What’s Ryan Gosling’s secret to his on-screen poise, his ability to disarm and provoke merely by his laconic presence?
“Just try not to blink,” he says with a self-deprecating smile.
But Gosling’s uncanny, communicative stillness — along with his sensitive vulnerability, his dedication to his work and, well, the guy ain’t bad looking — has made him a big movie star, a widely beloved, new-generation idol. It might be the only role he’s uncomfortable playing.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press Gosling spoke more with the uncertain, self-critical grasping of a still-developing actor. Ironically, he’s looking forward to taking a step back just when moviegoers can’t get enough.
But first comes a new film, The Place Beyond the Pines, his second collaboration with director Derek Cianfrance ( Blue Valentine).
In Pines, which opens Friday, Gosling plays a tattooed motorbike rider in a traveling circus who, visiting an old fling (played by Gosling’s girlfriend, Eva Mendes), finds out he’s the father of her toddler, a discovery that prompts an awakening in him. His story composes the first section of a triptych connected by a violent incident that reverberates across generations.
“One thing that kind of handed me the key to the character was that I totally overdid it with the tattoos,” says Gosling, who has a teardrop inked beneath his left eye in the film. “I said to Derek, ‘I got to lose this face tattoo. It’s the worst. It’s so distracting and it’s going to ruin everything.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m sure that’s how people with face tattoos feel. So now you have to pay the consequences of your actions.’ So I had to do the whole film with it and now see it on posters. It gave me a sense of shame that I feel was inherent to the character.”
Having started performing as an 8-year-old (coming from an Ontario, Canada, home of divorced, working-class Mormons), the 32-year-old Gosling considers himself an ensemble player and character actor.
“There’s a lot of pressure to be the lead of a film,” he says. “I have done it. It’s not my favorite way to work.”
Gosling’s break came in 2001’s The Believer, in which he played a neo-Nazi. A new level of fame came with The Notebook, the 2004 romance co-starring Rachel McAdams that made Gosling a bona fide heartthrob. Since then, he’s largely eschewed the conventional movie star path. Instead, he’s worked in naturalistic indies like Half Nelson (Oscar-nominated for his performance as an inner-city teacher) and the offbeat Lars and the Real Girl (as a delusional introvert with a life-size doll for a girlfriend).
He was atypically active in 2011, with three varied roles: an idealistic press secretary in Ides of March; a suave ladies’ man in Crazy, Stupid, Love; and a stoic getaway driver in Drive.
He says he tries to stay “hyper-focused” to shield him from the “seductive environment” of film sets. But he declines any Method acting mantle: “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says. “I haven’t quite figured out what the balance is between being able to be lost in it—– or try to, anyway — and then step outside of it.”