There are fortunes to be made playing thrill-seeking action heroes and cool-handed rakes that ooze the kind of innate primal magnetism that transcends language—and, sometimes, even forgoes it all together—and has allowed the American film industry to become a truly global one. So when an actor like Ryan Gosling chooses to build a career by repeatedly rebuffing the advances of that renowned dark mistress, Hollywood, it’s at least worth wondering whether or not she’s still got it. But from the beginning, Gosling’s choices have been almost refreshingly uneasy: From his first major film role, as a confused, self-loathing anti-Semite in the 2001 drama The Believer; to playing the romantic lead in Nick Cassavetes’s The Notebook (2004), the kind of movie that girls in their pajamas (and certain guys) will continue to watch over and over as long as love remains an attractive emotion for humans to experience and the earth continues to spin on its axis; to his Oscar-nominated performance as a crack-addicted middle school teacher in Half Nelson (2006); to his turn as a young man in crisis who falls in love with a sex doll in Lars and the Real Girl (2007), a film which, despite the glibness with which the premise is often articulated, is actually shot through with a remarkable and complicated degree of emotional depth. In fact, “remarkable” and “complicated” are good ways to describe Gosling’s body of work thus far. He’s already got a minimum of four seminal performances, one Oscar nomination, and one late-night girly classic under his belt.
Now, after years of avoiding Hollywood like the soul-sucking vulture that she is, Gosling might very well be in a position to save her—or, at least, make her feel alive again. He’s got three new films in the can, two of which are due out next month. The first, Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things, is a drama inspired by the real-life case of New York City real estate heir Robert Durst, about a man whose wife mysteriously disappears—and whose dark past comes to light when he is connected to a murder nearly two decades later. The second, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, co-stars Michelle Williams, and presents a darker, unvarnished vision of impossible love, sketching both the coming together, and the coming apart, of a relationship. As a piece of filmmaking, it’s small, intimate, and without a stitch of gloss—and Gosling and Williams deliver two of the most sensitive, powerful performances you’re likely to see this year. He also recently began work on the action-thriller Drive, about a stunt man who moonlights as a getaway-car driver. But before that film is released, Gosling will do something he has never done before: star in a comedy, Crazy, Stupid, Love, alongside Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, and his interviewer here, Steve Carell.
STEVE CARELL: This is so intimate.
RYAN GOSLING: [whispers] Steve.
CARELL: [whispers] Ryan.
GOSLING: Thanks so much for doing this. You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually felt compelled to tell the truth in an interview. But now that it’s you doing the interviewing, I feel like I can’t make stuff up, because you’re a truth-seeker.
CARELL: I would actually like to begin this by saying that I want you to lie to me. If you feel uncomfortable at any point during this interview, please make up a story that has no bearing on your actual life. That’s what I do, and it seems to work well.
GOSLING: I should let you know before we get into this that the pictures which will be accompanying this interview are basically of me in tight, wet T-shirts and tiny leather jackets going around in the rain and pretending that I’m a lot cooler than I am.
CARELL: Are these the pictures that I took?
GOSLING: No, but similar. [laughs]
CARELL: So shall we get down to business? As your friend, there are some things that I am dying to know about you—as I’m sure America is as well. First of all, you’re from Canada.
CARELL: And this is something that you’ve kept hidden for years?
GOSLING: Yeah, damn it. Now the cat’s out of the bag.
CARELL: Do you still think of yourself as a Canadian?
GOSLING: Yeah, I do. I grew up in a town called Cornwall, Ontario, which is about an hour outside of Montreal.
CARELL: How do you think your Canadianness has impacted who you are and what you’ve become?
GOSLING: I loved growing up in Canada. It’s a great place to grow up, because—well, at least where I grew up—it’s very multicultural. There’s also good health care and a good education system. So it’s a great place to be from, although, when I was 8, I was walking to school one day and I saw a frozen cat by the side of the road, and I picked it up and hit it against a tree.
CARELL: Just to confirm that it was frozen?
GOSLING: Yeah. It was frozen solid, almost mid-step. So I thought, “This isn’t right. I’m moving to California as soon as I can drive.” And that’s what I did.
CARELL: I think this is going great. We’ve already established your Canadian heritage and you’ve shown yourself to be an animal lover. I think all of Canada—and America—will love you very much after this. You started performing while you were still a kid. What was your first big job?
GOSLING: My sister and I used to sing at weddings. We would sing “When a Man Loves a Woman” to the bride. We’d do it right before the garter ceremony. While the bride was sitting on the chair, I would get down on my knees and sing the song, and then my sister would sing another song, and then together we would sing “Old Time Rock & Roll.” Then sometimes if we were really killing it, I’d sing “Runaround Sue.”
CARELL: How old were you at this point?
GOSLING: I was 8 and my sister was 12. My uncle was an Elvis impersonator—his name was Perry, and he went by “Elvis Perry”—and my work as a wedding singer landed me a spot in his act.
CARELL: What did you do in your uncle’s act?
GOSLING: Well, my job was that I was head of security, so I had to wear a big gold lamé jacket that said “Elvis Perry Security” on it. My uncle would take scarves off from around his neck and hand them to ladies in the audience, so part of my job was to hand him new scarves, and then also to make sure that the ladies didn’t get too hands-y. During the song “Teddy Bear,” my uncle would hand out a teddy bear, so my job was also to give him that teddy bear.
CARELL: Were you ever called into action to deal with any overly amorous women in the audience?
GOSLING: No, but I was ready.
CARELL: I think it’s fairly common knowledge that you eventually parlayed that experience into a spot on The Mickey Mouse Club.
CARELL: What sort of experience was that?
GOSLING: It was kind of depressing because when I got there, they realized that I wasn’t really up to snuff in comparison with what some of the other kids were able to do. I remember one time they put four of us in a dance routine, but I was so off. I was on the end, so they just pushed the shot in closer on the other three guys to frame me out. I would just come in at the beginning of the show and then come back at the end, and occasionally I’d have a sketch here or there, but I didn’t end up working that much, which was disheartening.
CARELL: Now, who were some of the other go-to Mousketeers who were on the show with you at the time?
GOSLING: Well, in my age bracket, there were seven kids, three of whom were Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake.
CARELL: That’s unbelievable that the four of you were cast at the same time. That, frankly, says a lot about the casting people at The [All New] Mickey Mouse Club.
GOSLING: I know. There was a guy there named Matt Casella, who we really owe it all to. But I didn’t end up working as much as I wanted to on the show, so I had a lot of free time, which I ended up spending in the Disney World park itself. It was interesting as a kid to go backstage to the commissary, and to see all of the people who were playing the characters with their heads off next to them while they were eating lunch. I remember there was one guy who I became friends with. He played a genie and was this great dancer. He took us to a place called Pleasure Island, which was for adults to go after the kids had their days. It was geared toward an older crowd. It was completely inappropriate, now that I’m thinking about it, but he would sneak us in and we would go to a club there called 8 Trax and dance with the secretaries, who were grinding on us . . . Now, that sounds completely inappropriate. I can’t imagine how it was possible.
HERE’S no WAY THAT a FILM can CAPTURE the EXPERIENCE of MAKING IT.... THE THING THAT’S so EXCITING when YOU’RE MAKING a FILM is THAT
it CAN BE ANYTHING and THERE ARE no LIMITATIONS on IT.—Ryan Gosling
CARELL: No, this is all very good. So far we’ve established that you’re Canadian, and a pet lover, and now you’ve given us something juicy.
GOSLING: Well, you also said I could lie.
CARELL: That’s true. I guess we should be clear that throughout this entire interview, you may or may not be lying. So answer me truthfully: You were nominated for an Academy Award, were you not?
GOSLING: I guess so. Weird, huh?
CARELL: It’s not weird at all.
GOSLING: It feels weird.
CARELL: How is it weird to you?
GOSLING: Well, it feels like not that long ago that I was on a TV show called Young Hercules in which I had a fake tan and wore tight leather pants and fought imaginary monsters.
CARELL: And that’s not the performance for which you received your Academy Award nomination?
GOSLING: No. But then I got back from doing that show and did a movie called The Believer, which is the film that kind of gift-wrapped for me the career that I have now. I suddenly found myself at Sundance, where people were asking me about my craft. So I had to pretend I had one.
CARELL: How do you respond when people are giving you a plaudit—when you’re up for an award like that? Obviously you can’t just deflect it. You have to be gracious about it. But at the same time, how do you take it in?
GOSLING: I was thrilled because I really like making these little movies, but the downside is that when you’re making them, you’re pretty sure no one’s going to see them. So the nomination in some way affirms those choices by making it possible for people to hear about a film and maybe see a movie they wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
CARELL: This might sound pretentious, but is the process more important for you than the final product?
GOSLING: I think it has to be, because as an actor you have no control over the final product. It’s hard because you’re so involved in the pre-production process and the filming process, but as soon as that’s over, you’re not really a part of it anymore. The thing gets cut up, music gets put on, and you’re not involved.
CARELL: How do you feel when you see yourself on film?
GOSLING: I hate it. [laughs]
GOSLING: Yeah, because there’s no way that a film can capture in two hours the experience of making it, so it’s always disappointing in some way. The thing that’s so exciting when you’re making a film is that it can be anything and there are no limitations on it. So I do have to remind myself that most people watching the film weren’t involved in making it, so they don’t really know what’s missing.
CARELL: Let’s talk about this movie you’ve done, Blue Valentine. [in talk-show voice] Tell me about this film, Ryan.
GOSLING: [laughs] Well, Steve, it’s a romantic film—I hope—which follows this couple during two different time periods in their lives together: One is when they meet and fall in love, and the other is six years later, when they have a kid and they’re kind of searching for where that love went. It’s kind of like that song “Where Did Our Love Go?” Michelle Williams plays my wife in the film.
CARELL: I want you to know that this is getting quite a bit of advance buzz. There’s advance buzz, Ryan—I think you should know that.
GOSLING: Oh, no.
CARELL: People are abuzz. People are buzzing about it.
GOSLING: [laughs] Really?
CARELL: There is a buzz.
GOSLING: This is like talking to my mother.
CARELL: I know that you’re sort of like me in that you don’t like talking too much about this stuff, but how do you prepare for a movie like this where you’re crosscutting between time periods?
GOSLING: Well, the director, Derek Cianfrance, had been working on the film for, I think, twelve years, and Michelle Williams had been attached to it for about six, and I was attached to it for about four, so we had years to work on it and develop the characters, which is a luxury I’m sure I’ll never have again.
CARELL: Does it feel different when you go in to shoot a movie where you’ve got that kind of history with it and have been thinking about it for so long?
GOSLING: Yeah, it was definitely wildly different from any other experience I’ve had before—especially with the way that we worked, because we shot the part where we were falling in love first, and then we took a month break before we went back and did the rest. It was a very small movie, so [Cianfrance] had to fight very hard to get us that. In fact, he had to give up having lights for most of the movie. There were no lights, lighting trucks, a very small crew. Basically, having that month cost him all those luxuries, but he felt it was important. And, during that month, he had us sort of live in the house. We had Christmas and wrapped presents. We had birthdays and made cakes. We would have whole days just dedicated to fighting. We had to fight with each other all day and then, at the end of the day, when we were exhausted, he would have us take the girl who plays our daughter to a family fun park, so we had to pull ourselves together and have a nice time. All of those things never made the film, but I think you can feel them in the fabric of the movie. So by the time we were shooting the later part of the story, it really felt like a lot longer than a month had gone by, which made it much easier for us to leave the past behind and embark on something else. It felt like we made two films, in a way, and he cut them together.
CARELL: It’s interesting because, as you were saying before, the finished product, no matter how wonderful it is, can’t really entirely reflect the kind of work that happens when you’re making a film.
GOSLING: Yeah, it can’t. It’s hard to let go of that, but at the same time, even if they don’t find their way into the movie in scene form, I do think those things wind up in the fabric of the film—knowing that people have a history together that you can feel. If you live in a house for a month, you know where everything is in the cupboards. You know the house intimately. That affects how you move around the house, and, in a way, you don’t really have to act. Derek created a situation where if you ever got called to act, it was a last resort. It was a very rare experience, working on this film, and I feel very lucky to have had it.
CARELL: We recently did a movie together [Crazy, Stupid, Love, due out in 2011].
CARELL: A comedy.
CAN’T TELL you HOW MANY TIMES PEOPLE GO, ‘ARE you RYAN?’...THEN THEY TAKE the PICTURE and REALIZE, in THAT
MOMENT, THAT I’M not RYAN REYNOLDS.—Ryan Gosling
GOSLING: Which I was excited to do. A lot of people don’t know this, but you and I did a pilot for a television series back in the day. When was it—’98 or ’99?
CARELL: Yeah, it had to be.
GOSLING: It’s funny because that pilot we did [The Unbelievables] was very similar to that Pixar movie The Incredibles . It was about a family of superheroes.
CARELL: But I think what surprised me most when we worked together was how funny you are, because I think you’ve built such a strong career on your dramatic work. You know, you have preconceived notions about people, and what I knew from you and your work made me think that you’re—
GOSLING: Not funny.
CARELL: No, I knew that you were funny. But I think being funny as a person and being a really good comedic actor can be separate things, and while I knew you were funny, your strength as a comedic actor caught me off guard. We’ve talked about this privately—about comedy, about what makes you laugh. I hate to deconstruct comedy, but you were very specific about what makes you laugh.
GOSLING: I like when the situation is funny, and the people within the context of that situation are playing it for real. That, for me, when I’m watching a movie, is what makes it funny: that the characters are completely invested in what’s happening and not aware of the humor. When we first met about this film we did together, we talked a lot about Gene Wilder, about how he was the master of that. There’s that scene in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid Ask  where he falls in love with that sheep. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen because you feel like he’s actually in love with the sheep. He’s feeling it up. He’s groping it.
CARELL: He’s drinking Woolite and it’s running down his chin.
GOSLING: I feel like Gene Wilder is my Marlon Brando or something. He just presents you with an array of emotions and leaves it up to you to decide. You know, when he played Willy Wonka [in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971], there was always something slightly terrifying and angry and sadistic about that character, all of which you would imagine might take away from the magic of it. But there was something about how he played it that let you see how this guy living alone in this place, as Wonka was, could have been affected by all of that, how it would have affected his emotional state.
CARELL: So let me ask you this: What’s next for Ryan Reynolds?
GOSLING: I get that a lot—and I do think it’s because we’re both Canadian. I can’t tell you how many times people go, “Are you Ryan?” And I go, “Yeah.” And they say, “Can I get a picture?” Then they take the picture and realize, in that moment, that I’m not Ryan Reynolds. I can see the disappointment in their faces.
CARELL: Is it disappointment? Or is it awe?
GOSLING: I’ll go with awe.
CARELL: Well, we know that probably 80 percent of this is a lie anyway. We established that early on.
GOSLING: That I am a liar.
CARELL: That is going to be the headline, “Ryan Gosling: Big Fat Liar.”
GOSLING: My whole life has been a lie. But with everything we’ve just said to each other, just imagine to the left and the right of the words on the page, pictures of me in tiny leather jackets in the rain.
CARELL: I’m full of anticipation—not so much for these words in the magazine, but for the art.
GOSLING: [laughs] We’ve both lied now.
Steve Carell is a Golden Globe–winning actor as well as a writer and producer.