05/08/2013 05:49 BST | Updated 05/08/2013 05:54 BST

'Only God Forgives' Director Nicolas Winding Refn Is Unapologetic For Shocking Us With Kristin Scott Thomas, Ryan Gosling Transformations

What’s happened to Kristin Scott Thomas? As Ryan Gosling’s sultry, foul-tongued mother in ‘Only God Forgives’, the British actress is almost unrecognisable.

Gone is the icey pallor, the haughty but unmistakable classy presence to which we are accustomed. Instead we get what one critic called “Caligula mixed with Mary Beard“ - all hair extensions, misapplied makeup and attitude, lots and lots of attitude.

Kristin Scott Thomas, but not as we know her, in 'Only God Forgives'

But, if KST herself relished the role she “based on Donatella Versace”, her director is equally unapologetic.

“I’ve just exposed her for what she really is,” Nicolas Winding Refn explains, with a glint in his eye. “She’s been hiding for all these years.

“When my casting director suggested Kristin, we met for lunch, and I realised this woman had no problem turning on the bitch-switch. You can just feel it… a volcano of emotions waiting to explode, and I thought we should do something about it. But she needed to transform herself… and Donatella Versace, here we come.”

'No problem turning on the bitch-switch'

It is a strange experience talking to Winding Refn. Swimming in jet-lag in a London hotel room, his urge to provoke, titillate, shock and unnerve, remains nonetheless intact.

“I guess I’m a pornographer, I make films about whatever arouses me,” he says calmly, bearing in mind ‘Only God Forgives’ tells the tale of a boxing club manager Julian (Gosling) who’s really a drug dealer, instructed by his mother (Scott Thomas) to avenge the death of his brother, who’s slept with and killed a prostitute.

It is credit to Winding Refn’s talents that a mainstream riser such as Gosling continues to attach himself – the pair’s last collaboration was the hit ‘Drive’ where Gosling played someone nearly as brooding but deadly as we see on show in ‘Only God Forgives’. In the latter, he gets all of 20 lines throughout the entire two hours.

“Ryan texted me saying, ‘We’re the same person, but in different dimensions.’ I didn’t understand, but it sounded great,” muses Winding Refn.

Ryan Gosling was Plan B... strange, but true

“He came in last minute because another actor dropped out, so Ryan Gosling was Plan B, but it was the best plan ever.”

Winding Refn is in a commendable place, artistically speaking. After the success of ‘Drive’, he could easily have picked up the phone to anybody in Hollywood with deep pockets, and jumped on the running-board of Gosling’s more mainstream popularity.

Instead, he’s made a film as provocative as he is – as violent as it is beautiful, one that had critics getting up and walking out when it debuted in Cannes. When Winding Refn introduced the film at the screening I attended, he brought it gently to our attention by saying it was “for all those people who had taken acid at college”. 'The Notebook' it is not.

Through it all, Winding Refn remains apparently unperturbed.

“The minute I feel comfortable with any kind of success, I have to destroy it, because it completely avoids me ever repeating it again. You have to be very careful, I think, because comfort is something we all aspire to live within, but art works when you’re in constant freefall, which is why it can be so horrifying, and yet so exhilarating.

“Art is more interesting when it constantly mutates, even though it may frustrate people or make them angry. In Cannes, a lot of people were very angry. They loved it, or hated it, but it was for the same reason, and that’s when you know you’ve reached into the psychic of the audience.

“If everybody likes it, you haven’t gone very deep. How can we all agree on something if we’re supposed to be different?

“There are people from the HuffPost at Cannes who said they felt ‘raped’, ‘mutilated’ and that I had the mind of a serial killer, and that I hated women. And I thought ‘wow, I must have touched something deep if all this comes out.’ I must have done something right. Tell your colleagues at the Huff paper, I hope they slept well.”

'Only God Forgives' is in UK cinemas now. Watch the trailer below...