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EXCLUSIVE: Nicolas Winding Refn Explains His Wonder Woman Movie

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn created something of a fanboy stir last month when he dropped hints about wanting to adapt Wonder Woman for the screen. Some thought Refn was joking; after all, his best known films (The Pusher Trilogy, Bronson) are foreign-made indies rendered with unflinching brutality and pitch-black humor. But Refn -- one of the more thoughtful, articulate, visionary and prolific filmmakers working today at any level, like Werner Herzog with a bludgeon -- wasn't kidding at all. Hell, if Sam Raimi can do it, why can't he?

"I would love to make one of those big, Hollywood, $200 million extravaganzas," he told me Monday during a chat about his new film, the bleak, trippy Viking adventure Valhalla Rising. "But at the same time, I am also very content in my situation. I get to make the films I want to make, and I don't have the ego of world dominance that some have."

Nevertheless, Refn does have his eye on the D.C. heroine whose route to the screen has been troubled, to say the least. He shared a few insights into his approach to the story, why it can rival Batman, and what kind of villain it really needs.

I was pretty excited when I heard your name attached to something like Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman, I really want to make. That, I'm hoping, will be my $200 million extravaganza -- if I even get close to it. That's why I say, "Well, let me go make Drive [a thriller shooting soon with Ryan Gosling]. Let me start the ball rolling within the system."

I found this awesome comment on your IMDB page: "If you do wonder woman, don´t make her violent, like that cartoon, that i would never show my children. Wonder woman cut the head of an enemy in it...not so good to look at..." How would you respond to that?

I would say I could never do that, because I have kids myself who would go watch Wonder Woman. But one of the things I encounter is that a lot of people have more opinions about me than have actually seen my films.

Does that bother you?

[Pause] No, it's fine. As long as I get to make what I make. I'm not really concerned about that. Certainly when I was younger I was vocal about things, and I didn't mind sharing my opinion, and not always for the best reasons. Now that I've gotten a bit older and more relaxed, I'm a bit more at ease with things. Sometimes it annoys me that people have this idea that I make violent films. I don't consider my films particularly violent compared to other films -- films like The A-Team, where I don't know how many people die in two hours. I think that my films can be very violating, so they can seem much more violent than they are. But it's a different thing: Being violated is different than seeing violence.

It's the context.

Yeah. And I guess in a way I've always felt that cinema, even though it's a visual medium, is about subliminal images. It's not about what we see; it's about what we don't see. That's when it becomes effective.

Yet when you have something like a Wonder Woman movie, which is based on a brand, it's pretty in-your-face. There's nothing especially subliminal about it.

At the same time there is, because the real origin of Wonder Woman is: What if women were more powerful than men? What would the world be like? That's a subliminal theme.

But knowing what we know about Hollywood, is that the only way you'd make that movie?

No, it's not the only way, but I think that would be a starting point for looking at it. You need a great, extravagant, marketable action film -- and everything that comes with it. But I think that when Christopher Nolan did the Batman movies, I think he very cleverly went back to the source material and took themes that had maybe not been exercised. And he was able to make very good and successful films with them. So I think the audience is very much out there. It's just how you do it. And I think that some of the films that have worked over the years have worked for different reasons than people sometimes think they do.

And where Wonder Woman on one hand is a great female character who can be included in many great fight scenes, she doesn't have great villains against her. OK, so you create some. She doesn't have a Joker or those classic Batman kinds of guys. But she does have her whole world that she comes from, which is fascinating. The whole idea of a woman who is basically more powerful than any man -- and who will always be that, and comes from a society of women who are more powerful than men -- is an interesting theme that I think can be very contemporary.

Hollywood is also very weird about violence toward women. They put it out there all the time, yet seem to renounce the concept itself.

They try to justify it for ridiculous reasons. Which is interesting, because when they're remaking all these '70s and '80s horror movies of exploitation material -- which is very mean toward women -- they always try to justify them to be released by major studios by changing a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But it's still essentially the same thing.

But if you were to show Wonder Woman in this context, getting pummeled by a male villain? Would it have to be a female villain to get your true point across?

Well, that's when it gets interesting, because you have to create a great countervillain to her. They tried in Catwoman -- with not particularly good results. The trick with Wonder Woman is to find that antagonist who worked so well in the Batman concept -- his villains are equally if not more exciting than Batman himself. Here, it's basically coming up with who would be a great counterpart to Wonder Woman. Is it her mother who's the real enemy? Something that's biblical in a sense.

That would be so great. Is there any traction on that at all?

[Laughs] I haven't heard from D.C. [Comics] yet.