Headlines are being made about Ryan Gosling’s impending hiatus from acting, which is why it was extra fortunate that we got a chance to talk to the star/heartthrob/Internet meme sensation recently, as part of his press tour for the new drama, The Place Beyond the Pines. The movie re-unites Gosling his with acclaimed Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, for a movie about family, legacy, and the rippling effects of violence.
The discussion with Gosling ranged from topics like the motor bike-riding skills he needed to acquire in order to play the role of bank-robbing stunt driver, Luke, to discussions of the larger state of his acting career and whether or not this movie (about the legacies between fathers and sons) has changed his perspective on children and parenting.
Q: So did you like being that character that has a touch of danger to him? You seem to be moving more and more towards these characters that have a touch of danger to them.
Ryan Gosling: Well, just trying to surf and turf it a little bit. (laughter) Keep it interesting for you guys.
Q: So you ride a motorcycle?
I do yeah.
Q: So talk about that training they put you through.
Well it was just basically me and Rick Miller, when Batman gets on the motorcycle, it’s Rick Miller in the Batman suit. So he is the best and he’s become a good friend and we just was riding motorcycles around Schenectady for a month, that was the training.
Q: Any dangerous turns there?
Yeah, I guess. I mean, the nature of the way Derek wanted to shoot the film was all of the heist in one shot.
Q: It’s kind of like Drive.
‘Drive’ is a very surreal movie, more of a dream, and this is a film that’s all about consequences and the ramifications of your actions. In ‘Drive,’ I smash a guy’s head in an elevator and you never hear about it again. And this, there’s only two shots fired and they resonate through the entire movie. I feel like the driver was someone without, not a real person, and this character is someone that’s very much like just kind of like a mess, a disaster of a person.
Q: Drive was like a fairytale and this one was kind of the opposite of a fairytale.
I guess to me, they are like ‘The Notebook’ and ‘Blue Valentine’.
Q: Do you prefer working with Derek and his style of directing as opposed to other directors because he said that he gives you freewill.
Yeah, he says that, but that’s not true. (laughter) Because, I will tell you a for instance, like for instance with the face tattoo, I regretted it instantly, and I said this looks ridiculous, I can’t do this to me or your movie, I regret it, and he said, well that’s what people do with face tattoos, they regret it. And then he said, well this movie is about consequences, so now you are stuck with it.
And, I was upset at the time but I was glad that he held my feet to the fire in that way, because it did give me the sense of shame that I don’t think I could have acted in the film. I did feel a sense of, I didn’t want to be photographed, or even look at myself in the mirror, and I felt ridiculous and I started to feel probably exactly how this character felt. This was a character who was a melting pot of every masculine cliché, tattoos, muscles, guns, its overkill, and when he is presented with this child that he didn’t know that he had, it’s like a mirror is held up to him and he realizes that he’s not a man at all. That all of those things don’t make you a man, and at the heart of it, he’s an empty person.
So he desperately tries to and then equally as romantic in his own mind, an unrealistically romantic way, trying to turn it around and have this grand gesture to his kid which is equally as foolish as a knife under your eye.
Q: During the robbery scene you sort of squeal when you’re ordering around the bank tellers. Was that also a part of this “masculine character” (laughter)?
That squeal? It was a fear, I did that 22 times. And each take was ten minutes. And it would start four blocks down the street, where I would ride the motorcycle up to the bank, run in, the camera would come in with me and I would rob it, but also I would tell you what really came from, when I first started robbing the bank, I looked down and people were smiling and filming me with their cell phones. (laughter)
And they were just having a great time being robbed, and then Derek came up to me and he was very angry, and he blamed me for not being scary enough. He said, look at these people, they are having a good time, (laughter) and he made me do 22 takes of trying to scare them, and I think at a certain point I got desperate. (laughter)
Q: So what about the scene when you dropped the bag?
That was amazing, I had weighted the bag, because I thought, this lady was just tossing it over and there was no money in it, so we had done like ten takes, and I asked them to weight the bag, and they over weighted it, and so this lady had to throw it over, (laughter) but it just couldn’t make it over the top, and then it got stuck on the top of it and we loved it because it was just like everything that could go wrong, did.
Q: Parenting is already kind of freaky enough on its own – has this role kind of freaked you out about the idea of parenting even more?
Well I don’t know, I really like this kid, who played our kid, Tony Pizza, that’s his name, (laughter) his real name, Tony Pizza Jr, and I don’t know, if they could all be like Tony Pizza, I guess I would have them.
Q: What do you have in common with Luke, and what does Luke have in common with your Blue Valentine character?
I don’t know how to answer that (laughs), that’s a good question. I would have to think about that.
Q: What did you find in him that you could relate to?
Well I guess in the way that I have these, for instance, when Derek and I were making ‘Blue Valentine,’ I said to him that I thought I figured out a way to get away with robbing a bank. If I wasn’t so afraid of jail I would do it, I was that sure of it. And which I guess means I am not too confident in my plan. (laughter) And he said, that’s crazy, I just wrote a script about that, so we thought, well, okay, we should try and make that movie, but it was a fantasy, and the reality of it was very, very different.
And I think I can have a tendency, I can try and romanticize things or create a mythology for something and want to believe the idea of something and try and avoid the reality of it. And so I think that that’s, this character is this, maybe we are similar in that way.
Q: Being set in Schenectady is definitely the opposite of fantasy, it’s a pretty hard scrabble, so how did that being up there, staying in a Holiday Inn or whatever, how did that inform your character? Did it give you an idea of what kind of life he led?
It did and I think it’s part of the beauty of the way Derek works, that he just creates an environment for you that’s so natural that you kind of, if you are in it long enough, acclimate to it in a certain degree. For instance, in the bank, that was the real tellers that work at that bank and people that go to that bank, so he tries to surround you with as much, it was as many people from that environment as possible, so your goal is to try and match their, you try and get to where they are at.
Q: What lessons have you learned for you to direct? Are you planning on it, are you working on it?
Yeah, in a couple of months.
Q: Are you worried about it?
I am not, I am not anymore, I was until I got this cast, and then the cast is so good that I got this, you can’t mess that up.
Q: But what lessons have you learned?
Well I guess it’s that you have to kind of, as much as you want to try and adopt the styles, I don’t think it’s wise. What I think I’ve learned, I say this now, but it might totally be different, but it feels like the things that I admire about the filmmakers that I have worked with, is that they are themselves. And they don’t try and make movies like anyone else.
And it’s not in an egocentric way. It’s just that I think when you are a director, you can’t, there’s nowhere to hide. You are completely exposed. As an actor you can say, well it’s the character, or I didn’t write it, I didn’t direct it, I didn’t cut it, I didn’t score it, I didn’t make that poster, (laughs) you can hide behind a lot of things. Whereas a filmmaker, you are responsible for everything, and I didn’t I guess realize exactly how much you can tell about a filmmaker by their films.
Q: And you also have to worry about budgeting I assume too.
Yeah, you have got to worry.
Q: When you are a director and you are in charge of everything, so at a certain point, you thought you could do this. When did you know that you could be an actor, an adult dramatic actor?
I don’t know if there was like a specific moment or even that I do know that now. Fluff is always within reach. (laughter)
Q: You have kind of emerged.
That’s nice, but the reality is is that I was sort of gift wrapped a career by Henry Beane, who gave me this opportunity to do this movie The Believer, which was coming from doing Young Hercules and The Mickey Mouse Club was something that gave me the opportunity to break out of that in a way that I don’t think I could have done without that opportunity. And it was sort of, I couldn’t get an audition for The Believer or a movie like that, because of my past.
And yet after that film, it was like suddenly people were talking to me like I was some serious person all of a sudden. And I tried to play that role for awhile, because it felt good, but it wasn’t something that I knew, it was something I was sort of pretending to be, and then you hope to believe it at a certain point, until you make it.
Q: Can you talk about working with Eva, what was it like, and this very intense chemistry that was created there?
I would like to say it’s our chemistry but I think the reality is that it’s Derek’s process. I think that chemistry is evident in other relationships in the movie as well and I think the chemistry between Dane [DeHaan] and Emory [Cohen], or Bradley [Cooper] and Rose [Byrne], so much of it is just about Derek’s process, and the kind of environment that he puts you in that evokes a kind of connection.
I think we all have a chemistry with one another because we are the only actors in the vicinity, because everyone else is like real people from the environment, that there’s connection between you because you feel like oh my God, they are going to smell a rat. I am sure I am sticking out like a sore thumb.
Q: Is there a lot of pressure now from your representatives who say, Ryan, we need you for the A-list stuff and you say, I love my craft, I want to keep making movies like this? How much pressure is there for you to say, I want to do this?
Who is they?
Q: CAA, whomever represents you.
I think part of it is that I am not with a large agency, so I never honestly have heard the term “A-list” until today. I haven’t heard it for a year or so, and I don’t have people around me who put those pressures on me and I guess the people I have been with, I have been with my manager since I was fourteen, I have been with my agent since I was sixteen, same with my publicist and my lawyer and everybody around me has been in it for the long haul.
And all of these things that are developing for me were never a part of the initial plan. You know, when I first started out, I was never really considered for leading roles, so I just sort of wired my brain to believe that if I was going to have a career, I was going to be as a character actor, and it’s only sort of in the last five years or something that it kind of opened up.
Q: How do you feel about being an Internet sensation?
In terms of the internet thing, it’s just a wrong place, wrong time kind of thing.
Q: Was it any easier getting this role having had the chance to help shape it as opposed to when you were taking on the script which was more rigid and structured?
Yeah, absolutely, it’s a much more rich experience, because you feel a sense of, you are invested in a way that you are, you just can’t be unless you are involved in that way.
Q: Do you see yourself exploring this improvisation in your own filming?
I’m so nervous to make any predictions about myself as a director, it’s really something that I think you have to do in order to know and I will tell you all about it when it’s finished.
WARNING!!! – SPOILERS FOR PLACE BEYOND THE PINES FOLLOW!!!
Q: Were you okay with the fact that your character dies so early on in the movie?
Yeah, I think so. I like it, I like to keep it going. Less is more for me.
Q: But was it weird when you read the script… did it create a whole new conversation for you?
I loved the structural narrative of the movie, I think it’s so interesting, and it reminds me of that film ‘The Red and the White,’ that Russian film, where you are sort of, you follow one solider until he is killed and you follow the guy that killed him and the baton keeps being passed.
Q: Like the Richard Linklater film Slacker.
Right. I like it and I think what I love about what Derek has done is I feel like he’s, all the reasons that you go to the movies are still there, there are still the conventions of a heist film, a crime drama, a family drama, a thriller, and yet, it’s deconstructed and laid out in a way that allows you to have a different experience watching it, and I think that that’s, as an audience I appreciate that, because I love those genres, but it is nice to experience them in a different way.
The Place Beyond the Pines will be in theaters in limited release on March 29, 2013.