Some people might say that ShortList is slightly obsessed with Ryan Gosling. It’s not true; we simply think that he’s a God among men. So it was completely natural that we put him on our cover, created a style feature based on how he looks and regularly used his name as a substitute for adjectives such as ‘cool’, ‘sophisticated’, ‘stylish’ and ‘irritatingly perfect’.
And we didn’t name him our Man Of 2011 because we want to be him. We did it because he’d appeared in three of that year’s best films: The Ides Of March, Crazy, Stupid, Love and, of course, Drive. And was totally ‘Ryan Gosling’ in all of them.
It’s for similar reasons that he’s heading up our guide to everything that matters in 2013. This is the year Gosling steps forward to straddle both cult indie and mainstream blockbuster. We’ll see him with Michael Fassbender and Christian Bale in an as-yet-untitled Terrence Malick project, play a motorcycle stunt rider-turned-criminal in The Place Beyond The Pines and, in the kind of film news that would test even the most patient of saints, reunite with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn in ultraviolent Bangkok-based cop drama Only God Forgives. All standard Gosling fare, but he’s also appearing in big bucks period Mob film Gangster Squad, and that’s where our conversation with him begins.
You’ve done action before, but was the action in Gangster Squad more fun?
Yeah, it was. It didn’t feel like it at the time that we were making it. It’s certainly different to anything I’ve done before.
Did it give you a taste for that kind of thing?
The fact that it was in the context of that period, and the Mafia in Los Angeles at that time – that whole world – was what was so interesting about it for me.
So we won’t see you in The Expendables 3, then?
Well, they haven’t offered.
Never say never.
Still waiting for the call…
How much research did you do for the film?
It was interesting because the film was partially based on reality, but then also certainly fictionalised. I guess it was difficult because they were based on real characters, but at the same time it wasn’t an actual retelling of the events, so we were able to have some creative liberty.
Did you base your character on anyone?
No, I think I just based it on the dynamic of [everyone else]. It’s sort of like a band. You come in and it’s almost like this guy is playing lead guitar and this guy’s on drums and you’re like, “I think I’ll play the triangle.” You try to fill where there are spaces.
So you weren’t watching old James Cagney movies?
I love those movies. My favourite gangster movie when I was a kid was Dick Tracy – and I was a big fan. I had a few posters in my room. I collected all the Burger King cups.
Do you raise your game when you’re surrounded by actors such as Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone?
Well, it’s tough with Emma because we are such knuckleheads, and we have to work hard to be serious. Especially as we got to know each other on a comedy [Crazy, Stupid, Love]. And it was incredible to get to work with all of those guys – not only the Seans and Joshs, but Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick. It was a great group of guys.
You’re playing Emma’s love interest again. Is it weird re-enacting a relationship as different characters?
No, I love the idea of working with the same people. You spend most of the time getting to know a person, getting to know how they work, developing a shorthand together. So it’s nice to be able to go into a second picture with them and hit the ground running. You’re able to do better work and you don’t waste time with formalities.
So you won’t be actively avoiding her for a while, then?
No. Not at all.
After the year you had in 2011, do you feel any pressure?
Now I am, now you’ve said that. Jeez. No, that was just such a year – a perfect storm of strange events. I’d been waiting for that forever, so I’m not deluding myself into thinking it was something I can plan or choreograph. So, erm, well, no.
Does it feel like you’ve jumped up a league since then?
I guess it feels different. I mean, there’s certainly a difference now, with more opportunities. But there are also more opportunities to f*ck it up.
Are you more aware of camera lenses and people looking at you in the street?
Sure, this is the age of the cellphone camera; you’re always on camera.
Just make sure your hair is always looking good...
[Laughs] It kind of keeps you on edge.
Talking of cameraphones, you were filmed breaking up a fight in New York. Did you panic at any point or think it could go horribly wrong?
Not really, but I think in retrospect, from a blurry cellphone perspective, from far away, it looked more interesting than it was. In reality, one guy was pretty old and the other guy was pretty sad and crazy. And there were lots of people around. I wasn’t the only one involved. There were a couple of guys that were actively trying to help.
So if they’d been 6ft 4in and built like rugby players, you might have thought twice?
You come across as a guy who has sound morals and values. How do you think men should behave today? Do you think it’s hard for us to know?
I feel like there’s a sense of confusion, as to what men want from each other, what’s expected of them and what they expect from each other.
There’s a balance to strike between being too macho and too effeminate. How do you deal with that?
I feel like Hollywood is responsible for a lot of the stereotypes, so to a certain degree I’m in the belly of the beast. In some ways it makes it easier to see it, because you’re in the factory, seeing how those archetypes are created.
Do you make moral choices when you pick characters for big films?
No. As an actor, my job is a lot like your job. Being a journalist – you represent a character. You advocate for them to a certain degree, but you have to be objective, and present their faults and flaws along with their assets and good qualities. You try to give an affectionate portrait of that person, but it doesn’t mean that you are delusional and are trying to hide their flaws.
Talking of personas and characters, you have this reputation for being cool – how do you feel about that?
Ha! I’m just hearing it, it's news to me.
Well, it’s true. Is there anything geeky about you, or oddly unattractive that ordinary men can cling on to?
I don’t know where this came from; it’s far from the truth. When I was coming up as an actor, I was never sent out for the leading roles – I always played character parts, and the only time that changed was when I was offered the lead in The Notebook. But I was hired by [director] Nick Cassavetes, by his own admission, because I was the wrong guy. He said he picked me because I wasn’t handsome and I wasn’t cool. He felt that I was crazy enough to actually build a house for a girl I only met one summer. So I think after I did that, that role was ‘me’. Something that had never happened before, was never going to happen again and, for whatever reason, it sort of changed people’s perspectives about me. I guess it opened a lot of doors for me. But it certainly wasn’t a given that I always play those roles.
When you watched The Notebook, did you cry?
Yes, but for different reasons.
So, now you’re aware of this Ryan Gosling persona, do you try to take parts that don’t feed it too much?
This is a tightrope; I’m a tightrope-walker right now. I can’t look down or I’ll fall. I just try to stay focused and look ahead. If I really look around at what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, I’ll ruin it. So I can’t afford to think that way. This is an industry that builds you up and takes you down, and I don’t mean that in a cynical way. It’s the circle of life around these parts. I expect it to happen, sooner or later. It’s something you can’t spend too much time on because it will come, so you stay focused and get as much work done as you can.
You were seen being massaged by Michael Fassbender on the set of the new Terrence Malick film. Would you get naked for a role as readily as Fassbender does? Because he can’t seem to wait to take his clothes off.
[Laughs] I feel like he’s got that covered – like I said, he’s on the drums, so I don’t need to be a drummer.
Fassbender has undertaken some extreme preparations for films. What’s the most extreme lengths you’ve gone to?
I think the hardest thing I did was gain 50lb in a few months for The Lovely Bones movie [Gosling was set to star in Peter Jackson’s adaptation before making way for Mark Wahlberg]. Obviously it’s not a competition. Just in my own world that was pretty awful. That’s why De Niro said he would never do it again [after Raging Bull], and how stupid it was.
Was it pizzas all day?
I stopped drinking water, and instead melted pints of Häagen-Dazs and drank that when I was thirsty.
That is pretty extreme. You’re also doing another film with Nicolas Winding Refn, Only God Forgives…
Yeah, we already finished that one.
It's set in Thailand. Did you learn Muay Thai?
Yeah, it was hard. I trained for four or five months, but then when I got there, Nick and I decided that it really didn’t need to be Muay Thai, and we kind of weaned it out. We kept the violence, but the script changed so much. When we work, we work chronologically, so we shoot, go home, watch the movie, cut it as we’re making it and decide what we’d like to see next. And even though I had prepared and trained for the boxing matches, as the film went on it was going to such an interesting, surreal dream state that we didn’t want to bring it back to just two guys fighting each other in a boxing ring. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s an incredible art form and I have a great respect for it, but in the context of the movie it felt less a part of the world we were trying to create.
And did you get knocked about a bit?
Yeah. Nicolas had a great idea, where instead of a boxing ring, he wanted to do it on concrete. And Nicolas likes 50 takes of every scene, so it basically just turned into me getting my ass kicked.
Like 150 times. Before lunch. On concrete.
So, finally, if you fell off that tightrope and it all went wrong with the acting, what would you do?
Oh, this is a good question – I really should think about this. Are there any openings over at your end?
There are actually, yeah.
I’m sure I can get you in for an interview, not a problem.
I’ll take you up on that.
Gangster Squad is at cinemas nationwide now
(Image: All Star)