter what, strives for a better life and the possibilities of a better world for herself, whereas Frank has already given up on that at the beginning of the film.
Ultimately, mixing and playing with genres is what makes Pusher interesting to me. On the surface you have an action thriller, but with real three-dimensional characters that you actually care for.
JF: Let’s talk about the shoot and how you set about stamping your own, unique visual style on the narrative, starting with your choice of locations.
I wanted to make a very stylised film, something very cinematic, and in a way I brought the look of my previous romantic comedies mixed with the energy and rush of Bamboleho. I decided to shoot the whole film with handheld cameras and used as much available and existing light as possible. We just looked for the best locations and shot them. As a Spaniard, I saw places and things that maybe were less visible to those who have lived in London all their life.
JF: What was your budget and schedule for the film?
We shot the film in five weeks, practically non-stop for thirty days. The budget was small, around half a million pounds.
JF: At what stage did Orbital join the project and was their pulsating soundtrack something you always had in mind when shooting the film?
I always felt that we had a very musical film. We feature five of the best clubs in London, from Ministry of Sound to Cable to Lightbox, but at first I thought that we’d be featuring all different types of music. But once we started to edit the film, we had the idea of getting Orbital involved in the soundtrack. They saw some clips and really responded to it. That’s how everything started. As soon as they watched the film they begun composing this incredible, pulsating soundtrack.
JF: What reaction have you had to the film?
We have screened the film in Edinburgh, Toronto and Fantastic Fest. So far everywhere we’ve gone we’ve got a great reaction. Audiences and critics really seem to appreciate the direction we’ve taken and the work we have done with the film.
JF: What next for Luis Prieto?
Well, I hope I will continue making films in the UK. London feels like a second home to me now, so fingers crossed that Pusher will be the first of many more films to come. Let’s see what the future brings.
Pusher is out now.