September 16, 2011
“I’ll make movies until I make babies. I have no idea when the handover will happen.”
Witness the Ryan Gosling effect: the waitress, who took my order with a cursory nod, is kittenishly reeling off lunch options, cutesy “OKs” to each component of Gosling’s order. In Crazy, Stupid, Love, one of the several Gosling movies out this autumn and the one set to bring him to mainstream heart-throbdom, women cluster around the actor’s character Jacob like horny moths. Jacob is calculatedly aware of his sexiness; Gosling, who speaks softly and nervily, seems embarrassed by it. John Requa, Crazy, Stupid, Love’s co-director, says: “Ryan begged to put his shirt on between takes. He’s truly not comfortable with the sex symbol thing.”
In another new film, Drive, which we’re meeting to discuss, Gosling, 30, is almost mute as an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver drawn into a violent web of deception, while falling for a criminal’s wife played by Carey Mulligan. Directed by Valhalla Rising’s Nicolas Winding Refn, the film is most notable for its violence, which erupts in extreme bursts, the gore graphic but also flip. Until he moved to New York in June, where he acquired a motorbike, Gosling loved to drive around LA luxuriating “in the spell a car puts on you”. Drive’s plot derived from what Gosling calls his and Refn’s “first date”, when director and star met to discuss projects. “There wasn’t chemistry,” recalls Gosling. “I drove him home in awkward silence.” Gosling put on REO Speedwagon’s I Can’t Fight this Feeling and Refn started singing, then crying. “Suddenly we had our movie: it was about a guy who drives around LA listening to music.” More night-time drives followed. “Nicolas says: ‘We mentally f***ed and made a movie, baby’.”
In conceiving Drive, Gosling and Refn recalled Pretty in Pink, the actor says, “but we both thought if it had had head-smashing it would have been a masterpiece”. Is Drive too violent? “That’s up to individuals,” Gosling deflects. “You make movies to fill a giant screen. I saw it with people who screamed and cheered like at a soccer game. They weren’t sure if it was a joke. Were we serious? It was so violent we had to be, but it was so violent how could we be? I love the violence. It’s fascinating how primal it is. We didn’t really concern ourselves with its authenticity, it was more a symbol of my character’s emotional landscape.”
Refn, Gosling says, watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre “every morning while eating his cereal. His mother was very concerned. He believes art is an act of violence, he is afraid of violence, so he makes films about it to confront it.”
Growing up in Ontario, Canada, Gosling himself was troubled. At 5 he backed the family car almost into the path of another car. “I also stood in the middle of the street trying to get hit by cars, not because I wanted to die but I wanted to be where the cars were.” He was home-schooled after being bullied. “I didn’t have any friends: not in a sad, ‘poor me’ way. I didn’t want any. I liked being alone. It was only when I was 14, 15 I got friends.” He was always moving, he says, “and always being told to sit still”.
His parents became Mormons, which “never resonated with me but I liked the magical elements” and later divorced, “which was OK. I was happy they were happy.” Requa notes Gosling and his mother remain close and that, from a young age, she told him to offer to fetch drinks and food for his fellow actors before indulging himself, which he did on the set of Crazy, Stupid, Love. “He is the most well-mannered actor I have ever worked with. His character in the film has a mechanical attitude to women, but he totally respects them,” Requa says. Gosling is a natural collaborator, says Glenn Ficarra, the co-director of Crazy, Stupid, Love. “He studied the character, made himself that sexy because Jacob would. Ryan is more into being an intelligent actor than a movie star.”
First Blood (the first Rambo film), “hypnotised” the young Gosling. “One day at school I threw all my mothers’ knives at kids during recess. I got suspended and wasn’t allowed to watch violent films.” He began watching musicals, “Bible movies” and Cecil B. DeMille films. Fred Astaire and Danny Kaye “made me think I could dance” and at dance class he was happy. “Instead of getting in trouble for moving, it was the only thing I did I was praised for. It gave me self-confidence.”
At 12 he joined the Mickey Mouse Club, famed launchpad for celebrities such as Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. He felt he wasn’t as talented as the “kids who went to on to do things” and chose to go into acting, because “I wanted to keep finding a way to move around a lot and not get in trouble”. He didn’t have formal training, “took any job and did whatever the director told me”.
Gosling’s career built through roles in indie films, including Lars and the Real Girl (for which he won an Oscar nomination) and Half Nelson (for which he scored a Golden Globe nomination; his other Globe nomination came for Blue Valentine). Being a celebrity is “like the best drug you’ll ever do,” he smiles. “Magical things happen. There’s instant access to everything. As with all drugs there’s a dark side, but when actors talk about the downside of fame I roll my eyes. You say you want something, it appears. The people in movies become the people you know.”
Does he mind becoming an object of desire? “It’s not great. It’s complicated because it feels nice to have girls like you but they would like anyone in those roles.” He isn’t dating, he says. There must be a confetti of phone numbers wherever he goes. He laughs. “There’s interest but I’m in a committed relationship with film. I’m giving as much to it as a marriage. I had two of the greatest girlfriends of all time [Sandra Bullock and Rachel McAdams]. I haven’t met anyone who could top them.” (Since we met he has been photographed in Disneyland with Eva Mendes whipping up a frenzy of speculation.)
Why did the relationships end? “Showbusiness is the bad guy,” he says. “When both people are in showbusiness it’s too much showbusiness. It takes all of the light, so nothing else can grow.” Would he like to marry, have children? “I’d like to be making babies, but I’m not, so I’m making movies. When someone comes along I don’t think I’ll be able to do both and I’m fine with that. I’ll make movies until I make babies. I have no idea when the handover will happen.”
Not soon. Gosling makes film after film (“I get depressed when I’m not working”) and in George Clooney’s The Ides of March, which opened the Venice Film Festival, plays an icy political operative. He is working with Refn on a remake of Logan’s Run and a crime film, Only God Forgives, and also with Derek Cianfrance, the director of Blue Valentine, on The Place Beyond the Pines as a motorbike stunt rider who becomes a bank robber.
Gosling also harbours a desire to retire. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12. I don’t want to act much longer. I can’t do one thing my whole life. I know there are only so many characters I’ll be able to play. It will be over whenever the inspiration dries up.” He also has a band, Dead Man’s Bones, with a friend, Zach Shields, and part-owns a Moroccan restaurant in Los Angeles. Gosling’s great love, he says mushily, is his dog George. He has a doctor’s note stating George is his “emotional support dog”. As we wind up, the Gosling Effect part two: a young Australian actress, batting her eyes prettily, approaches asking for contacts of casting directors and agents. Gosling demurs, tells her to “make your own movie to show who you are”. It’s sincere advice, but I’m not sure she’s really listening.