I got 10 minutes to talk to Ryan Gosling in a hotel suite as part of his weeklong New York City charm offensive to promote the ensemble romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. My time was part of a junket at a swank hotel, and the very accommodating publicist who led me into Gosling's room told me, "Just don't ask him if he's ever done anything crazy or stupid for love and you'll be fine."
Wearing a black T-shirt and jeans with just a hint of tattoo revealed on his left bicep, the impossibly fit Gosling—there are two whole scenes in Crazy, Stupid, Love that revolve around his abdominal muscles—managed to be highly engaging and mostly evasive at the same time. His character, Jacob Palmer, begins the movie as a suave lothario who takes Steve Carell's newly separated Cal and tries to help him recapture his manliness (by ditching the New Balance sneakers and bedding a lot of women). Spoiler alert: Palmer eventually discovers that sex with lots of strangers is less satisfying than the love of one good woman, played by the delightful Emma Stone.
Slatespoke to Gosling about his definition of manhood, why John Hughes movies make him crave violence, and why his doctor told him to make a comedy after filming Blue Valentine.
Slate: One of the Crazy, Stupid, Love co-directors told Film Comment: "Ryan had a problem being super smooth and saying just the right thing and being like this assassin. So he changed the character and invented this whole psychological backstory." What was the character originally like and why did you want to change it?
Ryan Gosling: Well, I don't remember it that way. I wanted to play The Situation from Jersey Shore, and they said, "This isn't that kind of movie." So they made me go back to the drawing table and figure out who this character was.
Slate: What drove you in the direction the character ended up taking?
Gosling: I started reading all these men's magazines, trying to follow all the tips: what you're supposed to wear, what you're supposed to have, things you're supposed to say, and all the exercises you're supposed to do. I thought this character is someone who follows all these tips to the letter of the law, and yet he wasn't happy. So to me he's kind of a loser and in a lonely place, and then he meets Cal, who's in a similar place. So he takes him on as a project, but really he identifies with him and needs a friend.
Slate: How do you think those magazines define manliness? Is it all about the superficial, or is there anything to glean from them that is worthwhile?
Gosling: Well, I wouldn't know, I guess, how to answer that, because I don't want to generalize them in that way. I feel like there are a lot of good articles and good stories, as well as trying to sell a dream.
Slate: How would you define manliness? I know your character, Jacob, tells Cal, "I'm going to help you rediscover your manhood."
Gosling: I don't know enough about manliness to define it. I'm not an authority on it. My character seems to think that he is, so he would define it. I don't know what I'm talking about.
Slate: You don't have a definition for yourself?
Gosling: No. Can you help me?
Slate: I don't know, I think the movie says it's about being there for your family, and there for your children.
Gosling: Well that's nice. I like that. I feel like at the end of the day my character learns more from Steve's character, and Cal is the bigger man because he's devoting his life to these people that he loves, and putting himself in the service of them.
Slate: Did you film this right after Blue Valentine? How was it to go from something that was so intimate to something that was more of a commercial movie shoot?
Gosling: I had to go get a physical after I did Blue Valentine. For no particular reason, just that I needed a checkup. My doctor wrote me a prescription, and on it, it said, "Do a comedy." So I took his advice and I feel better.