Ryan Gosling is a natural born iconoclast. From the time he left his native Ontario and arrived in California as part of Disney’s The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, his rebellious nature saw him admittedly act as a “corrupting” influence on his fellow 12 and 13-year-old castmates that included Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. But behind that mischievous side there was a rakish heartthrob lurking underneath. With his sweetly touching performance in The Notebook opposite fellow Ontarian Rachel McAdams, Ryan became an instant star and would later confirm his heartthrob status with his charismatic turn as a six-pack Lothario in Crazy, Stupid, Love.
But Gosling was justifiably worried about being trapped in rom-com hell just as Matthew McConaughey once despaired of being confined in a similar Hollywood straitjacket. Ryan avoided that by leaping headfirst into a series of gritty roles in films like Drive, Only God Forgives, and The Ides of March. Since then he’s never looked back and is now considered one of Hollywood’s top dramatic actors.
Gosling’s new film is The Gray Man, an action thriller co-starring Ana de Armas (who previously appeared with Gosling in Blade Runner 2049), Chris Evans, and Wager Moura (Narcos). Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the brother duo behind the top grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, The Gray Man opens in Canadian theatres on July 15th and is expected to be one of the year’s biggest blockbuster hits.
Gosling stars as “Sierra Six,” an elite CIA mercenary/ assassin who keeps his identity secret as part of his covert operative status. His world begins to fall apart however when he uncovers dark secrets involving classified American intelligence operations. This leads high echelon officials wary of exposure to send out a fellow assassin, Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans), to kill Gosling.
Said Gosling of his character: “In almost every scene, we tried to set it up so that [my character] was at a disadvantage. And it becomes about watching him use whatever is in his environment to gain leverage. And what he uses most consistently is a sense of humor. It’s a survival tool. If he can find what’s funny about the absurdity of the situation, he can distance himself from the danger of it.”
The Gray Man was shot at a cost $200 million – making it one of the most expensive movies of all time – with Gosling earning a reported $20 million for his services. But despite this kind of massive payday that has become the norm for Ryan, the 41-year-old native of Cornwall, Ontario has never let himself been guided by money. He has also tried to do everything in his capacity to stay out of the limelight and avoid the kind of scrutiny that has seen other Hollywood giants like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and, heaven help him, Johnny Depp become the targets of paparazzi and in the process see their lives become public fodder.
“The whole notion of being a movie star is part of the myth-making process that goes on in the film business,” Gosling explained. “You create this great illusion on screen and then the illusion is taken to a different level when actors become mythologised.”
“I don’t even think of myself as particularly good looking and not at all a typical kind of Hollywood leading man sort of actor….I like to think I’m being creative and doing something meaningful as an actor and as an individual. I hate feeling that I’m just doing a job for a pay-check.”
The whole notion of being a movie star is part of the myth-making process that goes on in the
film business. You create this great illusion on screen and then the illusion
is taken to a different level when actors become mythologised.
He would later confirm his heartthrob status as a six-packing Lothario whose abundant screen chemistry with Emma Stone in Crazy, Stupid, Love turned that romcom into a sleeper hit in 2011. The film would of course merely serve as a warm-up for their later collaboration in La La Land, arguably the most heralded f ilm of Gosling’s career which earned him a best actor Oscar nomination (Stone would up winning the best actress prize).
Interestingly, despite his previous singing and dancing experience as a Mousketeer, Gosling wasn’t sure that he would be able to deliver the kind of soft shoe technique required for a film that paid tribute to a long bygone Hollywood era.
“I was pretty nervous about doing a musical because it’s been a long time since I did anything like that,” Gosling recalled. “As a kid, I used to sing ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ at weddings. When you’re eight years old, it was a huge deal to earn $20 doing that. Also, on The Mickey Mouse Club we were doing 90s hip hop numbers and that’s very different from the complicated tap (dance) routines and waltzes we do in La La Land.
“But fortunately I had very patient and very talented coaches who were very, very good and helped prepare me. It was also great to have Emma as a partner – she makes everything seem so effortless.”
The effortless romantic ease and melancholy anguish that Ryan infused into his jazz pianist character lies at the heart of the laid-back elan that has earned him a massive following amongst women in particular. Though it would seem preposterous to deny his evident good looks and charismatic appeal, Gosling recalls a time when he felt he was simply just another wannabe actor waiting in long lines at Hollywood auditions.
“Before I did The Notebook, it was hard for me to even get an audition. I would show up and there would be all these incredibly good-looking guys reading for the same part and most of the time you knew that you had no chance.
“In those days I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I would always be a character actor going from one supporting role to another. But when Nick Cassavettes hired me (for The Notebook), that changed everything and suddenly I was able to do the kind of movies you always dream of having the chance of working on. I’ve been very lucky…and things have turned out way beyond anything I ever dreamed of.”
Over the past decade, Gosling has delivered one outstanding performance after another, most recently in First Man (also directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle) in which he played the iconic American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and Blade Runner 2049 (helmed by Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve), where he followed in the footsteps of an earlier Hollywood icon, Harrison Ford.
Since then he’s taken some time off to raise two young daughters, Esmeralda and Amada, together with his long-time girlfriend, Eva Mendes. It was simply time for Gosling to sit back and enjoy his life after having seen his career explode in the past decade. Having divided their time between homes in New York City and Los Angeles, the couple recently sold their relatively modest $5 million Carpenteiria mansion amid rumours they are going return to New York on a permanent basis or possibly even take up residence in Ontario! This is all part of Gosling’s determination to live as normal a life as is possible for one the most famous men on the planet.
“Many years ago…I had reached a point where I couldn’t live in Los Angeles anymore,” Gosling observed. “Everything in that city seems to be centered around the film business and it just pervades everything you do. In New York though wecan walk around more or less freely and it feels real there. There’s such a strong sense of identity and culture to the city that you thrive on that kind of spirit…”
Raised by a single mother in his native town of Cornwall, Gosling spent considerable time absorbing life lessons in the company of his older sister, Mandi. His show business instincts were honed at the age of 5 when he began performing with his uncle, an Elvis impersonator, at various clubs.
“I have no idea what I was thinking as a kid. I was just having fun. My uncle was a big influence, though. He was living with my family at the time for about a year and he had begun performing as an Elvis impersonator. Prior to that, the house was pretty ordinary.
“My father was working in a factory and my mom stayed at home. Suddenly you’re living with Elvis and your whole family gets involved. So one person is singing back-up vocals, another works as a bodyguard, and you feel like you’re part of this strange new world.
“After my uncle left, though, life was pretty boring and I wanted to find a way back into that world. So I did everything I could to get there. I took singing lessons, dancing lessons, and then auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club and that was the start of it. really. Even though (the Disney people) thought I was a bad influence, I still had a great time there.”
Despite his unusual upbringing, Gosling has always treated his work with maximum respect and was acutely aware of how his career as a teenage actor sustained his mother and sister financially.
“I was very serious when it came to acting and earning a living. My mother and sister came were dependent on me after my parents got divorced but by mom was supporting me in my career and I could never have achieved anything without her and my sister being there for me. “So
I may have supported them financially but I didn’t look at it as if I was doing anything other than what I should be doin
g. I saw acting as a way of making very good money compared to how my parents had struggled when my dad was working at a paper mill and my mother was a secretary. So I was happy to be helping my mother and sister.”
Settling down in L.A. and getting accustomed to the grind of constant auditions, Ryan was talented enough to be able land enough small roles that paid the bills for himself and his family back home. And while many of his fellow jobbing actors eventually gave up and drifted away, Gosling had the kind of street-smarts and resilient personality that carried him through those lulls when the phone never rings and Hollywood can seem a very cold and cruel place.
“Auditions are the toughest aspect because you have to get used to dealing with the rejection because you feel you’re being rejected personally and it’s hard to separate that from your identity. But I always tried to see it as something that’s part of the business and it’s not as if you’ve suffered some terrible loss.
“I was happy just to be able to have enough money to live and just be able to get enough jobs to keep me going and help my family whenever I could. I was pretty lucky that whenever my money was running out I always found another part that would give me enough to keep on going. In my own case, I never really considered giving up because I didn’t have anything else to fall back on. Acting was really the only thing I was capable of doing.”
Gosling’s appeal to female audiences and ineffable way of connecting to his female co-stars in his f ilms can be traced directly to having spent his formative years in the company of women.
“I grew up with two incredible women, my mother and sister, and naturally my way of looking at the world was shaped by a female perspective,” Gosling observed. “I’m sure it made me very protective and caring with women and I’ve always enjoyed their company and that kind of emotional openness. That’s also the kind of fundamental quality you need to bring to your work as an actor.”
Your character, Sierra Six, is a skilled mercenary. What drives him underneath his covert ops work?
His goals aren’t monetary, it’s not about treasure, it’s not revenge. He just wants to have the right to sit on the couch and watch Netflix like the rest of us.
The Russo brothers (the directors of The Gray Man) have stated they intend to make a franchise out of this story and your character?
I’d love to do it again. I loved making this film and I’m hoping we can bump Six up to a name status at some point, just for his own sanity.
One of the most important films of your career to date was your appearance in Blade Runner: 2049. Were you already a fan of the original Blade Runner?
Blade Runner was one of the first films that I saw that I didn’t know how to feel when it was over. The line between heroes and villains was so blurred. It’s not a hero’s journey in any way. When I was a kid that was the storyline I had seen. Thematically, there’s just so much there — it was rich, it was melancholy, it was romantic. It’s so special. So many other things have stolen ideas from it, but they could never steal its soul. I felt lucky to enter that world. it had been around for 10 years and I thought I was watching a science fiction movie, but what I experienced was something very different. What’s interesting about the film is not just how it stays with you. I wasn’t asking myself at age 12 what it meant to be a human being, but I was afterwards, maybe subconsciously. I realized how much influence it had on the culture I grew up in.
When you first arrived in Los Angeles from Canada, did it seem like an alien world to you in any way?
At first it felt a little strange and it was a mysterious kind of place. I had gotten to know Los Angeles from watching a lot of movies but it still took me a long time to get used to the city. It’s the obvious place to go if you’re trying to become an actor but I’d rather spend more time in New York.
One of the qualities that is often remarked about you is that you bring a different perspective and sensitivity to your work. You’ve said before that you attribute a lot of that to the fact you were raised by your mother and had an older sister to guide you?
I had a great time growing up. My mother is a strong woman and when I was having problems f itting into school she decided to take me out and home school me. That was probably the most beautiful thing that could have happened to me and I was able to learn how to study thanks to my mother and also learn a lot about myself.
By Jan Jassen