I saw the Pusher trilogy before anyone knew who Nicolas Winding Refn was. It was an assignment to review all three films at once. Now post-Drive everyone is all, “Oh, Nicolas Winding Refn’s first films!” It’s been at least five years since I saw them, so when Luis Prieto’s Pusher remake played TIFF, endorsed by producer Refn, I couldn’t remember specifically what’s the same and what’s different. It’s still the story of Frank (Richard Coyle), who has to pay back a supplier when he loses drugs in a police chase. Coyle did not make it to Toronto but we got to interview Prieto and actress Agyness Deyn, who plays Frank’s stripper girlfriend Flo. After playing Fantastic Fest as well, Pusher is now available on VOD.
CraveOnline: It’s been a while since I’ve seen the original film but I feel like this was faithful. I don’t know about scene by scene, but was that maybe what you were going for? That it feels like it could be faithful even if I don’t remember the specifics?
Luis Prieto: It’s so amazing that the film is so different that it’s really faithful. I think in a way it’s right. On the one side, it’s very different but on the other side, it’s a remake of Nicolas’ Pusher. I don't know, maybe the secret was the way we did it. We just tried to make the best out of the story without looking at Nicolas’ Pusher so we’re not making a remake shot by shot. The story, there are different things in the script. I asked the actors not to watch Nicolas’ Pusher, but just try to think, “Okay, we need to be creative. It cannot just be like this.” Go away from Nicolas’ Pusher. We need to read the script and then go fresh with it.
Have you seen the original since?
Agyness Deyn: I haven’t actually. My mom’s got the box set so maybe I’ll watch it when I get home.
Do you still have them on lockdown from the Refn film?
Luis Prieto: No, no, no. It was only during and before the film. It was really interesting because I actually watched Nicolas’ Pusher recently, like at Christmas and I was a little bit afraid. Like oh my God, now I’m going to see this and it’s going to be like, “Wow, he just did the same thing.” It was interesting. There were things that I thought were in his film that weren’t, and some things I didn’t think were in his film that were.
Is there something about the premise that once you have a character in the situation where he owes this money by this deadline, as long as you do that story right, it is faithful? Whatever the specifics are.
Luis Prieto: Yeah, well I think Nicolas had an amazing performance and we were able to have an amazing performance with the actor Richard [Coyle], Zlatko Buric who was also in Nicolas’ film, so I don't know. I guess the story is the story but then we brought it to London today, clubs, colorful. Nicolas’ [version] is in Denmark, it’s gritty. There were enough elements to play with.
Agyness, what was your way into the character of Flo?
Agyness Deyn: I think being cast in that role for one was so insightful as how I was supposed to go about it, even before we spoke. I suppose being cast as a stripper and being the aesthetic look that I am physically, that it was going down the alternate route. And then to have these two dichotomies of her being at home and then her being at work. So I think the differentiation between the two and to play with that a lot, this angelic childlike kind of quality and this yearning for him in a really strong way and then the other of being like this armor. That was really helpful, and having Richard to bounce off, and he was so amazing that it kind of caught me off guard a lot of the times in the scene of how much the way he was reacting evoked all this rejection, which I suppose everyone experiences in life.
Did wearing a wig help make the character who’s dancing on stage different than the Flo you play at home?
Agyness Deyn: Definitely, and also as well that she wants to be a different person. She’s a heroin addict, she’s with someone that is never going to love her so she’s choosing to be in this relationship where she’s unloved. This is a projection that she has no self-love herself. So her doing that job is such an indication of I don’t want to be myself, and the difference between that. That whole transformation is trying to do that, so definitely the wig was a whole part of that acting a different person. When I was researching stuff for the part, I worked with this lady and she’s French at work. That was like oh my God, yeah, when they’re at work, maybe they’re not themselves and then I hung out with her at home and she has a degree from Oxford, she plays instruments, she speaks all these languages. She has a career and then she’s this other person, so that was amazing to play with.
Was that your real foot in the injection scene?
Agyness Deyn: Yeah. Yeah.
Is that a trick or did you really stick yourself with a real needle?
Agyness Deyn: No, it was with makeup and stuff, some special effects.
Luis Prieto: There was a little sponge.
Agyness Deyn: And then fake skin on top. It looks really real, right? Even when I saw it last night, it was like, “Whoah.”
Luis Prieto: We worked really hard on your toenails.
So much of the movie unfolds in very close close-ups. How close is the camera actually to the actors’ faces?
Luis Prieto: I would say fairly close.
Agyness Deyn: Yeah.
Luis Prieto: Yeah.
Agyness Deyn: Yeah, right there.
Luis Prieto: I just wanted to get inside of them, inside their heads. Sometimes, especially Richard, inside of his head, he’s having trouble. Then Agyness, her last close-up, I wanted to see her eyes because eyes can speak. Agyness’ eyes, Richard’s eyes, they say so much I thought, “I need to see those eyes. They’re talking.” That’s why I need to be there. It’s like the soul of the person.
How hard is it to act in that extreme close-up?
Agyness Deyn: I suppose the way that we did it, it wasn’t this [close] straight away. We’d done it on a wider shot so by the time it got here, you were so in it that it was as if it wasn’t there anyway. It kind of, for me, intensifies it having it that close. It’s as if that gaze that you get, if you feel an emotion in real life and someone clocks it, it kind of makes it even more because you’re like, “Oh my God, someone can tell that I’m actually thinking this.” So it kind of intensified it for me having it there.
Luis Prieto: We moved very fast. Filming was very fast so as soon as the actors have an emotion, we just keep going. We just kept rolling with that emotion. It wasn’t like okay, stop, let’s have a break. We didn’t have breaks for coffee, so as Agyness said, once you started the scene, you move so fast we just roll, roll, roll the emotion, the acting, everything that at some point you just forget that you’re making a film. You’re just there. And yeah, the camera is here and you don’t see the camera anymore.
Does the fact that you made this in English mean that potentially more Americans at least might see this Pusher than the original?
Luis Prieto: Oh, I hope so. I would hope so. Nicolas’ Pusher is a cult film but it was distributed from Denmark. I don’t think in the English market, maybe the DVDs after winning in Cannes people are looking for it, but obviously being in English it makes it easier for an English audience to watch it.
Agyness Deyn: I kind of feel like they feed each other I suppose. If someone’s watched the trilogy, they’re like, “Oh my God, I’m going to check out the new one.” And if someone watches the new one, then they’re like, “Oh my God, someone told me it was based on this trilogy and I want to go watch that.” So it’s kind of cool that it goes that way.
And there’s always going to be pushers, so are there endless stories you could tell?
Luis Prieto: Yeah, it’s a universal story.
Agyness Deyn: Unfortunately.
Would you like to make Pusher 2 and have it be Tony’s story like the original trilogy handed it off?
Luis Prieto: Well, I don't know. We’ll see what happens. The way the trilogy went was they took the character and he followed that character, so I don’t know if it happens here, what will happen. Maybe we’ll follow Flo, I don't know.
How do you create that sense of the pressure of time closing in on Frank?
Luis Prieto: One is while filming, make sure that there is an intensity in the moment. Then in editing, I worked with a great editor, Kim Gaster, a fantastic editor. From the very beginning we knew that it was a roller coaster, that it was ride. There were some scenes that were slow, a bit of humanity at the center with Agyness and Richard. When they’re together, those are the scenes that they are safe. When Richard is alone or with the bad guys, he’s high basically. So basically the film is cut very fast. I also come from a background of editing myself. All of my films, editing is quite important. I think with an edit, through a cut you can really give personality to the film.
Are you thinking like an editor during pre-production too?
Luis Prieto: Well, when I shoot, especially shooting a film like this, you have so few days to shoot it, in my case it helps to think as an editor. I’m already thinking, “Okay, I know I’m going to use from this take, a few shots from here, two from over there.” I don’t need to shoot the rest. Everything is taken care of so you can move really fast when you get the shots that you need.
Had you been looking for a film to do in English for a while?
Luis Prieto: Not really because I was busy shooting films in Italy. So it was only when the producers at Vertigo and Embargo said [to make it in English]. In a way I wanted to make a film in English but the opportunity wasn’t there. Then when they said they want to do it, it was the start of Pusher.