TORONTO – Albert Brooks isn’t the first guy you’d think of to play a knife-wielding sicko, and that’s part of the reason Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn offered the comedy star the role of Bernie Rose, a wealthy Los Angeles mobster, in Drive. The sleek and moody neo-noir, with Ryan Gosling as a freelance getaway driver, was at the Toronto Film Fest last week, and opens Friday in theaters nationwide.
“I wanted to play a part like this,” says Brooks, sitting in the Ritz Carlton on the afternoon of the film’s festival premiere. “If you cast one of the seven people who always play these parts, then everybody knows who they are the second they come onscreen. But this way, with me in the part, people might not know everything.”
Brooks got so into the role of this vicious, violent moneyman, that, at one point he got carried away -- and a fellow actor almost had to be carried away on a gurney because of it. In a scene that was cut from the final version, Brooks’ Bernie returns to his apartment after a particularly nasty encounter to hear his upstairs neighbors, a man and woman, quarreling loudly.
“They were yelling so loud you could hear it through the wall, and this guy was abusing his wife,” Brooks recalls. “So Bernie hears the wife getting beat up and he goes upstairs and sees that the woman had a black eye, and the guy, this young guy, is like, ‘Who are you? Get out of here!' And Bernie just attacks him, and in no uncertain terms threatens him, and then just says, `Now, keep it down.’
“So Nicolas does things many times, which I like, and I had to take this guy by the collar and choke him. I had to choke him. And over and over and over we did this, and Nicolas said `Look, you must do it more, you must do it more. And the actor said, `It’s OK, I swear it’s OK. And on take 14 his eyes rolled up into his head and he lost consciousness.… When I saw his eyes go back, I knew he wasn’t acting.
“And now all of a sudden I’m holding him up with my arm, all this weight, and so I let him down to the floor and I thought I killed him. Everybody thought he was dead.”
Pause for dramatic effect.
“But he got better," Brooks says. "They gave him water, he came back to consciousness, and then Nicolas said, `Lets do it again.’ And I said, `I can’t, I can’t have that happen again.’”