With the current face of cinema resembling a 3D, motion-captured computer graphic, it’s tempting to lament the death of the true film star. The Steve McQueens, John Waynes and Marlon Brandos just don’t seem to have any contemporary equivalents.
Then Drive happened.
Out of nowhere, the effortless combination of neo-noir indie aesthetics and genuinely thrilling action quickly worked its way on to our list of endlessly re-watchable favourites. While Nicolas Winding Refn’s slick direction
and atmospheric electro soundtrack were certainly major factors, the overall impact of the film can be easily attributed to one singular element: Ryan Gosling.
The 30-year-old actor and his iconic scorpion jacket restored our faith in the kind of leading man who fearlessly commandeered films in the Sixties and Seventies without the help of a green screen. He imbues the role with toughness, but also a modern sensitivity, switching from babysitting Carey Mulligan’s son, to a brutal fight with a hitman, adding depth to what could have been a grunting cipher. It might be a role that relies on too many unspoken moments to nab him the big awards, but it will comfortably land him a place alongside Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt and Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke in the upper echelons of film cool.
Around the same time as Drive began receiving serious word of mouth earlier this year, Gosling appeared on our radar via YouTube. There was the video he filmed of Congolese orphans dancing to Rihanna’s Rude Boy (which will produce a warm reaction from even the most cold-hearted of cynics), and then, more famously, there was the footage of him helping to break up a street fight in New York. For those who haven’t seen it, an awkwardly filmed tussle over a painting is casually broken up by a kind stranger, who the camerawoman announces to be “that guy from The Notebook”.
Seemingly overnight, Gosling had become a phenomenon, his on and off-screen personas dovetailing to create a classic ‘women want him, men want to be him’ star.
In reality, it has been anything but a heady ascent for Gosling, of course. He has been busy building a reputation as a rule-breaker ever since he left The Mickey Mouse Club. Yes, he was a Mouseketeer but no, unlike Britney and Justin, he avoided a career in bubblegum pop. Adding to his enviable credentials, he has a musical history that doesn’t involve any carefully choreographed dance routines. His band, Dead Man’s Bones, specialise in folky music that’s a far cry from JT’s ‘dirty pop’. His film choices have also tended to stray down the path less-trodden. Lars And The Real Girl saw him fall in love with a doll, Blue Valentine had him face a bitter relationship breakdown, and his Oscar-nominated performance in Half Nelson cast him as a teacher with a drug habit.
His latest, The Ides Of March, is a talky political thriller that appeals to the more refined cinemagoer. It’s another performance that helps position him as a throwback film star — you can imagine a Seventies-era Robert Redford in the role. In the film, he plays an idealistic aide to George Clooney’s smooth-talking democratic candidate, who finds himself faced with a tough moral dilemma. Unlike his character in Drive, he uses words, not actions, to get himself out of a tight spot. It’s a role that might help secure him an Oscar, as despite a supporting cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei, Gosling commands the film.
With his non-mainstream music career and a carefully carved niche starring in films that don’t involve huge budgets, it would be natural to expect that Gosling might take himself seriously (he does play the ukulele, after all). But instead of being a self-indulgent hipster, he comes across as a genuinely, almost frustratingly, nice guy. His sudden ubiquity means he’s a tough man to avoid, but he’s keen not to overdo it. The actor recently joined Twitter but after a few paltry tweets, he’s been absent since April. He told MTV News that he doesn’t want to “just tweet” as “nobody cares” about what he has to say. Adding to his modest charm, Gosling also claimed that he’s “not that good looking” and claims he has a “weird” appearance. Millions of women would surely disagree, but his lack of a visible ego is an admirable break from the norm.
He recently said that he’d rather be “making babies”, but until he finds the right person, he’ll continue to make films instead. So with the world at his feet, this admirably individualistic man is faced with a tough choice: what to do next? We decided to ask him...
Did George Clooney tell you why he chose you for The Ides Of March?
Well, he said he chose me because everyone else said no. No one else was available! But that’s fine with me.
What’s Clooney like as a director?
He’s very specific and he knows exactly what he wants. There is not a lot of ambiguity in his decisions and directions.
How different is it to work for a director who is also an actor?
It didn’t feel that different. When he was directing, he was able to compartmentalise to a degree, which was interesting. But he was doing so much. It’s his project: he co-wrote it, directed it, produced it and starred in it. At the same time he’s checking the situation in Darfur on his cell phone. And he has at least 10 practical jokes in the works at all times.
Clooney has said that his inspiration was iconic Seventies films such as Network, The Candidate and All The President’s Men. Did he ask you to watch those?
Actually, he didn’t. He had us watch a lot of documentaries, not those films. He didn’t specifically ask, although he referenced them a lot while we were making it. I guess he just assumed we had seen them and didn’t want to live in a world where we hadn’t.
How different is it for you to play a silent- type character, such as in Drive, compared with The Ides Of March, where you have so much dialogue?
They were different experiences and each offered something different. A kind of balance. I feel there is something nice about not talking. You can say more by actually saying less. It’s nice to have space in the film and the silence. It’s much rarer to be able to work that way. I enjoyed it.
How was it working with director Nicolas Winding Refn on Drive?
We are just wildly different guys, but I think we share a brain. I’ll have an idea and he’ll have the exact same idea. When we first met, I had the feeling that the film should be about driving and not about driving fast — just the actual experience of driving, sitting in your car listening to music. The first thing he said to me was that this movie should be about a guy driving around in a car listening to music — that’s the only way he knows how to feel. I thought, “How can I be so different from this person [Refn] and at the same time share the same dream?”
You are everywhere at the moment. How has your life changed with all that attention?
I’m pretty sick of myself. It seemed a good idea at the time. Around the time I turned 30, I started to feel very creative — more creative than I had been before — which is good, and I like that.
Brad Pitt recently said that you have the most interesting career…
[Incredulously] No he did not! No way! It’s my first time hearing about that. I don’t know. That’s such a compliment to have from someone you have been admiring and following for years. Some of Brad’s movies are what got me excited about making films. He’s one of my favourite actors.
So what’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on Gangster Squad, a Fifties gangster picture, with Sean Penn, who’s playing the mobster Mickey Cohen, plus Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña… A great cast.
Is acting different today compared to when you started?
Yes, it’s different. I am at a point where I want to work with the same filmmakers over and over. I used to have a whole list of guys that I wanted to work with, but I’m now at point where I want to work with the same ones. I have been lucky between Derek Cianfrance [Blue Valentine] and Nicolas Winding Refn. I just finished another film with Derek called The Place Beyond The Pines, and it was the best experience of my life. Derek is a special filmmaker. It’s very different from Blue Valentine and the performances are great. Bradley Cooper — people are not going to believe how great he is, and Eva Mendes gives the best performance I’ve been around to see.
Finally, what car are you driving?
Oh, I’m driving my car from Drive!
The Ides Of March is at cinemas nationwide from 28 October