Published: June 29, 2004
Ryan Gosling is living proof that “The Mickey Mouse Club” is not the first step on the road to pop-culture perdition.
The tall, soulful Canadian actor doesn’t run around 9/10ths undressed like his former TV mates Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. He has not been known to facilitate highly public wardrobe malfunctions a la Justin Timberlake … although, like the Cameron Diaz-dating professional boy toy, 23-year-old Gosling was romantically linked to an older actress, Sandra Bullock, for a little while.
True, Gosling can alarm on screen. He leans toward roles such as Jewish Neo-Nazis (“The Believer”), genius high-school thrill killers (“Murder by Numbers”) and guys who murder their girlfriend’s mentally challenged brother for no apparent reason (“The United States of Leland”).
But the thing that really separates Gosling from the other erstwhile Mouseketeers is that he does fine work. The characters and films he’s chosen are genuinely challenging, and he brings intense, intelligent conviction to his performances. Gosling’s unforced but magnetic, sympathetic yet disturbing screen persona is the polar opposite, on the scale of artistic seriousness, to stage-kissing counterparts from “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
And now that aesthetic cred faces its greatest test.
“The Notebook,” the latest movie adapted from a sudsy Nicholas Sparks best-seller, hits all of the time-honored cliches a star- crossed romance can pack.
“I like to take things where I have to work, that are not easy,” Gosling says. “I also think that something interesting comes out when you do something that you’re afraid of, so I try to take things that I’m not sure that I can do. And this was certainly one of them. I didn’t feel like I was right for this at all, and I wondered how to find truth in a fairy tale.”
Lovers, bound together
“The Notebook,” which took in $13 million over the weekend, tells two parallel stories, half a century apart. In a contemporary nursing home, an elderly gentleman (James Garner) reads to an Alzheimer’s-stricken lady (Gena Rowlands) from the same notebook every day. The diary tells the tale of a young couple in 1940s North Carolina, Noah Calhoun (Gosling) and Allie Hamilton (fellow Canadian Rachel McAdams, who recently portrayed the queen bee in “Mean Girls”).
Noah’s a local boy who works at a sawmill near a seaside resort. Allie’s a rich girl from Charleston, S.C., in town for the summer. They fall passionately in love and, the times being the times, take most of the season to build up their courage to consummate it.
But Allie’s disapproving parents intervene at a crucial moment. Heartbroken, he goes off to fight World War II, and she becomes affianced to a more suitably rich catch. But when Allie gets wind that Noah’s come home, she seeks him out to tie up a few loose ends. She discovers that summer love may not be as ephemeral as advertised.
Gosling found some of the truth he was looking for while developing Noah, a process that involved apprenticing with a Carolina woodworker – his favorite part of the job, Gosling says – and studying the man’s demeanor while also learning how to build tables.
“I could respect the character; he felt like a man to me,” Gosling explains. “He maintained a sense of integrity, never gave that up. That’s different from other romantic films I’ve seen. They have lots of boy-men, a lot of overly sensitive types. There was something about a guy who was a real guy and wasn’t afraid to be a man.”
To tell the truth, though, another plus was that Gosling had had his share of male co-stars.”
“I really feel very fortunate to have done the kind of movies I’ve been working in,” he says. “But one thing: I’m always in scenes with guys, and it gets old. It’s a guy energy that I understand, and even if the other actor is really good, you kind of know what’s going to happen in the scene. So it was important for me to work with actresses; you get something out of that and you learn something. Look, this movie is sentimental, and some people like that and some people won’t. But whether you like the genre or not, this is a movie where three actresses (including Joan Allen, who plays Allie’s mom) really get to go off.”
Indeed. Noah and Allie’s relationship is so volatile that a tight romantic clutch can give way to angry punching (her on him only, of course) on a moment’s notice.
Gosling got quite a lesson in working with women, all right.
“Poor Ryan,” McAdams says of one particularly knockabout scene. “He had to go do press at Sundance the next day. We were, like, icing his face! He told me to hit him, though. I said, ‘Don’t worry – I will.’ ”
Gosling also made the film’s other physical encounters – which strive to be as hot as possible while staying this side of the PG- 13 rating – as comfortable as he could.
“There was a lot of respect involved,” McAdams reports. “Ryan, he’s a gentleman. Once you get beyond the clothes and the elbows and all that stuff, it’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. And that period sense of men being gentlemen, that was actually there.”
“I think that we went a lot further than what’s actually in the film,” Gosling says of the love scenes. “Even though it’s kind of embarrassing, to be honest with you, to have a movie coming out where I’m getting my groove on, I’m naked and kissing and making out and all that stuff, at the same time it was important that that scene – when they finally get to it after five years – has to be true. So we really shot that. It’s my understanding that a lot of it has been cut out for rating purposes, but my hope is that it’s still relatively passionate.”
Not your typical hunk
To most women’s certain astonishment, Gosling doesn’t consider himself much of a sex symbol. Neither did “The Notebook’s” director, Nick Cassavetes. But that’s why he wanted Gosling.
“I didn’t want an actor who I had seen fall in love with 80 other people, and then this is the one true love,” Cassavetes says. “So I saw a film called ‘The Believer,’ and it floored me. And I don’t cast people for type; obviously, Ryan Gosling, from his body of work, wouldn’t have been considered The Type. But he was a smoking actor. So when I met him, we talked about love and we seemed to have a certain commonality. I thought he was phenomenal.”
As he tells it, Gosling’s whole career grew out of stumbling into something he wasn’t right for. Raised in the small Ontario town of Cornwall and, later, the Toronto suburbs, Ryan was just emulating his show-biz- struck older sister, Mandi, when he went to an “MMC” audition in the mid-1990s.
“I can’t sing or dance, but somehow I got on the show,” he shrugs. “I was kind of around but I never really did anything. I spent most of my time riding the rides at Disney World. I would come in at the beginning and the end, but that was great for me because I couldn’t really do all of that stuff in between.”
His now-famous co-stars sure could, though. Although he hasn’t kept in touch with them, Gosling has only positive memories of the superstars he knew back when.
“Britney was lovely, very shy,” he says. “All of them were very focused; it was pretty obvious that they were all going to be doing that for a living. Christina was like a little prodigy; she was like 11 or something, about 4 feet tall and this incredible voice. And Justin could do it all like he does now. He was somebody who you could tell always wanted what he’s doing now.”
Gosling does what he wants in a rather different way. He still considers acting something of a sideline; his main interests in life, he says, are guitar playing and boxing.
But he sure knows how he wants to do his job. Gosling’s next film, “Stay,” about a therapist’s efforts to prevent a patient’s suicide, co-stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and was directed by “Monster’s Ball’s” Marc Forster. If that sounds more like the searing psychodrama we associate with Gosling, it should.
“Personally, I gravitate toward people who are passionate,” he says. “I don’t really feel halfway about anything; I either love it or hate it, pretty much. I don’t just like a restaurant; it’s either the greatest restaurant ever or I want to burn it down. So I’m attracted to characters who are like that. And I also feel that I don’t feel appropriately all the time, and the independent movie world tries to explore how people feel differently.”
Even if “The Notebook” brings him more mainstream recognition, Gosling remains wary of the Hollywood system.
“Unfortunately, the more money you have invested in a film, the more money you have to get back,” he reckons. “I think that you have to sacrifice a lot of choices in order to make it appeal to a big market. That doesn’t interest me very much, or serve me at all creatively. If there were a big movie project that gave me the opportunity to be specific about my choices, I would do it.
“I don’t think it serves me to discriminate against genre or budget or anything,” Gosling understands. “As long as I’m gonna be an actor, I might as well just play characters, and I go wherever the characters are.’
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