Ryan Gosling's finishing out 2011 with starring roles in two major theatrical releases, both of which are earning the 30 year old actor critical acclaim. In October he'll be seen in George Clooney's latest directorial effort, the political drama The Ides of March, but before that hits we'll see Gosling tackling a character unlike any he's played before. In the gritty action thriller Drive, Gosling plays a character known only as 'Driver,' a man of few words who repairs cars and does stunt work for films by day, and by night he's a getaway driver for criminals with enough cash to pay for his services.
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson), Drive finds Gosling handling action scenes as though he was born for the genre. And in LA in support of the FilmDistrict release, Gosling spoke to reporters about why he signed up for his first action film, playing a character with very little dialogue, and working with Winding Refn.
On his interest in the action genre:
Ryan Gosling: "I always wanted to see a violent John Hughes movie. I always thought if Pretty in Pink had head-smashing it would be perfect, so, there’s that. Then on top of that, when I was a little kid, when I first saw First Blood, it put a spell on me and I thought I was Rambo. I even thought my face felt like Sylvester Stallone’s face when I touched it. Then I went to school the next day and put steak knives in my Fisher Price Houdini kit and I took them and I threw them at all the kids at recess. I got suspended - rightfully so, and I’m sorry. I’ve learned my lesson and I never did anything like that again. But my parents said, 'Look, this guy can’t watch movies, or violent movies anyways.' So they put me on a leash and I could only watch Bible movies and National Geographic movies, which are very violent. And black and white comedies, Abbott and Costello movies and all that. So I understand the effect that movies can have on you and the kind of spell they could cast on you."
"When I first read this script, I felt like, 'Well, this is a guy who’s just seen too many movies. He’s going around acting like he’s the hero of his own action movie.' I wanted to explore that idea because I’ve been wanting to play a superhero but all the good ones are taken. I thought, 'Well, I could create my own, potentially.' That’s what we tried to do with Drive: a violent John Hughes movie meets a guy who’s confusing his own life for a movie."
On the art of smashing heads in films:
Ryan Gosling: "Well, when you’re doing it, it’s different because we didn’t have a lot of money on this movie. Irreversible has a head-smashing in it, which is the best head smashing that I’ve ever seen. So we called [director] Gaspar Noe and we asked him, 'First of all, can we do a head-smashing? Second of all, how did you do that?' So he told us how, but we didn’t have the money that they had to do it so we basically made these prosthetic heads to smash that didn’t look anything like the guy and they were squashed like grapes with just one kick. It was almost like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or something; it was cartoonish. So when you’re shooting it, you’re very aware of the falseness of it. So, it’s different. It’s harder to get lost in those kind of things because they’re so technical, but I think that Nicolas did a great job of eliminating all of those elements and making it really visceral and scary, a transformative scene for the character. We also used a werewolf metaphor throughout the movie, that the Driver thought he was a werewolf and had never turned into one but was convinced that he had the potential to. In that scene, the werewolf is unleashed."
On bringing in the idea that his character has seen too many movies:
Ryan Gosling: "That’s not in the book. In the book he loves movies and he’s always quoting movies and he’s a stunt guy so he’s been working on them forever. He’s a big movie buff. He’d like to read scripts as well. He had a writer friend in the book who’d give him scripts to read. No, we were just trying to justify how would somebody go around actually doing this? We thought only someone who saw too many movies would do this. The fact that he was a stunt driver kind of allowed us to explore that, because movies were a part of his life."
On why his character doesn't have a name:
Ryan Gosling: "We also wanted the film to feel like a fairy tale and that Los Angeles is, in a way, fairy tale land, based and built on fantasy. And that the only way this movie was really going to resonate on a deep level for the audience if you weren’t from Los Angeles is if we dug into the mythology of these characters’ story. So we started to treat the Driver as a knight and Irene as a princess locked in the tower. Bernie Rose as an evil wizard and Ron Perlman as the dragon that needs to be slain. Dialogue just wasn’t necessary anymore. If you eliminated the dialogue...people are smart, they can see how someone’s feeling, you don’t need to tell them. We just took away everything that wasn’t necessary and it turned out that there wasn’t a lot that was necessary. Very little had to be said to push the story forward."
On playing a character of very few words:
Ryan Gosling: "I think you can say more that way. Once you put a word to it, it pins it and makes it that. So, for us, we were able to say a lot more by cutting out the dialogue."
On his character's Steve McQueen/Ryan O'Neal vibe:
Ryan Gosling: "We’ve been calling it film neo noir, or film neon noir. But yeah, Steve McQueen, don’t try and be like him. You’ll fail. Ryan O’Neal, he was great in The Driver. He’s a great actor. We love those films, and obviously this movie is heavily inspired by all of those genres. The films that we talked about the most were John Hughes movies and the thing that really influenced the movie the most was the way that we made it and the way that it came about, I had had these feelings that I like driving but I don’t necessarily need to drive fast or do stunts. I don’t like that in movies, necessarily. I just like getting in the car and driving around because I feel like it puts me under some kind of spell. When I get somewhere I don’t remember the drive. I like to listen to music when I’m driving, so I had this feeling like the movie can be about driving, not about stunts and going fast."
"When I met with Nicolas, I don’t know if you know this story - I’m sure you do - but we had a terrible first meeting and it was like a terrible first date. He didn’t talk to me or look at me. He was totally disinterested in being there, or at least it seemed that way to me in retrospect. I had learned that he was high on American cold medication. It was one of those dates where you know you’re not going to get any action so you just say, 'Let’s call it. Get the check.'"
"He needs a ride home now because he doesn’t drive. I’m like, 'How can this guy make a movie about driving if he doesn’t drive?' I have to take him home. We’re in the car and it’s awful. We’re not talking so I turn on the radio and REO Speedwagon comes on, 'I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore,' and suddenly the guy comes to life. He starts crying and singing at the top of his lungs. He says, 'This is it. It’s a movie about a guy that drives around listening to music,' which is how I’d been feeling so I knew that we were on to something."
"What I love about the film is that the movie never would’ve been made if REO Speedwagon hadn’t come on the radio. The movie kept going in that direction in that we would drive around all night, go to the 101 Diner, talk. We’d drive around and listen to music. We’d edit the film. Then we’d go to work in the morning and shoot it. Then when we were done shooting, we’d go back to driving around, listening to music, editing it at night and watching movies. So the experience of making the film... Watching the film is a good representation of what the experience of making it was like."
On the influence of John Hughes' films on Drive:
Ryan Gosling: "This character, if you were going to risk it all for this woman that you’ve held hands with, had to be a hyper-romantic guy who bought into those romantic film fantasies of being a hero and rescuing the damsel in distress. [He] could only feel by listening to pop music. Like, he needed to put on REO Speedwagon if he wanted to cry. John Hughes movies are just champagne and cotton candy. No one did that better than him, but maybe there’s not a lot of contrast in his films or maybe a balance. It’s all that. So we thought if we could throw some blood on that cotton candy…"
On Nicolas Winding Refn's greatest strengths as a director:
Ryan Gosling: "Well, look, ever since Nicolas was a little boy, his mother’s been telling him he’s a genius and everything he did was genius, even when he was watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre while he ate his cereal before he went to elementary school every morning obsessively. She believed that he was a genius, and I think that you get told that enough that eventually it becomes true. I’m not sure that he started out as one but I do believe he’s become one."
"He is just a very unfiltered filmmaker. He just makes what he wants to see. If it’s boring to him, he won’t shoot it. He fetishizes things in a way. He’s married, so he sexualizes things because he maybe can’t be as sexual as he’d want to be. So he talks about filmmaking a lot like having sex. It has to arouse him and it has to be sexually interesting to him, even if it’s a pair of gloves or it’s where your hand is in the frame. It has to literally turn him on, so that’s unique, so his films are unique."
Analyzing his character:
Ryan Gosling: "I think that he’s a psychopath, and he’s delusional and believes that he has this darkness and rage in him that is inevitably going to come out. He’s trying to focus it into something heroic before he becomes a villain."
On the awards buzz building over his performances in Drive and The Ides of March:
Ryan Gosling: "All that stuff, what’s difficult about praise is that when you get into this, most people tell you that it’s not possible or that you can’t do it. Nobody believes in you when you’re starting out, but for a few people. Those people, you learn not to care or listen to what people think because if you did, you would be too afraid to try. So you train yourself and numb yourself to other people’s opinions. Not because you value your own so much and you think they’re better than anyone else, but because if you really listened to other people, you wouldn’t do anything. You’d be too afraid to try it."
"Then, suddenly, people decide that they like what you’re doing and then they want to praise you. Suddenly, you’re supposed to start caring again. But if you do, you’re still taking the same risk. It kind of, in some way if you start caring about what they think, it cheapens the people who did believe in you, your relationship to the people who did believe in you when nobody else did."
On never repeating himself and not being just the good-looking movie star from film to film:
Ryan Gosling: "Well, I’m not that good looking. I’m a pretty weird-looking guy. I know that, but that’s the magic of movies. If you play somebody who’s the romantic lead, it casts that spell and people believe that about you - but it’s not true. Every role I got up until The Notebook was the weirdo freak psychopath nerd outsider character guy. I was playing neo-Nazis and gay football players and doing a bunch of weird kids’ TV."
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Drive hits theaters on September 16, 2011.