Whether or not you believe Ryan Gosling, the brooding, wounded 30-year-old actor, is the next Brando, he is undoubtedly one of the most exciting actors of his generation.
The native of London, Ontario, Canada got his start as a cast member on “The Mickey Mouse Club” alongside cast mates Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and others. He dropped out of high school at 17 to shoot “Young Hercules” in New Zealand, and received his big break as a racially intolerant young cornerback in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” starring Denzel Washington. But it was his role as Danny Balint, a cerebral Jewish Nazi in the 2001 indie film “The Believer,” that established him as an actor to watch out for. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and Gosling was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
He achieved pinup status after starring in the tearjerker “The Notebook” alongside Rachel McAdams, who he ended up romancing offscreen – much to fans of the film’s delight –from 2004-2007. As Dan Dunne, a crackhead teacher who tries to alter a young girl’s life path in the 2006 film “Half Nelson,” Gosling delivered one of the finest performances of the decade, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, immediately making him one of the most respected young actors in the industry. The following year, he proved it wasn’t a fluke with his heartfelt turn in “Lars and the Real Girl,” about a lonely soul who strikes up a relationship with a rubber doll.
It took Gosling three years to star in his next film. The hiatus wasn’t self-imposed. Rather, he showed up to the set of Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” with an extra sixty pounds, which he gained by heating up containers of ice cream and guzzling them. Jackson had a different interpretation of the character, and he was replaced by Mark Wahlberg.
But Gosling is back in the critically-acclaimed indie film BLUE VALENTINE. The film took writer-director Derek Cianfrance 12 years to develop, and stars Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose relationship gradually unravels. The film initially garnered an NC-17 rating, but finally was awarded an R-rating after a lengthy appeals process. The film garnered Golden Globe nominations for its two stars – Gosling and Williams – and is “a work so beautifully acted and emotionally honest it is my choice for best movie of the year,” said The New York Post.
MMM sat down with the talented Ryan Gosling to chat about his heartbreaking film, his method acting approach, and his upcoming action role opposite Carey Mulligan.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: What do you think this film says about relationships?
RYAN GOSLING: What I like about this film is that it asks questions. It is not pretending to know everything. It doesn’t have a philosophy about happens in a relationship. It really wants to know what you think. Where does love go? Why does it go away?
MMM: It is interesting to see you in this movie compared to the one about Durst [“All Good Things”], and see you play two very different characters. What do you do that allows you to inhabit these characters in such distinct ways?
GOSLING: It is different for every character. I am sure that with people that you interview, you have to use a different approach, depending on who they are. That is what keeps it interesting.
MMM: And what was interesting about these particular two roles
GOSLING: “All Good Things” was an interesting opportunity to analyze – homicide started as domestic abuse cases, and guys aren’t just abusive physically. It starts as a slow process of a man dismantling a woman’s identity, and then controlling her self-esteem, and then ultimately controlling her so that she can’t make a decision on her own, and then he starts to control her physically and it escalates. The idea was to kind of analyze that. So, someone could watch the film and think if they were in the early stages of that they could recognize it and potentially get out before it gets worse. Also, I think it was fascinating as a character study. He was a very interesting character.
MMM: And this one?
GOSLING: It is like a murder mystery in its own right, but it is this beautiful couple’s love is shot down in cold blood, and we are trying to find out whodunit. For the whole film, you are retracing the steps of their love to figure out who killed it. Was it him? Was it her? Was it the kids? Was it money? Was it time? Was it their jobs?
MMM: The amount of prep that you did for this was really interesting, in terms of living in the house with Michelle, living on the budget that they were living on, etc. Would you work that way again in terms of that kind of immersion, and do you think that there are any dangers to going in so deeply?
GOSLING: I would rather not work any other way. I don’t know how to. There aren’t many filmmakers that work that will work way. Derek is rare in that degree. On most films you are constantly aware that you are making a film with booms, and people have sides, and there are trailers, and there are monitors, and you are trying to forget that you are trying to make a film all of the time. But when you work with Derek here you are trying to remember that it is a movie.
MMM: Do you leave your roles at the end of the day — or do you even want to leave a role like this at the end of the day?
GOSLING: I didn’t have to. Michelle had to and that is what I think is even more incredible about her side of this story. She would do the same, she was just as committed as I was, and yet she would go home at night and be a mom and go back to being Michelle.
MMM: I would love to know what you think about the fact that your character has no ambition or desire to advance himself, in the usual sense of the work world out there, and what that was saying about the culture because a woman could do the same thing, and not lose the love of her husband because of it.
GOSLING: That is an interesting point. We all know this kind of guy, I think. The guy that everyone likes but kind of secretly doesn’t respect — that has all of this potential but no drive or ambition
MMM: But isn’t that okay?
GOSLING: Yeah, sure. There is not a judgment of it in the film. I think that little girls are raised to think that all they should aspire to is to have a man that loves them and is good for them and won’t leave. But what if that is not enough? What if [he] is the greatest guy in the world but you don’t love him? You can try all you want to make yourself love somebody, but good luck. I think it is a very interesting and daring character for Michelle to play because you risk being unpopular by playing that kind of a person. But those women exist and are they supposed to force themselves to love somebody when they’re not?
MMM: People talk about the motel scene as being the most painful to watch. I think the most painful to watch is when you keep asking, “Well, what can I do? I’ll do anything you ask me to do.” You are desperate, and she doesn’t have a response. It’s over.
GOSLING: It’s not fun to be rejected over and over again. I understand both points of view, and that is what I think makes the film so special — it is not slanted one way or the other. It’s a really objective portrait of a book about these people’s perspective, and what is interesting to me is after the movie is over and you talk to people they are all split, and they are all sure of it. There is no doubt in their minds. It is one way or the other — and then they fight it out.
MMM: Grizzly Bear did the soundtrack and you have some contributions. How important was that to telling the story?
GOSLING: I think it was. The idea, just in general, of only having music in the past was a great idea because it does tend to romanticize our memories, and so I thought that was a great choice. In terms of having Grizzly Bear, it is a very cinematic kind of [music]. There is something orchestral, and almost like a movie from…it has “Gone With The Wind”-type moments in its score and then they dismantle it; that is kind of what the movie is doing, it builds something beautiful and then tears it down.
MMM: And your performance? It was impressive.
GOSLING: I tell you what. If I had known they were going to make a trailer out of that I would have worked harder. You know what is funny is that now on YouTube there’re these guys trying to play the song the way that I played it. Because I am not good enough to play it the way that it is supposed to be played, I just made up my own really simple way of doing it. And those guys are so good that they can’t figure out how to play it as badly as I did.
MMM: Did you like that scene? I think it is such a charming scene and you get a great sense of your character.
GOSLING: Yeah, I liked the way that it came about. I think that is what is interesting about Derek, that he said, “From sun up to sundown I am going to film whatever you do, and you can do whatever you want.” And we shot all night and the only thing that made it into the movie were those two minutes.
MMM: We are coming to the end of the year and I just wanted to ask you what your favorite movie this year was and why?
GOSLING: “Enter the Void.”
MMM: I loved it too. What struck you about it?
GOSLING: I never saw anything like it. I just think it is completely new. I just couldn’t compare it to anything. As much as you could recreate the experience of dying and being dead, outside of actually doing it, he did it. That is as close as you can come.
MMM: When you were on the bridge railing, how aware were you of the hazards or were you totally into the scene?
GOSLING: I think that at that point I thought that I was in a movie, and that even if I fell off that bridge nothing would have happened to me. I wasn’t thinking obviously or I wouldn’t have done it. I was stupid. It must be one of the stupidest things I have ever done.
MMM: Did you feel a lot of pressure to improvise or did it energize you?
GOSLING: I can’t remember my lines anyway. That’s the truth. I have a really hard time with it. Every time I say my lines as they are written they sound totally unnatural. So, for me it was a relief because I am always trying to explain why I can’t remember my lines, and here I was encouraged not to.
MMM: So what is this next movie that you couldn’t remember the lines to?
MMM: Aren’t you working with Albert Brooks on that one? He is another…
GOSLING: It’s funny. I took out all my lines and I had to do a scene with Albert Brooks where he did this whole scene and he is asking me questions: “You want some wine?” And I don’t want to talk and he knows that and he just keeps asking me questions to make me talk. And when the scene is over he goes, “You’ll say something. I’ll ask you if you want wine and you will say ‘no’ or you will say ‘yes’ or you will shake your head but this not talking is not working. You’ll say something. It’s weird when I ask you a question and you don’t talk.”
BLUE VALENTINE is now playing in select theaters.