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Bronson Director Speaks


Written by Heydon Prowse
12 Monday 12th January 2009

The biography of notorious Welsh criminal Charles Bronson is set to be one of the movie events of the year. The blood-spattered tale of a middle class schoolboy turned violent psychopath (and artist) has generated effortless controversy, with prison services furious at percieved glamourisation of the 'hero'. To do such provocative material justice, you need a film-maker who isn't squeamish. Enter Nicolas Winding Refn, a man who knows his way around a bloodbath, as shown by his splendidly nasty Bleeder (1999). We got hold of him for the inside story on a film destined to become a cult classic.

Hello Nicolas. Can you tell us how you came to make this movie?

The producer, Rupert Preston, is a close friend. He called me up. He has distributed all my films in the UK and had just taken over the Bronson project. He showed me the script and I wasn't crazy about it. But there was something interesting within it. I didn't really know what it, but agreed to work on it.

So I read Charles' book and I realised that it was unusual as a prison movie in that it was about staying in rather than getting out. I decided I had to rewrite it before taking on the project. The whole thing had to change a lot. The previous script was trying to psycho-analyse Bronson. I was more interested in saying what can this man do for me.

Had you heard of Charles Bronson prior to being offered this film? Did you meet him?

I had no idea who he was and I still don't. I didn't meet him but we spoke to him on the phone for twenty minutes. That's all.

Difficult question to answer I suppose, then, but what was he like?

Very nice. Very polite (Ed - I imagine that's what I'd say about a violent prisoner with net access too)

An impression I came away with after watching the film was that this is a very sensitive man. Is that the case? Do you think that is often the case with very violent people?

Well, that's a discussion for psychiatrists. I'm more interested in this film as an artist's journey; in a man finding his canvas. I think Bronson is a born artist searching for a way to express himself. His fists became the first thing; the first thing he used to express himself. And through that he came to working with pen and paper and creating these pieces of art that he is now creating. But he is also the canvas.

I think the film is also about the process of Michael Peterson becoming Charles Bronson, which is his stage name and alter-ego. He transformed himself into something else you know? That's why I have him in make-up a lot. That was where the concept of having him on stage came from - alone and in spotlight. It's a one-man play.

At the opening of the movie, you hear Bronson confessing that he always wanted to be famous. Do you think he will be happy with this movie - how he is portrayed?

He hasn't seen it. But I'm sure he'll be delighted that his face is hanging all over London. Can't speak for him. God I just made a movie.

But you know everyone is going to want you to speak for him now?

Haha, yes I realise.

You have a history of violent movies. What is it about violence on the screen that interests you?

I don't know. I'm not a violent person. I don't particularly like violence. My biggest wish is to do romantic comedy. Perhaps I have dark side.

Tom Hardy (who plays the lead) is great in the film, but perhaps an unlikely choice. Did you always see Bronson in him?

Yes, he's a powerhouse. He had been lined up for the project even before I came on board. But I needed to clear everybody away at first. So I began to look at all actors in the UK. But then we finally came back to Tom again.

I think his performance is really great - analogous to Malcolm McDowell in Clockwork Orange. He was a good actor to work with. He took a lot of chances; the whole physicality of the role, the nudeness. There was no vanity. It was purely about the performance.


Bronson is out now on DVD (the film that is - Charles is banged up for life)

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