Sundance Vet Gosling Does Savage, Sweet

October 10, 2007 at 5:58 pm Leave a comment

 Ryan Gosling could be the Sundance Kid, emerging out of that indie film festival with such gritty dramas as “The Believer” “The United States of Leland” and “Half Nelson,” which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

In those films, he played a Jewish teen posing as an anti-Semitic skinhead, a youth who slays an autistic boy and an inner-city teacher with a drug problem.

So Gosling’s one of those brooding actors drawn to dusky roles, like Sean Penn.

But wait. Gosling also took the heartthrob route, playing a resolute lover in the romantic drama “The Notebook” and again shows a tender side with “Lars and the Real Girl,” an oddball romance that opens Friday.

So Gosling’s one of those moon-eyed guys aching to play sweetheart roles.

Wait again. In the new movie, Gosling’s Lars starts out as a slightly creepy misfit whose new girlfriend is an inanimate, life-size doll.

Just what drives Gosling, who has ranged from early TV work on the new “Mickey Mouse Club” and the lead in “Young Hercules” to big films such as “Remember the Titans” and this year’s “Fracture”?

“I feel I’m in competition with myself. I want to know what I’m capable of, more than anything else,” Gosling, 26, said in an interview at September’s Toronto International Film Festival, where “Lars and the Real Girl” played. “It’s all a result of the fact that I just keep getting more and more opportunities, and I’m interested in those opportunities.

“The fact that somebody would let me do a love story I didn’t know if I was ever going to get that chance. I knew I would learn a lot from doing it. The same as `Lars.’ This was a huge challenge. This is the kind of role that teaches you, shows you what you’re made of. That’s kind of it. It’s that simple.”

In “Lars and the Real Girl,” Gosling plays an extreme introvert who prefers to stay alone in his garage apartment than dine with his brother and sister-in-law next door or go out with a cute co-worker who has a huge crush on him.

One day, Lars orders a lifelike, anatomically correct doll on the Internet, and abruptly starts turning up in public with her, introducing her as his girlfriend, Bianca.

Realizing Lars has serious issues, family and friends humor his delusion. Gradually, Bianca emerges as a healing figure that makes Lars and his acquaintances view one another in a fresh light.

Gosling has many scenes alone with the doll, where he felt he was acting both parts, Lars and Bianca.

“I’m worried to say this because it makes me sound crazy, but she did have a real presence. I really felt some kind of connection to her and a camaraderie. This whole movie rested on our relationship together,” Gosling said, adding with a laugh: “She had a very supportive energy.”

Gosling found similar support for another difficult role, the hate-mongering skinhead of “The Believer,” which won the top prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival.

Writer-director Henry Bean coaxed a career-making performance out of Gosling, who went into the film uncertain how he would be able to spew the character’s racist rants.

“Henry thought they were funny. He goes, `The things he’s staying are so stupid.’ He took away my fears about saying them,” Gosling said. “I just sort of relaxed into the idea that they were ridiculous.”

Moving from “Mickey Mouse Club” to bigot to seeming crackpot dating a doll isn’t an obvious progression, yet it’s a career path that fits Gosling, whom co-star Emily Mortimer describes as a bit of a chameleon and sphinx.

“He’s not one thing. There are some people you meet that if you know what they think about one thing, you know what they think about everything,” said Mortimer, who plays Gosling’s sister-in-law in “Lars and the Real Girl.” “Ryan’s not like that. He’s his own person, and he’s got this very intense, magical side to him, and he’s also cheeky as all hell, irreverent and funny.”

Born in London, Ontario, Gosling wanted to be a dancer as a child, which led to his audition for “Mickey Mouse Club,” where he was a regular in the mid-1990s.

Along with dancing, the show required a bit of acting, which got Gosling thinking that might be the life for him.

“It seemed like a great job that took you all over the world and you got to meet all kinds of people,” Gosling said.

“My father was always kind of a slave to his jobs, and my uncles worked at paper mills. My uncle Bill went into a paper mill at 19 and he came out at 50, and he only ever missed three days. And as much as I admire him, he’s my hero, he did that for his family, and his family has a great life because of him. But it made me think, I wonder if there’s anything out there that allows me a little more freedom than that?”

Next up for Gosling is “The Lovely Bones,” “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson’s return to character-driven drama such as his darkly magical “Heavenly Creatures.”

Adapted from Alice Sebold’s novel, “The Lovely Bones” is the story of a slain girl looking down from heaven on loved ones left behind, including a father desperately trying to retain a connection to his daughter.

“He’s not aware of the film that he’s in or the story that he’s in or that his daughter’s in heaven, watching him. But it’s his idea, and he chooses to believe it, and therefore, it’s true,” Gosling said. “It’s a great film for anybody that’s experienced loss, because that’s all you can do in life is believe in something you need to believe in.”

Gosling was an unbeliever earlier this year, naysaying friends’ assurances that he would earn an Oscar nomination for his role as an inspiring but drug-addicted teacher in “Half Nelson.”

The film earned raves at Sundance, but such tough independent dramas rarely find mainstream acceptance. On nominations morning, though, Gosling wound up among the best-actor contenders.

“I started taking bets against it, because I was sure it wasn’t going to happen, but everyone was so sure. It was so annoying,” Gosling said. “I was like, `OK, put your money where your mouth is.’

“I actually lost a lot of money, but it’s OK. It balanced out. I lost some money but went through a hell of an experience.”



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