The Film Interview: Ryan Gosling - Total Film Magazine - 2011 (September)
This article is from the magazine Total Film Magazine, dated September 2011, featuring Ryan Gosling.
The Film Interview - Ryan Gosling
Star of indie classics Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling is about to set multiplexes alight with Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides Of March, Logan's Run and 2011's coolest movie, Drive. There's no plan, just serendipity... "It's like when a song comes on and you feel like dancing," he says. "You just gotta dance..."
Words - Matthew Leyland
Portrait - Art Streiber
September 23, 2011 is G-Day. On that date, UK film-fanciers have a choice of not one but two new releases starring Ryan Gosling: ensemble romcom Crazy, Stupid, Love and the neon action-noir Drive. Both are very different. Both very (very) good. And both very likely to seal Gosling's standing as one of the hottest men in movies. "I'm finding my way," he nonchalantly tells TF when we sit down in Cannes. It feels like he's already found it.
He's an ex-Disney kid (warbling alongside the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake on TV's The Mickey Mouse Club) who's emerged over the last decade as a credible, bankable adult actor. The 30-year-old Canadian has chalked up mainstream success (hankie-soaker The Notebook), indie cred (breakout The Believer), and his first Best Actor Oscar nomination, for 2006's Half Nelson. (He was robbed of a second, for this year's marriage meltdown drama Blue Valentine.) He's had setbacks, sure - putting on a ton of weight for The Lovely Bones, and getting fired for his trouble - but he's shown a hunger for diversity and risk.
Take his Scorsese/De Niro-like power-coupling with Danish maverick Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising), with whom he has several juicy-sounding projects on the go, including a blockbusting remake of 1976 sci-fier Logan's Run. Gosling hand-picked Refn to direct Drive, in which the actor gives a super-laconic, instantly iconic (check out the satin racing jacket) performance as a stuntman-cum-getaway driver. And through the film is poles apart, he's equally, ridiculously cool in Crazy Stupid Love, playing a ladies' man who takes newly dumped loser Steve Carell under his wing before learning a few lessons about love himself thanks to Emma Stone.
And, after G-Day has passed, there's still The Ides Of March (28 October), a political thriller directed by and starring George Clooney that that will complete Gosling's 2011 quadruple whammy ("I play his press secretary... basically, George was obsessed with slowly extracting my soul, do that by the end of the film I'm evil").
It's late afternoon. Gosling's been doing TV spots for Drive for several hours, and it's the day after the film's raucous premiere ("It was amazing... people were almost having a dance party at the end.") He should, by rights, be frazzled. But though he speaks in a low raspy drawl that TF sometimes strains to catch over the buzz of our champagne bar setting, he's excellent value, casually unspooling anecdotes and seemingly allergic to platitudes or stock responses. True, his deadpan manner makes it hard to tell if he's pulling your leg sometimes (Bugs Bunny as an inspiration? Really?); on the other hand, there's an unaffected sincerity (which he tapped in 2007 manchild movie Lars And The Real Girl) that allows him to casually confess a hankering to snog Drive co-star Carey Mulligan without the hint of leer. No satin jacket today; instead, more beach-appropriate apparel - shades, sandals and a tats-revealing tank top. Dressed to chill. "When you meet him, you instinctively know this man was born to be a movie star," says Nicolas Winding Refn. Yep - one who's about to explode...
Your performance in Drive is a real feat of underplaying - did it start that way or did you strip back the layers?
It was all about stripping it down. I'd just come from Blue Valentine, which I loved making, but there was so much dialogue and improvisation, and then we promoted it so heavily... I was so tired of talking by that point, so on Drive we cut out all my dialogue. Also, it just didn't feel right when Driver spoke. It just didn't feel right.
Did you feel inspired by '80s cinema as Nicolas?
Both Nicolas and I felt that if Pretty In Pink had a head-smashing scene, it would be a masterpiece. That the only thing missing from John Hughes' movies was violence. I also thought a lot about Prince in Purple Rain, and Alain Delon in Le Samourai. In some way the character was an amalgamation of all the heroes in all the movies that Nicolas had seen. He was kind of creating his own superhero, and that was what I was doing too. Because I've read so many superhero scripts and all the good ones are taken anyway, so I had to create my own.
It does have a very stylised tone...
We felt that if we made it like a fairytale it would feel more real. We thought of Driver as the knight, Carey [Mullugan] as the princess, Albert Brooks as the evil wizard, Ron Perlman as a dragon and LA as a fantasy land. We talked about how Driver's life is movies, his work is movies - he's seen too many action films and become the star of his own movie.
Do you think he'll be a hit with female viewers?
I hope so, because we tried to make it about feminine violence. It's like when the preying mantis female eats the male's head. And the reason they do that is because it's the nearest source of protein and it secures the health and well-being of the newly fertilised egg. It's not personal, it's just their nature. As we wanted to tap into that feminine violence. Plus Nicolas and I, we just kind of surround ourselves with women. I grew up with just my mother and my sister, who lives with me. My agent's a woman, my manager's a woman, my publicist, my friends... So I see a violence in them that I don't think is often represented in films.
Did you talk about that much with Carey Mulligan?
Carey and I, our relationship off camera was very similar to our relationship on camera. We really just kind of looked at each other.
Was that deliberate?
It just felt good. I just liked looking at her. And I didn't want to blow it by saying anything. Also, I really wanted to kiss her, so I asked Nick if I could do it in the elevator [scene], before I smash the guy's head in.
Was that a hard scene to pull off?
We just called up Gaspar Noé, because he's the king of smashing heads and he told us how to do it. And of course we couldn't afford to do it the way he did it [in Irreversible], so it ended up looking a bit more B-movie-ish, which I think suited our film.
You're also starring in Crazy Stupid Love, which is worlds away from Drive. Were you keen to do a mainstream comedy?
Not especially. I just wanted to work with Steve Carell. I would’ve done anything with him. I've wanted to work with him since I was 17 and did a [unaired] TV pilot he was in, although we didn't get to share any scenes. So when this came along I had to jump at it.
Your characters are very different, but there's chemistry there.
When I was a kid one of my favorite shows was Bugs Bunny; I really like the Bugs/Daffy Duck dynamic. So usually when I take a part I think, how much of this character is Bugs and how much of him is Daffy? This was a great chance for me to play Bugs and Steve to play Daffy.
Did you improv a lot together on set?
Yeah. The directors [Glen Ficarra, John Requa] would get bored easily, so they just told us to keep it interesting, entertain them, surprise them.
Your character Jacob is a real player... what research went into his creation?
I read all those gentlemen's magazine articles on how to dress, exercise tips, all those things. And I read The Game and watched the show The Pickup Artist... I don't think any of that stuff really works in real life - although I didn't really have the courage to try it!
One scene sees you recreate is 'the lift' from Dirty Dancing with Emma Stone...
That's just something me and my friends did when we got drunk and went dancing. We'd try to do the Dirty Dancing lift. And we thought it'd be funny in the movie. But Emma didn't really think it was funny; she thought I was gonna drop her, no matter how many times I tried to prove it to her. We had rehearsals beforehand and she has a stuntwoman come in, and I lifted this stuntwoman 10 times in a row, in front of Emma, to prove I could really do it. But then Emma said, "After 10 times you must be really tired, so now I'm definitely not going to do it!"
Crazy Stupid Love is arguably the most commercial thing you've done since The Notebook, which spawned a devoted following. Were you surprised at people's reaction?
Really surprised. At the time it seemed there weren’t any love stories like that and we thought that was because there just wasn't a market for them. We didn't have high hopes for it commercially, so when people reacted the way they did we were all pretty shocked.
How did you feel when you were first cast?
It was the first time I'd ever been offered a role and I never thought I was going to be offered a role like that again. When I met with Nick [Cassavetes, director] he said, "I want you for this role. I like you because you're not handsome. You're not the kind of guy who would ever be cast in these movies. I like you 'cos you seem crazy; you seem like a guy who would build a house for a girl because you met her one summer."
And would you?
Um, no. But I didn't tell him that.
What kinds of things to fans of the film say to you?
That's between them and me. I don't want to give them up. Their secrets are safe with me.
The Notebook was your commercial breakout as an adult, but you'd already been a Disney kid on The Mickey Mouse Club. What do you remember most about that time?
I get asked about it in almost every interview, so I think I've really mined all those memories.
How did you transition from that period then, without falling into any of the child-star pitfalls?
I don't know. I just got lucky.
Your first serious role was in The Believer, where you play a Jewish anti-Semite... did the potential controversy worry you?
I was nervous, because it was such a great script. Henry [Bean, writer/director] was gift-wrapping me a career, giving me a second chance, as before that I'd only done kids' television. So it was a sink-or-swim situation.
How long did it take for you to feel confident for the part?
I don't think it was until the first day of shooting. Up until then I didn't think I could do it. Then the first take, it was a really big scene and I came in and tanked it. And Henry came out and sat on the curb with me and he was trying to cheer me up, saying, "It's OK, it's not your fault that you're not as good as we want you to be." I had hit rock bottom, which I actually think it was important for me to hit. Then I went back in and slowly found my feet, but it took take after take to get better.
A few years after The Believer, you received your first Oscar nomination for Half Nelson. How do you remember reacting to the news?
It didn't feel real when it happened. And the ceremony was just surreal. I went with my mom and my sister; they had such a great time on the red carpet and all that stuff. They get excited about all the parts that I don't, so it makes it fun.
Were you disappointed when you didn't receive a nomination for Blue Valentine?
No. I was relieved. It was perfect for me because Michelle [Williams, costar] got nominated so I didn't have to anything; she had to do all the work! With Half Nelson there was no campaigning; I just suddenly got nominated. But on Blue Valentine we were with Harvey Weinstein, who had us on the whole campaign trail. You really saw how much you have to do for these things. You have lunches and you shake all the ahnds and you write notes to people. You're convinced it's what's best for the film - it means that if it gets nominated more people will see it, and if you're not campaigning, you're not caring about the movie. It's so stressful, and you don't know why you're stressed out, you just are.
You did a lot of intensive preparation for the movie - actually living with Michelle, for example...
Well, to a certain degree. We lived together during the days but Michelle went home at night; she's a great mum and she managed to do both. I really enjoyed working that way. But you need a lot of time to do it. Time is expensive and it's rare to find a filmmaker who will spend their money on time.
You're working again with the Derek Cianfrance on a film called The Place Beyond The Pines...
I play a motorcycle bank robber. Which is funny because I've always wanted to rob a bank, but I'm scared of jail. My fantasy was to rob it with my bike helmet on so no one would recognise me. I would rob the bank and drive the bike onto the back of a U-Haul truck, which would then drive off. And I told this to Derek one night and he said, "You've got to be kidding me. I've just wrote a script about a guy who robs a bank on a motorcycle and parks it on the back of a U-haul, that's how he gets away!" And now we're making it into a movie.
You're also got a number of projects on the go with Nicolas Winding Refn - including a remake of Logan's Run.
It's just in its first trimester. We've combined our ideas and given them to the writer. The question is what the studio will allow you to do with it. I guess it's kind of like Drive - while we're making it we'll find out what it is.
How long did that process take with Drive?
The first night Nicolas and I met was awful. It was a terrible date. But as I was driving Nicolas home, 'I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore' by REO Speedwagon came on the radio and I turned it up because we weren't talking. He started singing at the top of his lungs and said that the song gave him an understanding of what the movie could be - it's about a man who drives around listening to pop songs at night. So pop music saved us. I don't think we would have made Drive if that song hadn't come on the radio.
Did you learn any good driving tricks?
I'm scared of what this movie did to me, because now I know how to do those things and I just want to do them all the time. I'm constantly looking for opportunities. It's a bad thing to know how to do, but it feels so great. Everybody should learn how to stunt drive. It's amazing to me now, knowing what I learned how [driving schools] only really teach you to parallel park and to stop at stop lights. You don't really understand your car at all.
Have you ever been affected by car crime?
One time I saw a guy stealing a car and I tried to stop him. He was a really skinny, weird-looking dude with crooked glasses. He suggested that I should go away, and I said that I wasn't going to. And then he started putting on these black, rubber surgical gloves. He out them on so slowly, it was the most terrifying thing I'd ever seen. And right before he could do whatever he was going to do, my neighbor came out and said she was calling the cops. And he went away.
We're also going to see you in The Ides Of March. How was Gorge Clooney as a director?
It was like watching somebody have an exorcism. He was done every day, right after lunch. He never did more than three takes and he was finished cutting the film three weeks after we were done shooting. He decided to get this movie out of his system. That was amazing to watch.
Ides is a hot awards prospect - are you looking to juggle prestige with popcorn at the minute?
I try not to think about it in those terms. It's like when a song comes on and you feel like dancing, and you don't know why. You just gotta dance. That's the best way I can describe it.
When did your interest in movies start? Were you a fan from a young age?
The thing is I didn't really see them as movies. They would trick me into thinking I was a character in the film. I remember seeing First Blood when I was in the first grade, and the next day I went to school with steak knives in my Fisher Price Houdini Kit and was throwing them in the direction of other kids. I thought I was Rambo. My mom didn't let me watch R-rated movies after that. Only National Geographic movies and Bible movies, which were more violent.
You had a religious upbringing. Are you still religious?
I don't like to talk about that.
Rambo aside, which other films were favourites?
I really liked Samson And Delilah and Hold That Ghost and The Little Mermaid - all the Disney movies, really. And Commando with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alyssa Milano... and this movie Little Monsters with Fred Savage, that was the best. And I like The Goonies and Blue Velvet, which I was too young to watch. I didn't understand what it was about and I still don't. But that's what I like about it.
And was there a particular moment where you thought, I could do this for a living?
No, but I saw Raquel Welch on The Muppet Show where she was dancing with a furry spider; I had a crush on her and I thought, 'I gotta get on The Muppet Show so I can meet Raquel Welch.' I figured you gotta get on TV to get on The Muppet Show. So that's what I did, but I still didn't meet her. She's in my heart.
There's a new Muppet movie coming out - did you fancy a role?
No, because Raquel Welch isn't in it. It's the guy from... Forgetting Sarah Marshall?
Yeah, Jason Segel. He seems really great and everything, but he's no Raquel Welch.
You're one half of a musical duo, Dead Man's Bones. Is it hard for people to see you as something other than an actor?
No one will ever take the band seriously, so I don't even try. Zach [Fields] and I had an idea for a story which we wanted to be like [avant-garde theatre director] Robert Wilson directing an elementary school play. And it turned out to be a wildly expensive idea so we thought we should turn it into a record, because records are cheap. But we didn't know how to play instruments, so we took a year to learn and then we made this record. But in order to tour it we had to form a band. So we became a band by accident.
You're also fond of a tweet or two...
I find Twitter so interesting. It's so voyeuristic. And I feel so removed, you know, from people, 'cos of my job now. I feel like I get to see them in a way that I don't get to see them in real life.
So has fame really started to affect you?
You know when you dream, and everyone knows you in your dream, and you always feel like everyone’s looking at you, and you're you but you're not you? It feels like that all the time.
When did that feeling start?
I don't know. It's just been getting more and more dream-like.
Are you prepared for the even bigger exposure that something like Logan's Run will bring?
That's so far away, I prefer not to think about it.
Finally, though you've only been in movies just over a decade, you've clocked up numerous memorable roles... any favourites?
Yeah, well... I like Lars [in Lars And The Real Girl]. That's my favourite, by far. I had a really nice time on that movie.
You play a man who becomes romantically involved with a doll called Bianca... how did you prepare?
I just hung out with Bianca a lot and talked to her. She's at my house right now.
Yeah. I don't know what to do with her. I can't put her in the garage. She's in the living room.
Do you still speak to her? What do you talk about?
I can't talk about my romantic relationships...
Drive, Crazy Stupid Love open on 23 September. The Ides Of March opens on 28 October. Logan's Run opens in 2012.
Five Star Turns
Ryan's hot roles...
#1. THE BELIEVER (2001)
(****) Homeschooled by his strict Mormon parents, Gosling could offer a good perspective on troubled Danny Balint, a self-hating Jew who re-invents himself as a neo-Nazi. "My friends were auditioning for it and I was helping with their lines," says the actor, best know at that stage for The Mickey Mouse Club. "As I read it, I realized I wanted to play Danny, real bad." Too controversial for US distributors, Henry Bean's film earned its star rave reviews.
#2. THE NOTEBOOK (2004)
(***) Hearts swooned over Ryan's romance with Rachel McAdams in this slushy Nicholas Sparks adaption. The downside was it made him tabloid fodder, something he and his co-star turned girlfriend courted by re-enacting their on-screen smooch at the MTV Movie Awards'. With hindsight, however, the actor could afford to be sanguine. "God bless The Notebook," he said in 2007. "It introduced me to one of the great loves of my life."
#3. HALF NELSON (2006)
(*****) Rewritten for a younger lead, this mesmerising look at a high school teacher wrestling with a crack addiction won Gosling what is sure to be the first of many Oscar nods. Elegant and understated, Ryan Fleck's film took its cue from its star's unflashy performance, a triumph of on-screen naturalism that, when combined with Shareeka Epps' authenticity as a conspiratorial student in on his secret, made for a low-key masterwork.
#4. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (2007)
(****) "I cried at the end when I read it," says Gosling of this offbeat love story about a loner who falls for a life-sized mannequin he orders online. "I thought it was so romantic: the idea that you don't need to be loved in return in order to love something." Not everybody was won over by Craig Gillespie's quirk-fest, though one can compare it to Jodie Foster's The Beaver to see how nimbly its leading man negotiates his protagonist's mental imbalance.
#5. BLUE VALENTINE (2010)
(*****) "You always hurt the ones you love," warbles Gosling to Michelle Williams in Derek Cianfrance's portrait of a disintegrating marriage, juxtaposed with flashbacks detailing its optimistic early stages. And boy, how Dean and Cindy hurt each other over the course of an explicit chamber piece that should by rights have secured Ryan another Oscar nom. "I left it all on the field," he says, after exiting the movie both emotionally and physically drained.
- 12 November 1980 - Ryan Thomas Gosling born in London, Canada.
- 1993 - Joins The Mickey Mouse Club with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
- 1998 - Moves to New Zealand at 17 to star in Young Hercules.
- 2001 - Shaves head and turns psycho in calling card role, The Believer.
- 2004 - The Notebook makes him a heartthrob. Dates Rachel McAdams in real life.
- 2006 - Earns Academy award non for teacher-addict turn in Half Nelson.
- 2012 - After five years of sticking by the project, makes Blue Valentine.