Disney fan Gosling now in full flight
Modest Golden Globe nominee Ryan Gosling tells Evan Fanning how his haunted past is shaping his future
AN hour before I'm due to meet Ryan Gosling in London, it is announced he has received a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination for his performance in Blue Valentine. While I wait for my slot, Hollywood powerbroker Harvey Weinstein saunters down the corridor. "Great news," he bellows to anyone listening. "Where is he?"
Once again, Gosling is a man in demand. He's been here before. He was Oscar nominated for his portrayal of a crack-addicted school teacher in Half Nelson, the type of harrowing indie flick the Canadian has made his trademark ever since he burst on to the scene as a Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer.
Now, along with Michelle Williams, his co-star in Blue Valentine who has also been nominated for a Golden Globe, he is set to again propel a movie made for a pittance towards cult status.
Gosling modestly and somewhat predictably deflects attention from the nomination, saying he is pleased for the film but wishes first-time director Derek Cianfrance, who spent 12 years harbouring this project, had been nominated as well.
"This film is the three of us. There is no way to separate one from the other. My performance is half a performance and the other half is Michelle's."
It's not any surprise that Gosling is among the nominations as he gives a performance reminiscent of a young Sean Penn as he plays Dean, a man so devoted to his wife and child that all other aims in life have disappeared. The film opens with the marriage in difficulty and jumps back and forth to tell the story of a relationship between two thoroughly ordinary people.
"What happens in the home is, to me, the most dramatic fertile ground," he explains. "It contains all genres. It's a comedy and a tragedy, it's an action movie and a horror movie all happening in these little houses on these normal-looking streets. The living room is a battlefield. People try and kill each other off emotionally."
Tall and direct, with matinee-idol good looks, Gosling bemoans the lack of balance in the industry where he plies his trade. He has no problem with the behemoth comic-book adaptations and super hero spin-offs, but wishes there was more room for films such as Blue Valentine.
"Most of these movies are made in the image of gods. There aren't enough movies made in the image of man," he says.
The Notebook remains the nearest thing he's had to a box-office smash. The adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel didn't so much tug at the heartstrings as take a chainsaw to them and it made Gosling a teen heart-throb. It's a reputation he's managed to maintain while at the same time making movies on his own terms.
"I'm compelled to make these movies," he says. "It's a mystery to me why. I know what else is out there. I know that things could be different, but I'm still compelled to make these. At the end of the day these are what I have to make, which isn't to say that it's always going to be that way but that's the way it is right now. I'm trying to figure it out. Every time I make a movie I feel like I'm one step closer to figuring it out."
Gosling's journey towards figuring it out began in London, Ontario, 200 kilometres from Toronto.
At 12, he answered an ad for auditions for Disney's Mickey Mouse Club and soon found himself filming the show in Los Angeles, where his peers included Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake. But that kind of world wasn't an easy fit for Gosling, even at the age of 12.
Gosling's sojourn with Disney was brief and the fable goes that the parents of the other children complained about him being a bad influence and corrupting their offspring with sexual tales. "I just told them what I heard -- like positions and stuff," he said previously. "I feel somewhat responsible for how sexual she [Britney] is now. When I see her with a snake around her neck, I think: Did I do that?"
Being a member of such an institution -- albeit one which politely told him he might be better off pursuing a career elsewhere -- has, Gosling feels, a certain stigma attached to it. "I'm 30 years old. It happened when I was 12, but every interview I do people still want to talk about it.
"The truth is I never tried to get away from it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not that show -- that show was actually pretty depressing because I realised I wasn't some child prodigy like the rest of them were -- but the Disney. I still go to Disneyland whenever I can. There's something about Walt Disney having this idea and he was so committed to it that now you can walk around inside of his imagination and climb on it.
"I wanted to be somebody that believed in his ideas as much as that. The attention to detail that Disney has. Even the butter has ears. There is nothing they haven't thought of. I'm still fascinated by it. It was a great thing to happen at 12."
While Ryan Gosling Land may be a while off yet, his apparent love of the Disney Empire is such that just a few weeks previously he was spotted there with Gossip Girl actress Blake Lively.
The official line is they "are just good friends" but following a two-year relationship with Rachel McAdams -- the story goes that they could barely speak to each other while making The Notebook, but met again a year later and began seeing each other -- Gosling is well aware that he inhabits a world where his every move, date and relationship is seen as newsworthy.
"It's not bad," he says with a slight smirk when I ask how he handles the whole fame game. "It's disappointing that your life isn't as interesting as people think it is. If you can handle that, you can handle it. You only let everyone down. People meet you and they're always disappointed because it never lives up to what they wanted it to be, or they find out the truth to some rumour they heard and it's not as exciting as they thought. I feel like I'm constantly disappointing them. Making their day and disappointing them at the same time."
Aside from being regarded as the most method of all the young actors, Gosling also fronts an indie band (obviously) called Dead Man's Bones, whose 2009 self-title album won critical acclaim. "It's just this music for dead people," is Gosling's description. But why the obsession with the afterlife?
"When I was 12 I went on the haunted mansion ride at Disney and it made me think that maybe it's not so bad to die," he explains, perhaps missing the point of Disneyland. "The idea of these ghosts dancing with each other for some reason really resonated with me and made me not afraid of death.
"Also my mother used to hang out in graveyards. She used to take me there all the time and I would play while she would read the tombstones and she would go and look up who these people were and where they came from.
"Also, I may or may not have lived in a haunted house. We moved because my parents were convinced it was haunted. That's the house where I grew up. I learned to walk in that house and talk in that house, so my earliest experiences were framed by graveyards and ghosts, so that's how I feel about life."
Perhaps his theme park may take off after all. A sort of warped, twisted horror ride with a real-life twist.
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