No actor is having a year quite like Ryan Gosling. While he first got people to start paying attention to him when he was Oscar nominated for his role in Half Nelson, the past year has seen him absolutely blow up. This summer he earned praise when he co-starred alongside Steve Carell in the rom-com-dram Crazy Stupid Love, earned raves as the lead in Nicolas Winding Refn’s phenomenal Drive and this week he’s working with George Clooney starring in The Ides of March.
The weekend before last I was invited to participate in a roundtable interview with Gosling as he discussed the new political thriller, which hits theaters tomorrow. Check out the interview below in which he compares his work in the film to doing a monster movie, his preparation for the role, and what it was like working with the intimidating Philip Seymour Hoffman.
You recently described your character in Drive as a guy who'd watched one too many action movies. What do you think your character in this film has watched too much of?
Monster movies. This is kind of like, I thought, a monster movie set in the political world about the Two-Faced Man.
Would you be Mothra then?
No. The Two-Faced Man. I feel like I'm always trying to make a movie about the Two Faced Man in some way. Then when I saw this poster I thought that I'd finally done it.
It's hard to define this character because you never know which way he's going to go. How was that for you as an actor, to have a character like that and have to make choices to make him real?
I thought that his dilemma was a very strong one to play because I think he's someone who wants to be effective and make change and change people's lives, had good intentions. But he can only be effective if he gets into the Whitehouse and if his candidate is going to lose then he's not going to be able to make change. So, he's faced with this moral dilemma of whether he should jump ship or dance with the one that brought him.
I saw this character with the storyline losing his innocence, his virginity, if you will –
All right, interesting.
But there are others that argue that these might have been his true colors the whole time. Do you think it was one way or the other way?
I think you can take whatever you want from it, one way or the other. I have my feelings, but that doesn't make it true. I think that he severed his mind from his heart and made a decision to sever his mind from his heart. I don't know if that's something that you can ever reconnect, and whether it was already severed or not, I guess that's up to the audience.
START OF SPOILERSThe last frame sort of implies that he's lost his innocence, but he's the one that's promoting the secretary of state that's ultimately going to be really dangerous. Is it that he'd slept with this girl and that's what breaks him, or what is it that's the most disappointing about the experience of the campaign?
I feel like you know more about this movie than I do. I just got scared.
Well, I think it's that he has a crush on her. So, it's personal and not necessarily political. I mean, I think it's both, but I do think that you can't eliminate the personal reaction to that.
It's like finding out your dad slept with your girlfriend –
Ouch. Why even say that? It just makes me mad thinking about that. This is an interesting room.
END OF SPOILERSHow political are you or were you before you did this film? George Clooney is obviously a very politically minded person. Did he influence you in that respect at all?
Well, I was not as informed as I would have liked to have been and part of the reason for doing the film is that it would force me to do the research and become informed. I'm Canadian and so American politics aren't really in my wheelhouse. It was just an opportunity for me to become more informed, but at the end of the day it's not really a political film and it doesn't have any kind of message. It's just meant to be a good time at the movies. It happens to be set in a political forum, but I guess it could be set on Wall Street or in Hollywood.
How similar are the worlds of show business and politics, from your perspective and experience?
I don't know enough about either one probably to comment, but I do think that there's a similarity in at least my character's job and my own in that it's very difficult to be honest. You'd like to be, but it's very hard to tell the truth because everything you say gets taken out of context and chopped up for news in parts. So, you have to be very careful.
During your research what took you by surprise?
Well, there's so much that I don't know. I feel like one of the things that I watched that I felt was really helpful, in some way, but more than anything is worth mentioning was this film Boogie Man. It's a documentary about Lee Atwater. Have you seen that? I recommend it.
Did you also watch The War Room?
There's not really anyone like George, and so he is in some ways he seems like America's dream for president, in some way. A dreamboat president. I thought that it was very courageous of him to take that role because he's shattering that dream and kind of shattering people's ideas of him. So, I thought that was a pretty interesting choice for him to take considering that he's so involved in the political world. People often confuse you for your characters and so there could've been some risk involved there, but he took it.
We get to see your six pack in Drive.
Oh, my God. I'm blushing.
How hard is it to keep in shape?
Muscles. We're talking about muscles? They're like pets, basically and they're not worth it. They're just not worth it. You have to feed them all the time and take care of them and if you don't they just go away. They run away. So, I think that…I don't know how to answer the question.
Evan Rachel Wood told us earlier that Clooney sprayed your crotch with water. Was there anything else that he did to you on set?
Well, he doesn't want me to tell them. He said, 'Could you cut it out with telling my practical jokes,' because he thinks that people are going to be looking for them now and he won't be able to use them and they're his favorites. It's like what they are specifically, like the water in the crotch. Now people are going to be watching for water in the crotch so he can't do it.
Why would you help him after being his victim…
You said it. Not me.
He's too dreamy?
There's that. That does make it hard.
First of all, they're two of my heroes. So, it was terrifying, just on a base level it was terrifying. They have very different styles. I wouldn't want to comment on them because I don't want to cheapen it with my opinion of it. Suffice it to say that they're just incredible to watch and I learned a lot from working with them.
Is it the theory that if you run against someone faster than you then you run faster, working with those guys?
I don't know about that, but I know that, like for instance, watching Phil work was something that I needed to see. I feel like I didn't realize that I was getting as lazy as I was getting until I watched Phil work because he puts it all on the line every single take. There's not a take that he lets slide. I needed to see that.
Is your own perceived laziness then a part of having made several movies and having stardom invading on all the prep that you might've done as a hungrier actor?
Well, like, a lot of people say something about, like, Phil, that he's good in everything, in every movie. That no matter what the movie is like he's always good. But I don't think that people realize how much an actor has to fight in order to create enough space for themselves in order to do that kind of work. That can be perceived as difficult, but it's the reason why they're able to be so effective every time, because they know the conditions that they need to work in order to be at their best. So, I think as an actor there's a struggle between how much…you heard things about Val Kilmer, for instance, who's like one of the best actors around, but then I heard that he was difficult. Now, as I work more I realize that difficult is just a word that people with money give you, a label that they give you to tell other people with money that you won't just do what you're told.
START OF SPOILERSThe film ends in an interesting way, making you wonder what Morris would be like in office. From your point of view what do you think that relationship would be like given the dynamics and what's transpired up to that point?
That's a good question. I don't know.
I'm not informed enough to really comment on the political world, really. I get nervous to talk about it because, like, if it was just a conversation that we were having I would talk with you about it, but since it's not it's just like too important of a subject for me to start trying to create sound bites about it. So, I'd just like to stay off of that, if that's okay.
END OF SPOILERSDuring the Drive press you talked about working on all these films as if it's going through film school for you. Would you consider working on this film as a master class in acting?
Sure. I haven't ever taken a master's class in anything. So, I don't know what they're like.
It's just that you're working next to Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti, some of the greats –
Yeah, absolutely, but I don't want to disparage, like, working with Albert Brooks or Ron Perlman, Carrey Mulligan. They're equally as good. I'm just lucky in general lately in my career to be working with all of my heroes.
What did you take from working with Clooney and how he dealt with being in front of and behind the camera and how he directs himself?
I don't know. I mean, he's a mystery to me. He's so busy all the time. He's doing so much that it's hard to understand how he's doing it, but he's doing it pretty effortlessly. He's directing, producing, writing, starring in. He's got the satellites of Darfur project. He's got all these practical jokes. I don't know how he does it. I have no idea.
Did he inspire you to generate your own projects either as a writer or producer?
Yeah, that's something that I've been wanting to do for a while, and part of the reason that I wanted to work with him was just to see exactly how that works up close.
He's very hands on. I mean, this was something that I just kind of allowed myself to be directed in because he knew this movie like it was a song in his head that he was trying to explain to you. This whole world is in his wheelhouse and I just really followed his lead.
Did he lay out the beats beforehand or did he talk to you before each scene on the day you shot them?
In some way the relationship between an actor and a director is kind of personal. I wouldn't want to get too much into exactly how it worked because that's private. But he's very specific.
Your character's age isn't revealed in the film, but is around thirty –
A gym question is coming, isn't it? So, how at thirty does he keep his abs? That's what I want to be asked. Call it The Abs of March.
But the character is so confident. You're around the same age as this character. Are you a confident person? Are there similarities between you and this character?
I try and project confidence, but I feel like just like everyone else does probably. Maybe that's why in the film I can project it, but it's not necessarily real, the character, maybe.
Out of all the great actors in this film, which one made you the most nervous to work with?
Have you met Phil Hoffman?