VMan Interview - Winter/Fall 2005
Since Ryan Gosling’s breakthrough performance as the Jewish member of a neo-Nazi organization in The Believer, the 25-year-old actor has built serious momentum portraying a series of unconventionally interesting or troubled young men: a preppy killer in Murder by numbers, a mid-century romancer in The Notebook, a football player who finds himself in a sexually ambiguous relationship with his coach in The Slaughter Rule. In Gosling’s newest and biggest film yet, Stay – a psychological thriller directed by Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and costarring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts – he plays a suicidal student.
Add to this an upbringing as a Canadian Mormon and a stint in Orlando, Florida, as a member of the Mickey Mouse Club (his room-mate was Justin Timberlake), and the overall effect is that of the psycho next door, or the combustible choirboy. Not that that’s a bad thing. Critics have called Gosling “the next Sean Penn,” and his IMDB page hosts two discussion threads: one is titled “I wanna bang Ryan” and another frets that his “Best Kiss” Movie Award will turn him into Leonardo DiCaprio.
To extend the Sean Penn comparison, Gosling is also capable of extracurricular tabloid antics – a DUI arrest in March and sightings with Paris Hilton and Famke Janssen, none of which he will discuss, perhaps wisely. But he also has a deep side: Gosling recently spent several weeks in Africa filming a documentary on the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. He’s been cast in The Last Face (a story about Doctors Without Borders, costarring Javier Bardem and Robin Wright Penn), and in Che, the eagerly awaited Steven Soderbergh biopic about Che Guevara, both of which are germinating in preproduction.
Over the course of two neat Gentlemen Jacks, Gosling held forth on religion, sex scenes, and his stint as a Mousketeer alongside Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Michael Martin
MICHAEL MARTIN Was Stay, which is pretty convoluted, traumatic to make?
RYAN GOSLING It wasn’t traumatic. I had a lot of fun. I had to lie on the Brooklyn Bridge for two weeks. On the arch on the Manhattan side, there was this weed growing on top, just one weed. I would lie there and think, How did it get up there? Anyway, it was just me and the weed. However it got up there, it couldn’t have been easy.
MM Your character in the movie is in the care of a psychiatrist. Have you ever been in therapy yourself?
RG Oh yeah. I haven’t gone in a while but I should. It’s good, right? I resisted it forever, but it’s nice to have someone who has to listen to you and kind of agree with you.
MM What was it like working with Ewan McGregor?
RG He’s fucking great. Every take, every choice, everything he did was interesting and fun. He doesn’t take it too seriously and still manages to have all this power behind whatever he chooses to focus on. And on top of that he has the best family. The most well-behaved kids I’ve ever seen. It’s a little scary. We were doing this reading at his house and his little girl came up and she was like a 40-year-old woman. “Daddy, should I say hello to your guests?” she asked. “Yes, puppet.” She comes over and shakes all our hands, and then she goes over to play with the baby – who doesn’t ever cry. He’s got a great thing going.
MM What’s the last good movie you saw?
RG I recently rented Babe: Pig in the City. I had no idea. It is so disturbing it will wreck you. There’s some scene of an orangutan holding his underwear in the dark mixed with shots of a Jack Russell that you’ve come to love and who has wheels for legs because he was hit by a car. He’s lying in the middle of the street, alone, dying, and the orangutan is alone in a hotel in his boxers. It’s fucking creepy.
MM What drives you to act?
RG I just really like meeting and being around people. This is a job that allows me to do that, to really get into that and figure out why that is.
MM You’ve moved back and forth between indies and big studio films. What’s your decision-making process when you read a script?
RG More and more, it’s Can I smoke in this part? It wasn’t so much about that before, but the more and more I smoke, the more I like to find characters who are smokers.
MM Did you study acting?
RG I didn’t. I only started to study recently, which has been really helpful. But I had a kind of wild family and I was always around it in a way. I have an uncle who’s an Elvis impersonator who lived in our basement. He was Elvis Harry. He had a mustache, no hair, a big birthmark on his face, didn’t make any effort at all to look like Elvis, but by anyone’s account, he was Elvis. He was fucking great.
MM I heard that you were taken out of school because you were bullied as a child.
RG Not true. I started ninety-five percent of those fights, and I just happened to lose them all. My mother took me out of school because I wasn’t doing well. Thank God for her – she’s the greatest woman. She took me out of school, quit her job, and taught me at home. She bought big rolls of paper and had me make stuff. It was a great year.
MM How did you get into acting?
RG I didn’t play sports or anything like that, so my parents got in touch with this woman who had a dance company. I worked with the company for two years. I thought, I’ll do this, it’s great, there are girls everywhere, and I like it. Then there was this thing in the paper calling for young people who could dance. I went and ended up getting the job. It was for the Mickey Mouse Club.
MM How do you go from the Mickey Mouse Club to The Believer?
RG It was a natural progression. Basically, from the age of 12 until 14 I was auditioning because I wasn’t really working on the show very much. I think I hold the record for riding Space Mountain. And then I got older and did that TV show Breaker High in Canada, which was over 200 episodes of television, so I got really great training. When I finnished that, I was 18 and I moved to L.A. I was an extra in Remember the Titans, had two lines but was in every scene, and got to watch Denzel Washington work.
A friend was auditioning for The Believer. I was jealous. I asked if it was okay for me to try out. Henry Bean, the director, is crazy and likes to piss people off, so he hired the guy who was the worst choice. I was 19, from Canada, not Jewish, and had never done a film of that nature. I think he just liked that I was the dark horse. He kind of identified with me like that and we were in it together.
MM You were raised Mormon. Are you still religious?
RG It was kind of obvious early on that it wasn’t going to suit the life that I wanted. My mother is somebody who really appreciates the individual, and she really supported me. My mother and sister are still very religious, and it really works for them.
MM The Notebook – do you enjoy playing the romance-dude character type?
RG I really liked making The Notebook. Nick [Cassavetes, the director] and I felt that we really wanted to make a movie about a guy who loves his girl, that showed that men can be romantic. We need romance too. That made Nick and me feel good because we’re kind of saps. We like that mushy stuff. We don’t like to admit it, but we do.
MM Some of the sex scenes were cut for the PG-13 rating. Was that disappointing?
RG Yeah. We put a lot of work into those. It was part of the character’s connection and we wanted that represented. But nobody ever came up to me and said, “I wish there was more sex.”
MM What’s your philosophy about doing those scenes?
RG I’ve done them a few times now. It’s not just like any other scene, but for the most part it is – you’ve got to be professional and respectful. If you’re doing an action movie where you have to fight somebody, you have to respect certain boundaries. I think sex scenes need a lot of work. I rarely see a love scene that reflects real experience. Most love scenes you can pull out of one movie and put in another and not really know the difference. The sex doesn’t ever really reflect the characters – it’s just the act. In real life you learn a lot about somebody in those situations, and I don’t really feel like that happens when I watch a film. There’s a lot of room to explore. And as for people acting sexy: stop acting sexy-it’s not sexy.
MM Do you have an interest in producing or directing?
RG Not really. It’s good being an actor because if anything goes wrong you can blame it on everyone else.
MM How did you get involved with the documentary about Sudan?
RG I went to the premiere for Hotel Rwanda. Angelina Jolie was there, and she gave this speech about Darfur. At the after-party I went up to her and asked her to educate me. She asked me if I wanted to go. I would have said yes to anything she said – I was kind of hypnotized. Two weeks later I got this call to get some vaccines because I was going to Africa. So I went and shot a little piece of a documentary for her. She sent different teams to different places all over the world., and we all filmed three minutes at exactly the same time wherever we were.
MM What did you see over there?
RG It was a heart-wrenching, mind-bending, soul-twisting experience. I wasn’t prepared at all. We drove eight ours into the middle of the desert, and we went to these camps. There had been four murders on the road we were traveling four days before. We had to take an eight-hour detour to be safe.
In the first camp, there were like 60,000 people. They get not-so-clean water once a day and som rations. They have these old World War II hand-me-down tents to live in. They end up there because groups hired by the government come in and burn their villages. They come on horseback or on camel and kill all the men and stay for a week and rape the women, even little girls who are like 10 years old. And then when it’s all over, they take all the livestock for the government. Last check, close to a million people were murdered in a year.
I was talking to kids and saying, “What do you want most?” Some kid said to me, “Can you tell the American government to come and help us get our villages back?” What do you say to that? I went with a friend who was in the Gulf War. When we came back, he kind of went crazy. We were ready to do some extreme stuff. But then we decided to do something productive that wouldn’t hurt the cause. So we’re trying to put together this website called www.rawaid.com to help refugees around the world.
MM What are you working on now?
RG I’m doing this film called Half Nelson. It’s about an eighth-grade social studies teacher and his student. I’m the teacher. It’s about their relationship and their lives outside the classroom, but it’s almost the opposite of the usual teacher movies. Dead Poets Society is a film in which the teacher saves the students, and this is a film in which the student saves the teacher.
MM A couple of years ago, an article quoted you as saying that in your Mickey Mouse Club days you talked to Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears about sex. What exactly did they ask you, and what did you tell them?
RG We were 12. We had natural curiosities, so we talked. I don’t remeber specifically what we talked about. We just talked about things the way 12-year-olds talk. We didn’t know anything about sex then. I’m still not sure I know anything about it.
MM Is there any downside to being famous when it comes to getting women?
RG After seeing The Notebook, they all want me to build them a house. Which is fine, but I can’t build that many houses.