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Q&A: Kristin Scott Thomas on playing Ryan Gosling’s mommy in “Only God Forgives”

Q&A: Kristin Scott Thomas on playing Ryan Gosling’s mommy in “Only God Forgives”

Kristin Scott Thomas at the 2013 Festival de Cannes. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Q&A: Kristin Scott Thomas on playing Ryan Gosling’s mommy in “Only God Forgives”
July 18
12:05 2013

Preston Barta // Film Critic

Only God Forgives” | 90 min. | Rated R | Director: | Stars: , , , and

When Academy Award nominated actress Kristin Scott Thomas comes to mind, it is hard to imagine her as anything but cheerful and lighthearted. Whether she plays a cordial lover (“The English Patient,” 1997) or portrays a good-hearted mother (“Life as a House,” 2001), Scott always delivers an unforgettable performance, mining the emotional depths of her character to great effect.

In “Only God Forgives,” Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling’s follow up to 2011’s insatiable film that made wearing satin jackets cool again (“Drive”), Scott turns on the devil switch as Crystal, a foul-mouthed mother who compels her son Julian (Gosling) to find the man whom is responsible for his brother’s death.

NT Daily had the chance to speak with Scott about playing the wicked Crystal, swearing on screen and working in Refn’s imaginative world.

One of the best scenes in the film is Crystal’s introduction, when she checks-in at a hotel. Your character is so brutally honest and offbeat that you cannot help but love her. Did you know that she was going to carry this much weight in the film?

Kristin Scott Thomas: “No. I had no idea. A screenplay with Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling is kind of a work in progress. We knew that we would be shooting in chronological order, and that’s sort of [Nicolas’] luxury. So that means that he can change as you go along. When I arrived in Bangkok to shoot the movie, Crystal didn’t actually have the same ending at all. Something else happened to her entirely.

Nicolas, Ryan and I weren’t completely satisfied by the original ending. So we created a new ending, which then evolved even further as we were going through the movie. Her ultimate end— the last scene we see with Julian and his mother— was decided weeks into shooting. But I had no idea that it was going to be like that. As far as I was concerned, she was kind of a cog in the wheel. Actually, when you watch the film now, she is sort of the heart of it. She’s not the central character, but she the heart of it— the motor.”

Have you know ever done a project like this before – that is so open and not as concrete?

Thomas: “No. I haven’t. I loved the experience. It was very exciting. It was like working in theatre because you have more leeway. But you have to have total trust in the director, which of course I did because his world is so different from any other. I like his other films so much, especially ‘Bronson.’ That’s my favorite one. We actually had the same director of photography as on ‘Bronson’— Larry Smith. He’s a genius as far as I am concerned. I knew I was going into this strange Nicolas Winding Refn and Larry Smith world, and I was very excited about that.”

Have your kids seen this film?

Thomas: “Yes, my eldest children have, but not my little one. But speaking of this, I was shocked that in France, they allowed the film to be seen by anyone over 12. I just think that’s obscene.”

Oh, wow. That is extreme.

Thomas: “Yes, because this is not a film for kids. This is a film for consenting adults— I would think. You have to be aware that this film is not just fake blood, fake guts and gore. It’s also very, deeply disturbing emotionally. I think it’s a very rough ride that Nicolas Winding Refn takes us on. All these questions of mothers, parents, death and prostitution— all these things are disturbing, and I think that it’s a great film for people who know what’s in store for them.

When you watch the film, or for me at least, I felt that I wasn’t watching a movie, but having a nightmare because all these characters are so much larger than life. They’re not realistic. How can a man be an angel? How can he do all of this? How can he be magical? It’s pushed to the ultimate extreme. And this mother that I play, she is so poisonous and evil. It’s like she is like this Greek mother from ancient times. Is she Medea? Is she Lady Macbeth? She’s one of these archetypal kind of evil women. She’s terrifying.”

 Kristin Scott Thomas plays Crystal, a merciless and terrifying mafia godmother. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Crystal, a merciless and terrifying mafia godmother. Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Yes, she really is. I agree. It’s funny that you brought up all the 12-year-olds getting into the screening in France because if you go on YouTube, there are a handful of kids that are reviewing your film and giving their interpretation of it.

Thomas: “I find that very upsetting. I wouldn’t want my 13-year-old son to watch this movie. I find it really disturbing. But of course, they are going to watch it, and that’s our responsibility as filmmakers— we have to face facts. Should this stop us from making this film? Should parents stop them from seeing it? I’m very confused about the whole thing, and it makes me uncomfortable.

The end result of the film is actually a lot more disturbing than I figured. As you know [Laughs], I don’t do this kind of thing. I don’t go into this darker world that often, or never have been even. But it was really thrilling, and I think it’s a beautiful film. It is a very disturbing film, but it’s beautiful.”

There’s a scene where you sit down for dinner with Ryan Gosling and his date in the movie, Mai. It’s a real eye-opening scene. If you were Mai, how would you respond to Crystal? Would you try to give her some sort of advice, or do you think you would just get up and leave?

Thomas: “Oh God. I think one of the really scary parts to that scene is that Mai doesn’t get up. She sits there because she’s a prostitute and was bought into it. She was bought to stay there. But I have no idea what I would do. That’s a good question.”

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

Thomas: “That’s a really tough one. I wish I had a good answer for that. I think it’s a really difficult job. I think the world has changed so much since I started making movies. Nowadays, every single career is dicey. There seems to be nothing that is sacred or safe. So I would say this to someone that is starting out: just go for it and don’t worry about anything. Because every career is risky, you might as well go for the thing that you really love. And if you enjoy pretending that you’re somebody else then go for it. I know I used to love pretending that I was somebody else, but now, I don’t enjoy it as much [Laughs]. I think that’s why I have to make these characters larger than life— to kind of get some fun out of it.”

And lastly, if you could teach a class at the University of North Texas, what would you teach? It can be an already existing class, or it can be something of pure creation.

Thomas: “I don’t know what I could teach. I am not a very good teacher. I tried to do a workshop once, but it was a disaster [Laughs]. But I don’t know what I’d teach because I still have so much to learn myself. I’d probably teach how to make really good chicken soup.”

“Only God Forgives” opens tomorrow.

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