Ryan Gosling has had one of the most interesting trajectories of any young Hollywood actor. Described by many as the epicenter for the cultural shift on the modern man, Gosling has somehow managed to turn his heartthrob status into a subtle punching bag for his fringe roles.
While his dreamy looks in The Notebook might have earned him cultural relevance, it’s his roles that are in complete opposition of that which truly stand out.
It’s those roles that see the 32-year-old completely unrecognizable both physically and emotionally. Every performance seems effortlessly on Gosling’s part, like drug-addicted teacher Dan Dunne in Half Nelson, or a beaten down, fatigued, ruined man in a loveless marriage in Blue Valentine.
Both films acted as a huge shift for what people expected of Gosling, and now six years after Half Nelson, we expect the unexpected from a man who has changed the definition of what a leading man is supposed to personify.
Although his roles are varied, there has been a through line over the years to the choices he makes. It’s apparent that Gosling wants to get under the viewer’s skin. It makes sense that his latest film Only God Forgives, would reunite him with director Nicolas Winding Refn who gave the actor permission to do just that in an off-the-cuff way with 2011’s Drive.
For Only God Forgives Gosling gives mostly a silent performance. In spite of that, Gosling is mesmerizing once again as he plays with his own dichotomy. For some of the film, all of Gosling’s glitz is there, his face is lit just right albeit in shades of neon, and he wears a suit extremely well, but the other half sees the actor’s face nearly disfigured. It’s hard to disengage from the unsettling character Julian.
In Only God Forgives Gosling plays a fugitive who runs a boxing club in Bangkok in order to front a very lucrative drug business. At the other side of a twisted mother and son relationship is Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is the head of a criminal organization. Upon her arrival to Bangkok she orders Julian to kill the man who murdered his brother, who just so happens to be her favorite son for various disturbing reasons. Karaoke sessions, brothels, and bloodied gore, Gosling’s performance in Only God Forgives is just another pleasant surprise in his bag of tricks.
The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz participated in a press conference for Only God Forgives where the actor spoke about his heartthrob status, memes, and his new role in Nicolas Winding Refn’s controversial film. Warning: spoilers are ahead!
THE INQUISITR: You stepped into the film at the last minute and replaced Luke Evans, and basically saved the movie. Did you have input into the character?
RYAN GOSLING: It is a lot stepping into the film. There’s a lot of input from everybody involved, and Nicolas [Winding Refn] is very interested in what everybody thinks. I was happy to go and get the chance to do this. I had a really good experience on Drive. After Drive I had a lot of different opportunities to do different things, a lot of big films, and instead Nicolas was opting to go to Thailand and make this film that was going to be very challenging financially for a lot of reasons and it was something sure to divide people.
THE INQUISITR: This film gets a reaction out of people. They either love it or they hate it.
RYAN GOSLING: I think the film is kind of a drug, you’ll have a good trip eventually.
THE INQUISITR: Since you’ve done Drive and you’ve played a similar character who’s quiet, and mysterious, was it easier to craft this character since you’ve worked with Nicolas before?
GOSLING: Yeah. We had a running history, so it takes a certain amount of trust to go into working this way, because chronologically you’re usually not sure of the film that you’re making, and neither is he. He’s kind of finding it as he goes along, so you just kind of go along for the ride. For this film it was different, although there was a lot of silence. In Drive I’m a driver and in this I’m more of a vehicle for the audience. It’s more of an experience.
THE INQUISITR: Your face really gets beaten to the point where you’re almost unrecognizable. Was that something that excited you about this project?
GOSLNG: That wasn’t a part of the film initially. When you work chronologically, that seemed to be what needed to happen. It was like the process with Nic, you discover it and you’re not sure what you’re going into.
THE INQUISITR: Was it your decision to have Julian act the way he does to his mother once she dies?
GOSLING: Nic said “What do you want to do? When you see your dead mother, do you want to cry? You want to laugh?” I said as a joke, ” I kind of want to cut her open and look at her wound,” and he was like “Okay, we’ll do that.” Then he called the effects guy, and they got a pig’s stomach from the butcher.
THE INQUISITR: Was that because of the incest that happened?
GOSLING: [Gosling makes a faux overwhelmed face.] I can’t speak for what I was thinking then, but it just felt like the right thing to do at the time.
THE INQUISITR: With Nicolas being so collaborative was there anything he turned you down on?
GOSLING: I wanted to have a British accent [LAUGHS]
THE INQUISITR: You’ve done incredibly violent and stylish films where crime and pain aren’t exactly glorified, but they look cool. Do you think there’s room for the “Hey Girl” era of Ryan Gosling, or are you deliberately skewing that?
GOSLING: I thought I had never really made a violent film until I was reminded that I did. I made this movie called Murder By Numbers. It feels like a lot of time has passed but only in the last two years have I been experimenting with these kind of things, and the reaction is strange, and much stranger than anything I’ve ever done before. For instance when we did Drive we were at Cannes and Christina Hendricks gets her head blown off and everybody cheered, and they were so happy about it, and excited, and it was the most bizarre reaction that I could imagine. I feel like I’m learning about it.
THE INQUISITR: Do you ever wonder about alienating viewers or fans?
GOSLING: I think you can’t really think like that because it’s a dangerous road to go down. It’s nice to be around someone whose film becomes their life. It’s an interesting way to work, and it hasn’t been the way I’ve always worked but it’s been a good experience.
THE INQUISITR: So how are we going to keep making memes of you?
GOSLING: You seem to find a way. I’m not worried about that!
THE INQUISITR: With such an intense shoot, I was wondering if you did anything off set in Bangkok?
GOSLING: Yayaying [Rhatha Phongam] took me to karaoke, and I got cooking classes. We did a lot of boxing.
THE INQUISITR: When the film premiered at Cannes there were reports saying that when you were a kid you liked movies so much you used to put them in your pants?
GOSLING: Yeah I just stuck VHS tapes down my belt. You really want to know about this? Okay! When I was 12 I got my hands on Blue Velvet and I had to sneak it by my mom. I had to sneak it in my pants to do it, but it was just the idea that you couldn’t show anyone, that you had to hide it in your pants. It felt good! It made an impression on me.
THE INQUISITR: That’s the new meme.
GOSLING: You may be right. I’m going to stop talking about this.
THE INQUISITR: What’s next for you?
GOSLING: I’m editing a film. I don’t know when that’s going to come out.
ONLY GOD FORGIVES HITS THEATERS FRIDAY, JULY 19.
[Image credit – top image by Niki Cruz / Editing by – Michael House of Four Walls Productions]