After The Notebook made Ryan Gosling Hollywood’s most bankable sex symbol, he went on to do a string of indies, starring as a teacher with a freebasing habit in Half Nelson; a guy romancing a sex doll in Lars and the Real Girl; and a man whose marriage is unraveling in Blue Valentine. This summer’s Crazy, Stupid, Love was the start of his return to more mainstream, hunk-appropriate roles. Next, he stars as a stunt driver turned getaway driver in this weekend’s Drive, from Nicolas Winding Refn (who won the Best Director award at Cannes). And that’s followed by The Ides of March, which was adapted from the play, Farragut North (written by a former Howard Dean aide), and directed by and co-starring George Clooney. (Who told us of Gosling: “There are a lot of times when a young actor with a lot of heat around them self destructs. Sometimes because the heat was very temporary, sometimes because the actor starts to buy into all of the hype; and, unfortunately, they don’t last very long. Ryan is the real deal. His head is on straight. He’s smart and he has limitless talent. He’ll be sticking around for a while, which is good news for all of us.”) Gosling spoke with Jada Yuan for New York Magazine’s Fall Preview issue. Herewith, the complete and largely unedited transcript of their conversation. It’s Ryan Gosling weird.
Gosling: You in New York?
What are you doing today?
Just staying out of the rain.
I have to go back to Schenectady any minute. I gotta get on the train. I’m shooting out there.
This is The Place Beyond the Pines.
That’s right. Which is what Schenectady means, apparently. In fact. In fact.
How’s the shoot going?
Great. Uh, it’s been great [laughs].
With you and Derek [Cianfrance, director of Blue Valentine and Pines], is it like hanging out with your brother at this point?
We do get confused for brothers a lot. Yeah, you know, it’s the same kind of vibe as Blue Valentine, in that total immersion, or as much immersion as possible. That old bag.
Are you playing a stunt motorcycle rider?
Yeah, he rides in the Globe of Death, which travels this kind of fair and goes from town to town. They’re like proactive carnies [laughs].
Did you just say “proactive carnies”? Are there non-proactive carnies?
Well, I don’t know. A lot of those carnie guys seem to be phoning it in, you know?
You spend a lot of time with them? Is that how you know this?
Not enough to really comment, truthfully.
He’s a carnie who does other things on the side?
He rides in the Globe of Death and then finds out that he has a child that he fathered a year ago passing through the same town. And so he decides to stay in that town and, because of a lot of bad decisions he made in his life, he has no way of supporting them, so he turns to robbing banks.
You’re riding motorcycles in dangerous ways?
Uh, yes. [Laughs.] A lot of the way that Derek is filming the bank robberies is all in one shot. So, basically, I ride up to the bank, I run in, I rob the real people that work there, and then I leave. I get on my bike and ride away. And that’s one take.
The bank employees are the bank employees in the movie?
Are you surprising them? Are they aware that you’re filming?
They are aware that we’re filming. And I have to rob them about twenty times before they stop being excited to be in a movie [laughs]. The first twenty takes are just basically people smiling with their hands up.
It sounds awesome.
Derek is forcing me to resort to a whole litany of nasty tricks to try to ruin their good time.
I can’t talk about it. It’s nasty.
You can’t just bring that up.
I’m trying to pique your interest. Is it working?
Yes. Give me an example.
[Laughs.] No, I can’t. Because I don’t know what will make the film and I’m not going to own up to anything I don’t have to.
You’re not dropping bags of feces in front of them, so they’ll stop smiling.
No! You’re sick. What is wrong with you? The fact that your mind would even go there. You’d be a pretty good actor.
Did you do most of the stunts yourself on this and Drive?
Uh, no. Stuntmen do them. I’ll leave it to them.
Are you any good at driving cars or motorcycles?
Well, not as good as them, which is why they do it. If I was as good as them, I would do it. But I’m not. So I won’t. I mean, also, this is boring, but bond companies won’t let you do shit. They basically won’t let you, like, step into your own trailer unless someone harnesses you in before you mount any steps. They’re just nervous you’re gonna get hurt, so you can’t do a lot of those things. But on Pines I am doing a lot more than I did on Drive because of the nature of the way that Derek is shooting it. It’s all these long takes so there’s not a lot of room to hide a double. But Rick Miller has been my teacher, and he has been doing some amazing work on the film. I’m anxious to see his work as well.
So, it’s not like you have a death wish and that’s why you’re doing this movie?
No. I mean, Derek’s trying to kill me. He’s the guy who asked me to climb over the Brooklyn Bridge in Blue Valentine. Now he’s asking me to ride a motorcycle in the Globe of Death. And I look like him. So I don’t know. Maybe there’s some hatred of himself a little bit going on there. I’m not sure.
What is it with you working with the same people again and again? You worked with Derek Cianfrance twice, and you have another movie with Nicolas Winding Refn.
Yeah, well, they’re my dudes. I feel like, well, this is just a theory, because this is my second film with Derek, and I’m about to make my second film with Nick. I have this theory that they’ll get better and better. We’ll see. [Laughs.]
They’re your dudes but, with Derek, would he have been able to make Blue Valentine if you and Michelle hadn’t signed up for it?
Yeah, I mean, a lot of actors wanted to do that movie, and it had financing a few times before us. Just, those actors fell out and so did the financing. I’m sure that if Michelle and I had fallen out as well, the same would have happened. It would have gotten made with other people. Might have taken longer.
I thought you sort of hung around with the movie forever.
Yeah, well, Michelle wins that one. She was around for six years. I was around for four or five. And, of course, Derek was working on it for ten. It was a difficult film to get financed.
With Drive, weren’t you instrumental in getting that made?
Well, Mark Platt, the producer, gave me that script and said I could have any director, that he would support any director that I wanted, provided that that director wanted to do it, obviously. And so it became pretty clear to me … well, I had this feeling that Nicholas should direct it. A pretty strong feeling. And I won’t tell you this story if you’ve heard it a million times already, but basically REO Speedwagon came on the radio when I was driving Nick home from our terrible meeting, where I was trying to get him the F out of my car. He describes it as one of those dates where you know you’re not gonna get any action and so you just want to go home, and I was driving him home, it was awkward silence, REO Speedwagon came on the radio, I turned it up, and Nicolas started crying and banging on his knees and said, “This is what the movie is.” He started singing at the top of his lungs, too. He said, “This is the movie. It’s about a guy who just drives around listening to pop music because it’s the only way he can feel anything.” And I had secretly been feeling the same way. So I mean … Is that an answer to your question?
Sure, but you didn’t finish your thought.
Where did I stop?
You’d been feeling the same way.
Oh yeah, so then we made Drive. I was instrumental in making the film, sure. But so was REO Speedwagon.
When did the Disneyland trip come in?
Meaning with Nicolas? His family was in town and they wanted to go to Disneyland and I love Disneyland, so I took them. And, Nicolas is afraid of going fast in a car and I was trying to … he’s also afraid of rides.
Wait, how is it possible to make a movie about a guy who loves driving fast in cars without actually liking it yourself?
You know, he took his driver’s test eight times and failed eight times [laughs], and he said, “You know, after the eighth time, I just didn’t see any point in going on.” So he doesn’t have a license. He likes the idea of going fast in a car and he thinks the idea of speed is sexy, but actually doing it is for the birds as far as he’s concerned. So I tried to trick him into going on some rides at Disneyland. Basically I tried to trick him into going on the Tower of Terror because I convinced him that the elevator took you up to the ride, so once you got to the top, you could get out of the elevator and we would get on the ride and he would just wait up top. But the elevator is the ride. That’s the catch. So I took him on. And [laughs] there’s a picture of him [laughs] screaming for his life. And when it was over, all he could say for two hours was, “I can’t feel my legs.” But I’m told by him that he used that sense memory for the film. He used that adrenaline rush that he got from the ride and channeled it into the movie.
Disneyland was before filming?
Yeah, I think so. I think it was before we started.
What made the meeting prior to REO Speedwagon so terrible?
Well, he was all hopped up on cold medication, and he’d just gotten off of a flight, or so is his excuse for his rude behavior. But he just basically didn’t look at me or talk to me. He stared. He sat next to me so we were shoulder to shoulder, which is, uh, off-putting, and then he just stared straight ahead and acted bored and just like he wanted to go home. So I wasn’t going to keep him. So I just got the bill and drove him home.
But you’d thought you’d like him from Bronson?
Yeah, I’d seen Bronson, Valhallah Rising, and the Pusher Trilogy.
You liked the violent weirdness of his movies?
I just felt … I felt some kind of a kindred spirit with him, I guess. And there was a moment during Valhallah Rising where the character cuts the stomach open of another character and pulls out his intestines [laughs], and everybody in the audience was yelling at the screen and hitting each other and turning around. It was like suddenly the audience came to life, and it was fun to be in the movie theater. I was glad I saw it in the movie theater and not at home because other people’s reactions to what I was watching were making it better, and I really wanted to Drive to be the kind of film that you wanted to go to the movie theater to see. I feel like those are the kind of movies that Nicolas makes. You’ve got to stop me, because I’ll just go on and on.
Drive seems somewhat commercial. Did you want to start making more commercial movies?
No, I wanted to make Pretty in Pink with a head smashing.
With a head smashing?
Yeah. Like, I wanted to make a violent John Hughes movie. Because John Hughes movies are perfect for me. Or almost perfect. They just need a little violence. You need blood and cotton candy. So that’s what we tried to make.
Did you want to make an ultimate L.A. movie?
I don’t know if it’s the ultimate L.A. movie, but I’d been living downtown so there were a lot of areas downtown that I’d fallen in love with or areas or locations that I hadn’t seen in films, so I was eager to put them on film.
And capture your experience of driving through them?
Well, just to play the hits. I just fell in love with these areas and these locations. And I felt like I was going to move out of Los Angeles soon and I wanted to shoot them before I left, so I got to do that with this film.
For instance, in the L.A. river there’s a tiny little kind of garbage oasis that’s just sitting in the middle of this concrete basin. And I’d been told that you could get to Pasadena in the L.A. river if there was bad traffic. And I tried. But it’s not true because this little garbage oasis is blocking you from doing that. But it’s beautiful and magical and when Nicholas said to me, “You need to take Carey Mulligan’s character somewhere and show her a side of L.A. that she hasn’t seen,” that came to mind. I showed it to Nicholas and he liked it, too, so we put it in the film.
How would you describe it to people who haven’t seen it?
Um, okay. Violent John Hughes movie. Pretty in Pink with a Head Smashing. Or Blue Velvet meets Purple Rain.
How did The Ides of March come about?
Well, I heard word that George Clooney was gonna send me a script and so I read it in short order and it just was a chance for me to work with George and a lot of my favorite actors all at once.
Can you even vote?
I can’t vote. I’m Canadian. They don’t care what I think.
Had you followed Dean or Obama?
Yeah, I followed the Obama campaign. Because of my inability to vote, and because I’m really Canadian but I live in Los Angeles, I get lost politically.
You don’t understand it or you don’t count?
I don’t know where I’m from or what I should be pulling for. But this film I thought was really exciting because it’s a way to be involved with the political world without having to have a real understanding of politics.
Do you have an understanding of politics?
Well, I think so, but there’s so much to know.
You wanted to be involved in politics without understanding them?
No, sorry, I thought the film was good because you could go see it and you don’t need to know anything about politics to enjoy it.
Did you secretly work on any campaigns?
No, I just tried to talk to as many people as I could. There weren’t really any campaigns for me to be involved with. I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the part. So I just, you know, got on the horn with a lot of guys. P.J. Crowley being one of the biggest helps to me.
Was Leo DiCaprio supposed to have your role?
I don’t really know. That’s the rumor.
What’s George like as a director?
It was amazing to watch him direct because it was like watching somebody try to explain a song in their head. I can only kind of compare it to seeing Michael Jackson in This Is It, where he’s trying to explain to a keyboard player how to play a certain part and the keyboard player isn’t getting it right, and Mike Jackson just knows exactly how he wants this part played, even in the sea of other parts being played, he can pick that out. That’s kind of what George is like. He’s like Michael Jackson, basically.
I assume that’s a compliment.
I love Mike Jackson. He knew exactly what he wanted and he was very specific. A lot of directors aren’t so clear.
He has a reputation for being a practical joker, but I can imagine that when it’s his own set, he wouldn’t be.
No, one thing he really loved to do was switch out the hard-boiled eggs at craft service with raw ones, and he liked to come over, give you very serious direction, get you in a very serious place, and then walk away, and you’d realize that he’d been spraying your crotch with an Evian bottle and that your pants were wet, and then he’d say, “Action.”
Didn’t that ruin the shot?
No, because it would be a close-up. You’d have to act with wet pants.
Was it cool to see him switch between the directing and the acting?
It was. I’d never seen anyone do it before. So I was wondering how that would work. But he did it effortlessly. He’s like Bugs Bunny. He’s good at everything and nothing really fazes him.
I never really thought of that description of Bugs Bunny.
Yeah. He’s Bugs Bunny and I’m Daffy Duck.
How would you describe Daffy?
The opposite of Bugs.
You already went through Oscar buzz last year. What was it like last year to get the hype and not the nomination?
Yeah, those things are … it was a relief. I was happy for Michelle. I was over the moon for her. I don’t really know what to say … it happened. That was then, this is now. I was relieved. I was happy for Michelle. I’ll be happy for George.
So if people start talking about Oscar stuff for this movie do you block it out?
Nah. They talk about everything. That’ll be one thing that they talk about, and they’ll talk about a million other things.
When you talk about relief, was Half Nelson not a good experience?
I mean, my mother almost lost her mind. I worry about my family should it ever happen again, because they barely got out with their wits about them.
Nicolas said that he’s going to keep doing movies with you because he’s really in with your mom.
Yeah, my mom loves Nick. She’s like, “He’s so interesting! He’s like a genuine eccentric.”
Is Derek also in with your mom? Is that how it works?
What? That a guy’s got to be in with my mom? Look, I’m no mama’s boy. My mother just happens to be a very attractive woman, so all of these guys want to get in with my mom. It has nothing to do with me.
This is three movies in one year. And you went, like, six years doing two movies. Why all the movies? Were you like, “Fuck it, I’m going to be a star!”
I just feel differently than I did then.
Then meaning after The Notebook?
Yeah, I just didn’t want to play as many characters then. I didn’t find characters that I wanted to be for the period of time that you have to be them while shooting. I didn’t find as many of them that interested me. But now I feel differently. I don’t know. I feel like I want to play … I don’t know. I just feel differently.
You’re interested in more characters or the roles are better?
Yeah, maybe the roles are better. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know. I just feel differently. I feel more creative than I used to.
Does some of that have to do with having the power to say what you want on set?
It used to take more out of me to become a character. Now I feel like I have more energy than to play just one. Also it has a lot to do with these filmmakers. I really feel, you know, Drive was just an idea. I never would have done that film had REO Speedwagon not come on the radio. I feel like the circumstances are dictating what I do now, as opposed to me dictating them. You know, something happened in that car. I’d secretly been thinking that this movie, Drive, shouldn’t be about stunts or driving fast, but about the experience of driving, just the kind of spell that a car puts you under, how you get in it and you don’t remember your drive, you just arrive where you were going, and about listening to pop music at night just driving around. And then I meet Nicolas and he feels the same way, and we realize that because REO Speedwagon comes on to remind us. So if that hadn’t have happened that way, the movie wouldn’t have gotten made. So the circumstances created that film.
After The Notebook, you seemed to be eschewing the heartthrob thing, but then you’re shirtless in Crazy, Stupid, Love. What happened?
What happened is I’ve always been a fan of Steve Carell, and after Blue Valentine, my doctor wrote a prescription that said I needed to do a comedy.
Yeah, really. He was joking, my doctor. I’m not sure he was a doctor. He looked a lot like Steve Carell. Anyway, I got this opportunity to do this movie with Steve. And the first thing that I ever did was a pilot with Steve in Los Angeles when I was 17. And I used to go to set to watch him work. I became a fan then and I’ve been a fan ever since, and I heard he was making a movie and I just wanted to get in on it. But the nature of the role, it could have been anything and I still would have done it.
But you were jacked.
But that was a line in the script, that he looks Photoshopped. So I had to try to … that was my job to do that. [laughs]. But I would have been happier to do less work.*
Okay, well thanks for the interview. I’m glad you talked.
You’re glad I talked?
I’m glad we talked. It was a nice mutual conversation.
Oh, good. That’s better than “I’m glad you talked.” Wait, so is this for Ides or for Drive? I thought it was for Ides.
It’s for both. But maybe you’re right that we didn’t talk enough about Ides. Can you stay on for two more minutes?
Hmmm. I’ve got a friend here and I’m being rude.
Maybe just tell me what you think Ides is about.
Basically, the character is someone that wants to bring change and is put into this moral dilemma because he can’t effect change unless he’s in the White House, and when it looks like his candidate can’t make it into the White House he’s torn between his loyalty to his candidate or his loyalty to the American people.
Great. They may want this interview to be more about Ides than it is, but oh well.
Cool. I liked all the Drive talk.
I mean, we can’t just always sate people’s Clooney lust. They’re always going to want to know more about Clooney.
Well, yeah. He’s dreamy.
*This post has been updated to include a missing portion of the transcript at the end.