He lets loose in sex scenes in his new film but likes to keep quiet on real romance, finds Declan Cashin, as he talks to Ryan Gosling about Oscar hype, love, and why he can’t stop breaking fans’ hearts
The week before Christmas, and an hour before he's due to sit down with Day & Night to discuss his new movie Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling finds out that he's been nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor for that very film.
Such a turn of events sends a promotional schedule into complete disarray. When, an hour later than scheduled, the actor finally ambles into the London hotel suite, dressed in a snazzy grey suit, his sandy hair neatly combed and sporting a face of light fuzz, the 30-year-old doesn't seem to have the over-excited manner of a man who has just been given a very large gold star on his copybook.
"It's just really good for the movie," he drawls in his soft-spoken accent. Gosling has done the whole awards circuit before; four years ago he was nominated for an Oscar, among other prizes, for his performance as a drug-addicted teacher in the indie flick Half Nelson.
"Yeah, the Oscars; that was funny," he says. "Obviously it's a huge honour and you never think it's going to happen, and then when it is happening, it's so surreal. I went with my mom who had gotten a beehive hairdo, and she was so self-conscious the whole night because she thought the people behind us couldn't see. I talked to Rachel Weisz afterwards, who was sitting behind us, and she confirmed she had a hard time seeing over it. Oh, and Peter O'Toole hit on my sister." He flashes a grin: "Irish guys, huh?"
The way things are going, Mama Gosling should start stocking up on the hairspray (and Sister Gosling the pepper spray), as it looks as if Ryan may well pick up his second Oscar nod for his intense, shattering performance in Blue Valentine, which focuses on the courtship and later marriage between Dean (Gosling), a charming, happy-with-his-lot painter/removal man, and shy, damaged nurse Cindy (Michelle Williams).
The movie juxtaposes scenes of their romantic first dates, and the early sexual excitement, with the emotionally harrowing disintegration of their marriage. In this particular love story, love means always having to say you're sorry.
I put it to Gosling -- as a compliment -- that his movie is genuinely painful to watch. He smiles and replies: "I don't know why we don't see these kind of love stories more often. Derek Cianfrance, our director, said that when he started writing this 12 years ago, it was as a reaction against the movies he was watching. The actors looked like they were carved out of marble and made in the image of Gods.
"He wanted to make a film that was made in the image of man and a film that celebrates the flaws that make us who we are, and that make us special. We wanted it to be like real life, not movies that pretend to know everything."
Keeping things real meant that when it came to the movie's sex scenes, Gosling, Williams and Cianfrance decided to eschew the softly lit, bedsheet-pulled-up-past-the-nipples-the-following-morning coital scenes of yore.
The resulting love scenes -- gritty, messy, graphic -- have become Blue Valentine's main talking point, and saw it initially slapped with an NC-17 rating -- the commercial kiss of death -- before getting it reduced to the far more acceptable 'R' rating upon appeal.
"In most films, the love scenes feel gratuitous so they are difficult for the actors because you feel a bit cheesy doing them, like they're just there to fulfil fantasies for people," Gosling says. "This was very different: we weren't trying to fulfil fantasies for people. We were just trying to show two people in love. It felt as if the movie lived or died by those love scenes. We tried to make it seem as real as possible, which is partly why we got in so much trouble."
In order to heighten the sense of authenticity, Gosling, Williams and their onscreen daughter Faith Wladyka lived together as a family for a month in preparation. He explains: "We had Christmas, birthdays, and went fishing. We fought, we cooked, we cleaned, we watched movies, we took naps, we decorated and we took photos. We did everything we could in that month to make memories so that when we were losing something at the end of the movie, we were really losing something."
Gosling admits that he can relate to the emotional tenor, if not the specifics, of the story. "I come from divorce," he says. "I didn't grow up in that house, but that's one thing me, Derek and Michelle all have in common: we're children of divorce, we were all that little girl in the movie at some point.
"We all have the same questions: what happens to love? Why does it go away? Why is it that you think you're going to die if you can't be with someone, and then when you've got to share a bathroom with them, you think you're going to kill them? What is it about the domestic set-up that makes it so hard for love to thrive?"
Will he divulge his own worst break-up story? Gosling bursts out laughing. "Yeah right!" Has he made a fool of himself over a girl? "Yeah, of course," he says. "You're not in love unless you're making a fool of yourself." Is he in a relationship now? (There are rumours that he and Williams are an item). He gives a sly smile. "I'm married to my work."
From Ontario, Canada, Gosling was born into a Morman, blue-collar family, and began his career at age 12 by becoming a Mouseketeer on Disney's The Mickey Mouse Club, alongside Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake, with whom he lived for six months at the time (see panel).
Gosling dropped out of school at 17, moved to New Zealand for two years and worked on TV productions such as Young Hercules and Goosebumps. He landed a supporting role alongside Denzel Washington in Remember the Titans (2000), but the following year he played a Neo-Nazi to startling effect in The Believer, which firmly established his indie credentials.
Then, in 2004, Gosling played the romantic lead opposite his now ex-girlfriend Rachel McAdams in the wildly successful tearjerker The Notebook. Suddenly Gosling was white hot. The pressure must surely have been on at that point to lock in a franchise or cultivate a commercial acting career, but this is a trajectory he quietly resisted.
"For me, doing something like The Notebook gave me the opportunity to do the stuff I wanted to do," he says. "Suddenly, I could go and make Half Nelson, or I could get Lars and the Real Girl made."
Though he has an increasingly busy screen career, Gosling is also a musician: his band, Dead Man's Bones, released and toured their eponymous debut album last year. Gosling adds that his other pastimes include learning ballet ("I love it. Have you seen Billy Elliot? I love that movie"), and moonlighting as a waiter in the LA restaurant he co-owns. "Not so much anymore, just when we were trying to get it off the ground," he reveals.
For now, Gosling is concentrating on three new movies he's either making or ushering into production. That, and continually trying to convince fans that he's not the same swoonsome leading man in real life that they know from The Notebook.
"I'm not that guy," he says, smiling. "When you get famous you just have to accept that you're going to be constantly disappointing people when they meet you. You can never be everything they want you to be. You're always making their day and breaking their heart all at the same time."
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