With critical acclaim ringing in his ears and a multitude of projects on the go, the Drive star talks LWLies through his career so far.
Like his uncaged antihero in Drive, Ryan Gosling is a wanted man. Right now he’s promoting three films (Drive, Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Ides of March), shooting his next (The Place Beyond the Pines) and prepping two more (Only God Forgives, The Gangster Squad). It’s the schedule of someone firmly in demand, but when the call came in from Gosling’s New York apartment late one evening in July, LWLies found not a movie star on the run but a man unbound.
LWLies: Nicolas [Winding Refn] told us about when you two first met. It’s an interesting story, what’s your take on that first meeting?
Gosling: Did he tell you that we creatively mated and conceived a movie baby in the backseat of my car?
He didn’t put it quite as romantically...
That’s basically what happened. We had this kinda awkward meal and after I gave him a ride home and we hit it off then.
Before that meeting the initial concept was in your camp and you specifically requested Nicolas be attached to direct. What was it about him that made you want to work with him on Drive?
I just had a feeling. But I knew for sure once he started crying and singing REO Speedwagon in my car that he was my dude, because he sort of looked at me and said, ‘This is what we should do: make a movie about a guy who drives around Los Angeles at night listening to pop music, because it’s the only way he can feel.’ And I had been... when I first read the script I was hoping that we could make it about just the experience of driving and not about chasing or being chased or even speed, necessarily, or stunts, but just about the kind of spell that a car puts you under and sort of use the spell that a car puts you under, and the spell that a movie can put you under, to take you into this driver’s dream.
So, when Nicolas said that to me, I knew we were coming from the same place and having the same dream, without really having talked that much about it before that moment. Then we just tried to use that experience I the car as a sort of guiding star throughout the experience, to try to recreate... really the movie was born out of circumstance, and we just tried to keep allowing those circumstances to dictate the direction of the film. So we would shoot all day and then edit all night, at his house, and then when we were done and it was time to go home we’d just drive around listening to music and talk about movies and life, and that would effect the next day of shooting. So watching the film... the film kind of encapsulates the experience of making it.
You mention the spell that a car can put you under, is that something you felt a connection with before making the film?
Yeah I’ve always, sought of, been attracted to cars... not the aesthetic of them, there’s just something about them. When I was a kid I used to sneak into my parents’ car, a few times I actually took it out of park and reversed it out into the street. So, you know, I’ve just always liked to take road trips and be alone in my car – which is one of the reasons why I love Los Angeles so much. I moved there when I was 16 and I think the majority of the years I’ve spent there have been, as with everyone else, in a car.
People say that if you live in LA you have to have a car. There’s no other way...
Yeah. And you start to experience your life, or a substantial portion of your day, though the filter of this car. So I think that the movie, I hope that the movie is a reflection of that.
You built the car that’s in the movie, is that right?
Oh yeah, I didn’t physically build the car but we refurbished it. It was in a pretty bad way when we got it and... I think it was like two grand and we got it from a car graveyard, a 1972 Chevy Malibu. And I went to work at Billy Stadeel’s Auto Shop, he’s sort of Hollywood car royalty, his father used to work on all Frank Sinatra’s cars and Billy still has Frank Sinatra’s Rolls Royce in his garage, and him and his partner Pedro mentored me through the process of restoring it.
We read that you built a kitchen table in preparation for The Notebook, which feels like quite a methody thing to do. Do you consider yourself a method actor to some degree?
No. I mean, I don’t really know a lot about method acting, but I don’t just think that it means actually doing the things that your character does, there’s a lot more to the method than that. So I wouldn’t dare call myself that, I haven’t trained in the art of it and I really don’t know what I’m doing, to be honest. I think that I do a lot of these things in the hope of trying to figure out what I’m doing. Also, I just like to make stuff and these movies provide me an opportunity to learn how.
Did you make stuff a lot as a kid?
Yeah, I just... Yeah. Once you get onto the film you’re creating your character but everyone else is making the movie, so your opportunity to physically make things only really exists in the pre-production part of the film.
Going back to yours and Nicolas’ relationship... You’re doing Logan’s Run together next year, how important is it to find someone who you can collaborate with on a long-term basis? You seem to have developed something really strong with Derek Cianfrance, also.
It’s everything. I mean, you’re only as good as your director and if you’re not on the same page, if you don’t have the same vision as the director then it’s hard to really make anything work, the movie won’t reach its full potential. I’ve been looking for filmmakers that can help me and that I can help make the most potent film, and I feel like I’ve found that in Derek Cianfrance and in Nicolas. I feel like we’ll make many movies together.
You and Nicolas didn’t disagree on anything?
Not really, not really. I think because... what’s happening is you’re both dreaming of the same place and you’re looking more for the similarities in your dream than the differences, because if you’re both dreaming of the same thing then it’s a pretty good indication that... it makes it more real, somehow, than if you’re dreaming about it alone.
Your character is a lone anti-hero; did you have any points of reference in mind when you were dreaming of him?
For me it was sort of a monster movie, kind of a werewolf film, where the driver sort of believes that he is a werewolf – he’s never officially turned into one but he’s afraid that one day he will, so he isolates himself away from people in the fear that he’ll turn into a monster. There’s the scene in the elevator where he smashes the guy’s head in, that’s where he becomes the werewolf. I mean, the film is really a fairy tale, that’s what we had in mind; the driver was a knight who would save this princess who was stranded in the tower, and Albert Brooks would be the wizard and Ron Perlman would be the dragon and Los Angeles.
Do you see Los Angeles as a fairy tale city?
I do think it’s a great setting for that because it’s built on fantasy.
There are long periods in the film where your character is silent, very introversive; is that challenging as an actor when you’re used to delivering more lines?
It was a relief.
In what sense?
Well a lot of times dialogue confuses the issue, and I think it can be more powerful and clearer without words.
What excites you about acting?
It’s hard to explain, it’s sort of... the only way I can explain is in that way when a song comes on and it makes you want to dance, and there’s no reason for that; you can’t pinpoint why it make you tap your toe, but you can’t help yourself.
Do you find it hard to balance your film career with your music and your personal life?
Absolutely. I find it hard to find the time for everything I want to do, make all the things I want to make. Yeah, it’s very frustrating.
Do you feel like you have to keep making movies because you hold a certain amount of clout as an actor now, and taking time out to pursue other interests would take away some of that autonomy?
Well, I don’t... Not really, but it’s like... I don’t really think of it in that way but like, for instance, taking two years off and making that record informed the films that I made after it. So, I think it’s important to get distance in order to gain perspective on myself, on what I’m making and on where I’m going.
Over the last few years you’ve leaned towards more intimate independent films as opposed to big budget mainstream Hollywood films, is there a reason for that?
Well, those films... In my twenties independent cinema was the only place where I had any freedom and now I have more freedom at a bigger budget, so I’m more comfortable working at a bigger budget, but I guess I do prefer being able to make what you want and you can’t always do that on bigger budget stuff. I don’t like having to serve a committee, you know, the screen is yours to fill however you want to fill it and when you can’t do that I don’t see what the point is. What’s in it for me?
It’s so easy to be pigeonholed as a certain type of actor, are you conscious of that in the roles you take?
Well I don’t really know how I’m perceived so... You read so many different things and I’ve never really paid too much attention to that, I’ve never collated the carbon data, you know. Do you think I’m pigeonholed?
Not exactly, it’s just that you have a very distinctive voice as an actor and yet your roles are quite varied. You seem to be someone who always makes good decisions, even when they don’t seem like good decisions to begin with. Drive isn’t a good example, but if you look back at the last five or six films you’ve made there are some interesting choices in there that have paid off. Like Lars and the Real Girl...
I do think I have a good sense of where a filmmaker’s coming from when I meet them, and there are a tonne of films I haven’t made because I didn’t click with the director’s vision, but like Lars and the Real Girl is a film that could’ve gone either way. It walked a very delicate line and I was skeptical about the direction that the director [Craig Gillespie] was going to take it in, but when I first met him he said that he wanted to put a nudity clause in the contract for Bianca and have a trailer for her and a team of people around her and treat her like any of the other actresses would be treated, I just knew, you know. You can tell a lot about what a director’s willing to put in off camera to creating an atmosphere on set so that this seed you’re trying to plant can actually have a chance.
What do you love about movies?
Well, I think, not to keep harping on the same note, I think... Well, for instance when I was in the fourth grade, maybe even... I forget what year, but it was sometime in junior school that I first saw First Blood and it kinda put me under a spell. I believed I was Rambo, and I filled my Fisher-Price Houdini Kit up with steak knives and took it into school and tried throwing them at some of the kids during recess. I didn’t hurt anybody, thank god, and I learned my lesson, you know, I’m sorry that I did it... But films have such a powerful affect on me, they always have done. I’ve tried to control that but I don’t think I’ve ever really managed to. But I don’t think I’m alone in recognising that.
Who is Drive for?
I think it’s for the movie theatre, I think we made it not for any specific type of person but more for the theatre itself. We made it for a big screen; we made it really fucking loud. It’s just not the same film if you see it at home, I’ve seen it on a small screen, I’ve seen it in a few different forms, and I really think this is the kind of movie that you have to go and see in the best theatre you can find.
We saw it for the first time in the Salle Debussy in Cannes, which was pretty fucking awesome...
Yeah, I mean that’s one of the best theatres I’ve ever been in. We actually went into that theatre the night before to check the colour and sound and we were told that they never turn the volume of a film past seven, and we got there and turned it to seven point five.
It definitely made a difference.
I’m glad you feel that way.
This is slightly random, but you know the rubber mask your character wears, was that based on anyone?
That is random.
It’s been bugging us...
Well actually it’s kind of a cool story. A friend of mine, Noaz Deshe, had sent me... Separately, I’ve had a fantasy for years of robbing a bank, I’m too scared of jail to ever go through with it, but I like to imagine ways of doing it with a few special friends who like to do the same. Anyway, Noaz sent me this link to a mask called the Hanson mask, which a few people were using effectively using to get away with robbery, because the mask’s so realistic, and... There would be security camera footage of the robber and witnesses would give descriptions and because it’s so realistic the police would end up looking for someone who looked like the mask. So when we were trying to find a way for the driver to go around and effectively get away with his revenge spree that he goes on, it seemed like it would be a good idea to use that mask. But also we wanted him to undergo a transformation and because he couldn’t actually become a werewolf we tried to think of a way to take him from boy to man, and the mask was perfect for that.
Was it tough adopting that werewolf mentality?
It felt appropriate, so it was actually kinda easy. But we wanted there to be a balance between the violence and the romance, so the first half of the film is all champagne and cotton candy and the second half is blood and guts. Nicolas and I both love John Hughes movies, and we both imagined Drive to be like a love letter to John Hughes, written in blood.
Any other movies or filmmakers that inspired you to get into acting?
Well, after that incident after I watched First Blood for a long time I wasn’t allowed to watch R rated movies, so for a long while I only watched Cecil B DeMille bible films and a lot of, sort of, black-and-white comedies and National Geographic animal movies. They were the only films I was allowed to watch, but when I was 14 I got handed on the DL a copy of Blue Velvet, which totally changed my outlook on film.
And you’re prepping for a movie now?
Yeah, I’m in my apartment in New York getting ready for a movie that shoots in three weeks. Actually, it’s about a bank robber.
You really are obsessed with the idea aren’t you?
Probably. I don’t know, I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve had this idea for a long time of a way to rob a bank and get away with it. Obviously I’d never really do... But so I told the director of Blue Valentine about it one night and he said, ‘You have to be kidding me, I just wrote a movie about that.’ And so he sent me the script and it turned out we’d both been dreaming the same thing.
Thanks Ryan, speak soon.
Yeah, see you down the road.