Feature Interview by Brad Balfour
Born in Ontario, Canada, to a strict Mormon family, actor Ryan Gosling started his career as a Mousketeer in the early '90s version of The Mickey Mouse Club. Sharing that distinct career boost with the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, Gosling has clearly veered away from the gossip mag profiles that his fellow MMC alumni have earned themselves.
Instead of focusing on garnering an audience of peers, Gosling kicked off his film career playing a neo-Nazi in "The Believer." Then he did such roles as a young murderer in "The United States of Leland," an unsuitable lover in "The Notebook," a suicidal patient in "Stay" and now, the lover of an inflatable doll in "Lars and The Real Girl"—a film which has gotten the Oscar nom for original screenplay.
Though it seems like a huge leap to take on the role of a guy who establishes a real, though seemingly delusional, relationship with an inflatable doll, Gosling has the acting skill to make it work. Certainly he has given life to tough parts before: witness his study in subtlety defining Dan Dunne—the inner-city junior high teacher with a drug habit who forms an unlikely friendship with one of his students—in "Half Nelson."
That part got him a dark-horse Oscar nomination for Best Actor last year. So, although it's no longer that surprising that he can lend depth to his characters with skill far beyond his peers; Gosling likes to keep challenging himself... and us.
Q: You've had some remarkable success with your choice of films. Is there a conscious process as to how you choose your characters, and in particular, your character in this film?
Ryan Gosling: For the most part, when I read scripts I can't relate to any of the characters. So when I can, I jump on it. I think movies make it look easy to be a person, and I don't think that it is [the case]. It's kind of complicated to balance out who we are, who we think we are, who we think people think we are, so I look for characters that feel human, that have jobs, that have to work for a living, and aren't sure what's wrong with them and don't know how to change it.
Q: So you're really into this guy Lars? What did you see in him that struck you?
RG: First of all, the film hit me as a "Harvey" or a "Harold and Maude" or "Being There." There are these movies that we all love, but there's not that many of them. They're in a genre by themselves. They just occur once in awhile. But I love them, and I thought this was my opportunity to play in one of them.
When I read "Lars" I wished Gene Wilder could play the part. If he did, this would be the greatest movie ever. So I thought it was just a great opportunity for me to get to be a part of something that won't come around again.
Q: This is more of a comedic turn compared to your other movies. Did it open up your eyes to do more humorous films, as opposed to those that you've done that were dark and desolate?
RG: Yeah, well, I think Craig Gillespie is a great director, because we took it seriously. The more serious we took it, the funnier it got. This kind of takes it back to Gene Wilder, when he falls in love with that sheep in "Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex * but Were Afraid to Ask," he really falls in love with that sheep. He's looking at it lustfully and it's just the funniest thing ever. I think that a lot of comedies are trying to be funny. But this movie walks an interesting line. It's funny and sad at the same time.
Q: Well, it is a black comedy. Do you have other favorite black comedies beyond the Gene Wilder ones like "Catch 22"—any that inspired you?
RG: Yeah, sure... that's a good one. I think for the most part, we were thinking a alot about films from the Hal Ashby ["Harold and Maude"] vein.
Q: The tagline to this film—"The search of love begins outside the box"—makes the film sound like a salacious, perverse kind of movie but it wasn't that at all. Was that something you brought to it, or was it on the page? Though it is about relationship with a sex doll, he doesn't have sex with it, and doesn't see her like a sex object at all.
RG: I felt struck by how rebellious it was to make a movie [like this] that was nice. To make a movie that believed in the goodness of people. To ask the question to everyone who is afraid of being themselves. Like what would you do if you walked into a place of total acceptance? It's an interesting question.
Q: When you first were pitched the film, did you think it was going to be a crass, perverse film?
RG: I heard the tagline, about a guy with a sex doll, and I didn't think it would last a whole script. But when I read the whole thing, I found myself crying, I was so connected to it, I couldn't believe this writer took me on this trip, made me care about these people, made me care about this doll who became a woman to me as I read this script. It became romantic to me about this guy who loves, and makes this choice to love and doesn't need to be loved in return, doesn't compromise his hopes to be with someone. He just has all this love to give and he gives it.
Q: This movie isn't just about a fantasy love, it's also about a fantasy community. People might look at it strangely as if it doesn't exist. Maybe in Canada this place might exist.
RG: I think people don't give people enough credit. I was in your camp in the beginning, and then I saw the effect of Bianca on the crew, the crew who never read the script. The thought of it just as a job. Suddenly she had an interesting impact on everyone. The idea of her. She's a symbol, she forces you to be creative with yourself—through her. A lot of people were interested in taking that ride.
Another thing about the community [Lars lives in] is everyone thinks that they go along with it, but that's not true. Through the course of the film, Craig made sure that there were people that were doubting.
The film focuses on the people who are willing to take this trip, because they are the interesting ones. There's lots of people in this film who don't want to do it and so they're not interesting, it's a dead end, they're not willing to go on this trip with him. That's what makes this film special. I was waiting for someone to burst Lars' bubble, do something terrible but the film doesn't focus on those people. It acknowledges them [and] moves through it but focuses on those who will.
Q: What kind of research did you have to do for this movie?
RG: What are you implying? [laughs] But for Lars, it's a real love story, he's not really... it's not a doll to him. And there's a whole community of guys out there who have relationships with these dolls and now, since I've done this film, I am very interested in it. I think it's fascinating.
But Lars doesn't consider himself part of that community. He's in a love story. He met a girl on the internet, she came out to live with him, caught a terminal illness and died... That's a movie I'd see anyway.
Q: What did you learn about this community of men who become attached to dolls like this?
RG: Well, I think it's easy to be judgmental about them. There's an interesting documentary on the BBC about them—there are very complicated relationships. They [the dolls] are a very huge emotional support for them. One guy is a hang-glider, and he takes his doll to watch him hang-glide. He needs that support. It's not that far from a kid who needs his teddy-bear. It's possible. You go through something with that bear, you go through fun times, you cry with that bear, you really experience things with it and bond with it. Should you ever lose it, it would be heartbreaking. You would see a real sense of loss. We're all capable of this.
Q: How did you develop the character of Lars?
RG: It's always different for every movie. For me it's fun to start from scratch, play different characters so I can't use the same tricks developed from the last thing. On this... these things just kind of happen. Really they happen [more] when pursuing ideas that are than aren't. You never really end up using them—but subconsciously you tend to use them.
Q: And was the physical image of Lars your idea?
RG: There was no picture of Lars. I had a beard. I shaved it. And I saw before I shaved my mustache off... I glanced up in the mirror and I saw him looking back at me. He was kind of wearing women's clothes underneath and that came from doing a fitting. And nothing felt right for some reason. So I felt like he needed something feminine. There was no feminine energy to him, to his whole life.
Without judging it, he would just gravitate toward things that are feminine just because they are interesting, they are exotic. We put him in women's long underwear, as close to it as he could have. I gained some weight for it. It changed the way I moved my body. It was a whole process.
Q: Is it hard acting with something that doesn't give any expression back?
RG: Well, that's what acting is anyway. We're all pretending something in front of each other. We're used to it. I'm pretending to be this character, you're pretending to be that character, I'm pretending to be sexy, I'm pretending that you are too, we're pretending that we're making love, whatever it is, it's all an act. It was kind of a more honest version of that in a way.
Q: Did the crew embrace her, dress her, you know... hang out with her, when she was on set?
RG: She certainly has a presence to her. When she came on set, you could feel it. There was a sense of excitement when she was in a scene... everybody liked her. She had magazines in between takes, she had kind of an entourage, women who took care of her, she had her own trailer, she wasn't on set when she wasn't in a scene. It was like working with another actor for the most part.
Q: She's very pretty.
RG: Yes, I think so too.
Q: Where is she now?
RG: She's at my house.
Q: Is that true?
RG: Yes, she's reading a book by the window.
Q: When you weren't in front of the camera, did you stay in character?
RG: That's interesting because I hear a lot of actors do that, they become the character. I always get so jealous when I hear that because that seems like so much fun. But I don't become the character—they become me. I am all of them. I turn on all of the parts about them that are me and turn off all the other parts that aren't.
Q: Are there people in your personal life that have come over to your house and seen the doll?
RG: I take her out.
Q: How do they react?
RG: Everybody likes her.
Q: Where do you take her?
RG: Bars, you know.
Q: One of the other things about this the film, is that you meet her through the internet. What's your experience with the internet? Do you have your own MySpace page and do alot of surfing?
RG: I'm just getting into it. I really kind of resisted technology for a long time. I have a band [Dead Man's Bones], we have a MySpace page . I think it's kind of fascinating, you get to talk to people you would never get to know. One woman in Ohio, she wrote us, she says everyday she comes home with her kids and they put on our song and they kind of go crazy in their house and dance around. It's neat. It's neat to kind of have that kind of relationship with people you would never meet.
Q: So when you do a film like this, do you feel like you have to do something totally different with the next one?
RG: Well, the next project is called "The Lovely Bones," which is directed by Peter Jackson, from a really great book by Alice Seybold. We start rehearsals in a few weeks.
Q: I heard your character in "The Lovely Bones" is the father. How is it for you, not having children, to play the father of a daughter who has been killed? How are you going to summon up that character?
RG: That's a good question. We'll see, I don't know. I'll have to wait until we meet each other. I try not to go into anything with a real set idea of how it's going to happen. It depends on the kids and we'll just have to develop a relationship with one another. It's a tricky role, because anyone who has a kid, it would be really hard for them to play a role where they lost a kid. I don't think they would want to go there. And I can understand that. And anyone who doesn't have one, it would be very difficult for them to understand what that was like. So I think either way it's a very tricky role.
Q: Once you've been nominated for an Oscar, what changes.
RG: Yeah, I get more free stuff. It's a bizarre system. It's backwards... [because now I can afford to pay for it].
Q: Music is also a big part of your life. "Dead Man's Bones"—your band with Rachel McAdams' brother—wasn't your first experience with music. What role has music been in your life, and what made you come back to it?
RG: Music is a big part of my life. I started out as a dancer. But then I realized that you can't really make a living with it so I started acting. My father was a musician and always played music.
Q: Have you ever jammed with your fellow actor friends?
RG: I've played with a couple of times with Jason [Schwartzman]. He's the real deal. He doesn't consider himself an actor. He's a really talented guy. A real talented writer.
Q: Is it hard having time to squeeze in a band?
RG: Not really, you get a lot of downtime as an actor.
Q: And what's your favorite band or music?
RG: I've been getting into a lot of Balkan music, and klezmer stuff lately.
Q: Now that you are part of the Academy, has the process started for you in this year's Oscar run-up?
RG: It's exciting because I get all the free screeners. I'm really excited about that. It's just getting started.
Q: So you don't have any idea of your favorite movies this year?
RG: I saw this movie called "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" directed by Julian Schnabel which i think is one of the best movies I've seen this year. I hope people go and see it.