Bryan Cranston describes how his Drive death scene came about, explaining how he pitched the idea to Nicolas Winding Refn based on a dream.
Bryan Cranston reveals the origins of his memorable Drive death scene. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011’s Drive starred Ryan Gosling as a stoical stunt driver whose side hustle gets him involved with a collection of ruthless criminals. Starring alongside Gosling was Breaking Bad’s Cranston as Shannon, a chop shop owner who comes to a bad end at the hands of Albert Brooks’ mob-connected Bernie Rose.
Drive is of course a very action-packed and at times gruesomely violent film, but the death of Cranston’s Shannon stands out even amid the rest of the film’s violence, as Bernie kills him with a sudden and unexpected razor slash to the arm.
Speaking recently to GQ, Cranston himself discussed the origins of his Drive death scene (around the 14:10 mark above), explaining how Shannon was originally supposed to be garroted, until Cranston’s own dream revealed a better way to execute the pivotal moment. Check out what Cranston had to say in the space below:
You know where the handshake came from? The handshake came from showing you have no weapon. We may not know each other, but I show you we have no weapon. And out of that came the class to say “I don’t have a weapon either.” And two men with no weapons can say, “OK, truce. Peace.” I said, what if I see [Bernie] in my garage and I’m not quite sure. But he’s talking very casually. And he’s talking like, “I’m sorry this worked out this way, it just didn’t work out, that’s the way it goes. I wish you well.” And he holds out his hand and I’m, “Maybe he’s going to let me go.” And that handshake. And as soon as I touch his hand, he turns my wrist and with his other hand comes out a knife, and he slices my arm. And I’m in shock. And then immediately he starts to put me at ease. To assuage my fears, to not let me drop but lower me down, caress my head against the bumper. Not let me hit it and just kind of comfort me. And I pitched that, and Nicolas is going, “That’s in the movie. We’re going to do that.”
Why Cranston’s Drive Death Scene Is So Memorable
Shannon’s garroting death as written in the Drive script would have surely been effective, and in keeping with all the tropes about gangsters and how they go about doing their killing. But what makes his very different death in the final film so shocking is that it comes out of nowhere, after the acclaimed and unconventional Refn halfway convinces the viewer that Bernie is actually going to let Shannon off the hook. The possibility of Bernie letting Shannon live is made more convincing by the fact that the two characters have a long connection and seem to have a genuine fondness for each other.
But the entire point of Drive of course is that every character in it is under some kind of terrible pressure. Shannon is under pressure because he owes Bernie, and because he’s hiding the money the Driver gave him from the pawn shop job. But Bernie is under pressure too from Nino and the New Jersey mobsters who want everyone dead who was involved in the ill-fated pawn shop heist. So Bernie really has no choice but to kill Shannon, even if he may personally have fondness for him.
Part of the brilliance of Shannon’s Drive death scene is the performance of Brooks, who is so chillingly effective in the most against-type role of his career. But important too is the bait-and-switch nature of how Refn plays it, giving the viewer hope that Shannon may live to the end, only the pull the rug out in the most shocking way possible. The icing on the cake is the way Bernie seemingly tries to comfort a dying Shannon, an act of apparent humanity that thanks to Brooks’ performance reads as something truly monstrous.