Ryan Gosling seems to have a perfect love triangle going on. With Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine), he couldn’t ask for better collaborators. Refn and Gosling made The Driver an instant icon of a character while Cianfrance and Gosling delivered on one of the most critically acclaimed films in the past few years with Blue Valentine. Obviously those filmmakers are people one would to surrounded themselves with after such positive experiences, which is exactly what Gosling has done.
With Derek Cianfrance’s followup to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, Gosling continues to work in an environment that allows for big gambles. Those gambles include ridiculous facial tattoos and other foolish decisions that Cianfrance made Gosling live with.
Here’s what the actor had to say about his directorial partnerships, being open to mistakes, and his upcoming directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster.
I know Cianfrance had the idea for Beyond the Pines a few years ago, and you agreed to do it quickly. Can you talk about having that long to flesh out a character?
The initial conversation happened when we were doing Blue Valentine, but we really got caught in the vortex of Blue Valentine, and didn’t really speak of it again for a long time until, suddenly, it was going. So we didn’t really have that much time to develop the character — well, not certainly in comparison to Blue Valentine where Derek had twelve years and I had four.
But time was an essential element in that movie. Time was the star, so this is different. Even though this takes place over a long period of time, it’s more about consequences and the repercussions of your actions. So, in a way, we had to make quick decisions and then live with the consequences of those.
I heard you say that about the knife tattoo on your face. That’s a bold choice.
You know, the character was an amalgamation of masculine cliches. There’s tattoos, motorcycles, muscles and guns. He’s in some kind of motorcycle boy band in the early 90s, traveling around in some low-rent carnival circuit. It doesn’t get much worse than that. We thought it would be good to show someone who had lived a life of making poor decisions, so we went on a quest to assemble the worst tattoos, and I went overboard with the face.
When I went to Derek, I said, “Obviously I can’t keep this. This is ridiculous,” and he said, “That’s how people with face tattoos probably feel.”
He said, “You made that choice, and now you have to suffer the consequences.” So for the movie I had this sense of shame that I had overdone it. That I had been careless and not taken it seriously, and I feel like it gave me this sense of shame in the film that I’m not sure I could have acted. It ended up being a kind of inherent quality to the character, so I was grateful that Derek held my feet to the fire.
Although, it’s embarrassing still. [Laughs]
You’ve found a great relationship with both Nicholas Winding Refn and Derek Cianfrance. What makes those collaborations work?
Well at this point I guess we have history. That’s something that’s important to me. I’ve had the same agent since I was 16, the same manager since I was 14. I yearn for that, but you have to put the time in to get it, and I feel that I’m finally getting to that place with Derek where we’ve made two films together, and I’ve known him for what feels like a long time.
There’s a shorthand that you just can’t have with a filmmaker you’ve never worked with before. There’s also a feeling, when you don’t know a director, when you’re just starting out — you spend a lot of time throwing everything and the kitchen sink into your performance because you never know what’s going to make the edit. They always end up feeling over-saturated.
I’m excited about the idea of working with the same filmmakers because now that we have a history, you can relax more as an actor and feel like you can be a part of a scene instead of the focus of it. You can feel like the director is going to tell the story, and you don’t have to.
Since editing is where performances are shaped, do you still have that fear about how the performance will be handled or do you have to let it go?
It’s hard to let go which is why you want to work with people you know and trust.
It seems like you respond to Derek’s spontanaeity. I’m thinking about the scene in Blue Valentine with you and the ukelele. On a film like this, is there still room for experimentation?
Yeah, sure. He just gets bored easy. He’s the first one to come up to you and say, “I’m bored. Do something else.” [Laughs] “Stop saying the lines. That’s boring. I know the lines. I wrote them.”
How often does that happen?
Every day. He usually likes to try it a few times with the lines, but he gets bored pretty easy, and then he just wants to be surprised. He wants to be surprised, and he wants you to fail. He wants to catch those crashes, but he doesn’t exploit them. He knows how to weave them into the narrative of the film and the character’s arc.
And there’s a sense of safety there for you.
Well, like in the case of the face tattoo, it was a mistake, but he understood that that was inherent to the character, and so he embraced that mistake and wove it into the fabric of the person. So, it didn’t feel like exploiting an accident.
Were there any other accidents or choices you made you had to stick with?
It’s most evident in the story of the film which is that — having been someone who’s been a part of films where millions of bullets are flying around and no one gets hurt and nothing ever happens and there’s no repercussions for that — in this film, there are two shots fired, and they echo through the entire movie.
Everyone in this film is forced to suffer the consequences of their decisions.
I know I have to let you go, but I’m also interested in How to Catch a Monster. What can you tell us about it?
My hope is that you’ll wanna talk to me when it’s over. [Laughs] But it’s probably best that we talk when it’s finished, because you never really stop making the film, and it changes so much over the course of it, and I’m sure it’ll be very different when it’s over than whatever I would say right now.
But I’m really looking forward to it. I’m so excited about the cast [Saoirse Ronan, Christina Hendricks, Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Ben Mendelsohn]. I was nervous before they came onboard, and now I just feel excited to see them all in the same film. I’ve been on the other side of a scene with most of them, and I’m a huge fan of all of them. I just think they’ll be incredible together.
The Place Beyond the Pines is in limited theaters March 29th.