2011 may just be the year of Ryan Gosling. Sure, the Oscar nominee has had his share of the spotlight before with acclaimed roles in “Half Nelson,” “Lars and the Real Girl,” “The Notebook,” “Stay” and last year’s moving turn in “Blue Valentine,” but its his three films arriving over the next four months which may solidify his fame. Of course, Gosling has hardly been setting himself up for a career as Hollywood’s next leading man.
After the surprise success of “The Notebook” in 2004, Gosling went the indie route turning down a number of conventional studio roles for some of the more challenging works already mentioned. And his few experiences on the “Hollywood” side of the business only resulted in misfires such as “Stay” and “Fracture.” And, of course, the miscommunication with Peter Jackson over gaining significant weight for his expected role in “The Lovely Bones” found him dismissed from the production and replaced by Mark Wahlberg at the last minute (likely to the detriment of the final film). Needless to say, Gosling lost the extra pounds easily and is about to kick off a triple threat of impressive turns in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (from the director’s of the incredibly underrated “I Love You Phillip Morris”), Cannes winner “Drive” (already one of the best films of the year) and George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” which will open the Venice Film Festival at the end of August.
First out of the gate is the new critically acclaimed dramedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and anyone who refers to it as a romantic comedy is seriously misguided. It’s much more than that (think of it as James L. Brooks movie if James L. Brooks still made good movies). “Love” finds Gosling playing Jacob, a Los Angeles playboy who is a master of seducing women and with no qualms about just having no-strings attached fun. Enter Cal (Steve Carell), a recently divorced fortysomething who is wallowing in his sorrows at Jacob’s favorite local hip drinking establishment. Jacob sees something in Cal (you can see the movie to find out what eventually) and takes him under his wing convinced he can make him a ladies man once again. Along the way, Jacob’s world goes off track when he falls for the charming and blunt Hannah played by the, um, charming and blunt Emma Stone. “Love” is certainly a commercial movie, but it’s a damn good one and the strength of the screenplay obviously played a part in recruiting Gosling. At least that’s what I thought until we spoke on the phone a little over a week ago…
Is this Greg?
You seem to be on a bit of a roll lately. What’s your magic formula to landing such great projects?
Um, (Laughs) I don’t know what’s happening? I’m as confused as you are. The best way I can describe it is like when a song comes on and you just have to dance and you don’t know why. I guess I’ve been feeling that way a lot lately. More than I used to.
The last time you appeared in a commercial picture was ‘Fracture’ over four years ago. What made you jump into this one?
Steve Carell. I love him. I think he’s the best. When I was 17 one of the first jobs that I got was a pilot and Steve was in it. We both had small parts and didn’t get to work together, but I was so impressed by him that I would go to set to watch him work. And one time he was being so funny the boom operator had to drop his boom and have a laugh attack in a corner during a take. It was the first time I’d ever worked with somebody who was so good that it was a problem, that their talent was disruptive. I just became a fan then. I was just so excited when he was on ‘The Daily Show’ so I could see him all the time. Then I started watching his films and I love him in everything. Even in ‘Over the Hedge’ when he played that squirrel that sounded like he was on a lot of energy drinks. I think he’s just the greatest. So, when I had an opportunity to work with him I just had to take it.
Is he aware of this? How much you revere him?
I think he’s tired of hearing it.
Hard to not have your own laugh attacks on set with him?
Yeah. (Pause.) Yeah. (Another pause.) It was hard. I had to get into shape for the film so I just hung out with Steve before we started doing the film and it gave me abs. Yeah.
Considering how much they use that shot in the ad campaign, I was curious whether they came to you beforehand and said ‘you’re not cut enough? We need you to work out more for this flick?‘
No, because James Cameron has developed this technology called ab-atar and you just put on this motion-capture suit and it gives you muscles.
Wow. That’s amazing. That makes it much easier for actors in the future.
So, there are some great scenes with you and Emma where your characters are bonding in bed. It’s some of the more natural moments I’ve seen in a studio movie in a long time. How much of that was in the script? Was that improvised at all?
Well, most of the things that happened in that scene in that sequence in my character’s house was improvised. The directors told us that they were just going to film us for the night. So, we improvised a lot of that stuff.
When you saw the movie were you surprised what made it in and what didn’t?
We shot so much stuff that night I had no memory of what we did. I was just happy that Emma’s Lauren Bacall impression got in the film.
Can you talk about working with Miss Stone? Anything surprise you about her?
Well, every time I went to do the ‘Dirty Dancing’ lift with her, her body turned into a bag of rats. (Laughs.) She was impossible to hold.
Then that was part of the scene improvised as well?
No, well, when I go out with my friends and have had too many drinks we like to try and lift each other on the dance floor and do the ‘Dirty Dancing’ lift. And I thought it would be funny in the film and then when we went to actually do it, Emma was convinced I was going to drop her. So, she made me prove I could do it with a stunt woman. I lifted the stunt woman ten times in a row and never dropped her and then Emma said. ‘Well, you’ve lifted her ten times you must be tired. I’m not doing it.’
Amazingly you pulled it off. That’s pretty impressive.
Are you more comfortable in something like ‘Drive’ on a smaller scale as opposed to something like ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ where there was an over abundance of craft services and nice trailers?
Well, it just depends on what kind of movie you are making I guess? And how the atmosphere around the set affects what’s on camera. So, I think it’s better for some films not to have those things, because they don’t really reflect what you are trying to capture on screen. But, with this film, it didn’t really interfere, so it was really nice to have them. And I enjoyed having them.
And you’re not against having them in the future?
Our conversation then sadly turned to the fact Gosling would not be making his first trip to Comic-Con to promote “Drive” because of a new gig. As you read this, Gosling is shooting “The Place Beyond the Pines” with his “Blue Valentine” helmer Derek Cianfrance. And while that dramatic thriller also stars Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta, Greta Gerwig’s presence and the lack of a distributor (yet) put Gosling safely back in the independent filmmaking world. Based on his experiences with “Love,” however, it wouldn’t be shocking to seem dip his toe back in the studio ocean a bit more often down the road.
“Crazy, Stupid, Love” opens nationwide on Friday.
For year-round entertainment commentary and news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.