The Blue Valentine star told journalists at Drive's Cannes press conference that he had been a fan of Bronson and Valhalla Rising helmer Refn's previous work and believed that he would be a good match for Hossein Amini's script, which centres on a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver.
"This is such a well-explored genre that it's hard to believe you have anything to contribute to it and I just knew that Nicolas wouldn't let himself mimic anybody," Gosling said. "I knew if we could get him on board that we'd have a shot at making something unique."
However, Gosling noted that he and Refn shared a disastrous first meeting, comparing it to a date "going horribly wrong".
"We met and sat there for two hours and he wouldn't look at me or talk to me, and he seemed very bored, disinterested and unimpressed," the Oscar-nominated actor recalled. "It was like a date that was going horribly wrong... it turns out that Nicolas was sick, he was on American medication and high. He said, 'Can you take me home? Basically you're not going to get any action so let's call it'."
Refn and Gosling bonded during the car ride when REO Speedwagon's 'Can't Fight This Feeling' came on the radio, prompting the filmmaker to cry and start singing the song at the top of his voice.
"We also thought the driver shouldn't talk. Hoss had written this beautiful script, it was poetry. It was also so authentic to the world it was set in but it was the kind of script that was so authentic on paper that unless you were shooting it Ken Loach-style I don't think you could match its authenticity.
"We had to somehow find a way to marry this fever dream Nic was having listening to REO Speedwagon and [the] amazing script."
Refn reaffirmed Gosling's comments, adding that their uncertain first meeting was "very much like a blind date. We were two very heterosexual men who essentially needed to f**k".
"That's what you do, for me at least, you have to feel the relationship with the actor and everybody else around you," he said. "It is like a sexual experience. When I asked him to take me home I felt like the girl who wasn't going to put out... When Ryan and I had our mental f**k it was then okay."
Drive is screening in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and will open in UK and US cinemas in September. Gosling and Refn will reportedly reunite on a remake of Logan's Run for Warner Bros.
> Read our review of Drive
> Ryan Gosling's Drive: In Pictures
> Watch two extended clips from Drive
> Drive director "repulsed" by von Trier comments
> Cannes Film Festival complete coverage