Ryan Gosling on Motown, meme anxiety and four-year-old Marlon Brandos
Your new film, Lost River, is a nightmarish fairy tale (of sorts). It’s also your first stab at directing. Was the idea to direct always bubbling away in the back of your mind?
No, and it didn’t come from: “Oh, I’m gonna direct now.” When I was a kid I always wanted to go to Detroit. I had really romantic ideas about that place because it was where Motown, Eminem, Kid Rock and techno [came from]. Then I got there and it was very different: 40 miles of abandoned neighbourhoods and families trying to hold on to their house. I saw one family sitting on their porch watching the house across the street burn, like they were watching television. They were declaring bankruptcy, cutting off the power to the street lights and water and some families were still staying. So it seemed like they were trying to hold on to this dream and it was turning into a nightmare. I wanted to make a film about that.
Matt Smith is best known as Doctor Who. What made you cast him as rat-killing Bully?
He’s the coolest. There’s no one like him. I was watching TV and this episode of Doctor Who came on. He was in a car with a microphone, talking to all these alien spaceships, yelling at them and just reading them the riot act. It seemed to me, as an actor, one of the most difficult scenes to do. You’re just a guy with a microphone looking crazy, but he owned it. I thought then [that] I wanted to work with him.
What’s it like going from player to coach?
[Laughs] I like the sports metaphor. I picked these people to be in the film because I loved or admired them. So it was kind of like being George Clooney’s character in Ocean’s Eleven, where you get to put together your dream team, everyone is a specialist at their own thing. Trying to find a way to highlight what you think is really special about somebody was fun.
Any mishaps on set?
One thing that ended up dictating the style of the movie, which was scary at first, was the little kid, Landyn [Stewart]. He wasn’t an actor, he’s four, he’s just a real kid, and he didn’t like the camera. Every time he saw it he started crying in the scene. You remember how they made Animal Planet? They would hide in the bushes and wait for the bird to come out of the nest? We did that. We got really long lenses and hid in the bushes or under piles of clothes. He would come in when he wanted to, we’d roll and then he’d leave when he felt like it. I’ve heard that’s what it was like to work with Marlon Brando on Apocalypse Now. [Landyn] would Brando it out. He’d drop the mic and we’d just be picking up the pieces.
Some of the early reviews haven’t been kind. Do you take criticism harder for this than films you’ve acted in?
Well, yeah, because when you act in a film and people don’t like it, you go, “I didn’t direct it. I didn’t write it. Not my fault.” But of course, when you direct and write something, it’s all you. So it’s more personal. And the reviews were very personal. They weren’t really about the movie; they were just about me. But it is what it is. I can’t get in the ring and complain about getting hit.
You’ve become an internet sensation. We’ve got F*ck Yeah Ryan Gosling, Silicon Valley Ryan Gosling, Feminist Ryan Gosling, Ryan Gosling Works in Publishing…
There’s also typography. [He’s right, Typographer Ryan Gosling]
Do you ever sit down and have a good old trawl through them?
I can’t. I just can’t. Never. You already feel, as an actor, like you’re going to be exposed. And then you add all that on top of it. I don’t know anything about typography and at some point someone is going to ask me and I’m going to have to say I don’t really know and it’s going to be like, “Oh, you’re a f*cking fraud then aren’t you.” It’s important to know that I don’t make those.
What do you think it is about yourself that attracts that level of attention?
I can’t figure it out. Do you have a theory? Just a wrong place, wrong time kind of thing. I came around at the time when they were inventing the meme. It’s the perfect match.
Apparently your memes actually make men more feminist. Do you count yourself in that category?
I don’t know. I have strong female characters in my life. And I was raised by my mother and my sister, so I feel like I think like a girl sometimes.
We’re presuming that’s helped in life…
Yeah, it’s way better than thinking like a guy. Girls are better than us, that’s no secret.
Finally then, which do you prefer: Bully’s sparkly number in Lost River or your famous scorpion jacket in Drive?
That’s a tough question. I think they’re on equal footing. My girlfriend actually found that [sparkly] jacket. We didn’t have a lot of money for costumes, so we went to Salvation Armies and each bought a garbage bag full of clothes. Then we put it in this room and let the actors pick stuff that they wanted. Matt saw it and I think he saw destiny staring him in the face. He put it on and blew my mind.
Lost River is at cinemas now