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.
Slate: What was your brain space like after shooting that?
Gosling: I didn't really know what to do next. It was so immersive that it kind of became my life and we had to acclimate, resurface, and this came along. And it was just what the doctor ordered.
Slate: Blue Valentine was almost entirely improvisational.Was there any improv in Crazy, Stupid, Love, or was it all scripted?
Gosling: There was a lot of improv in this. A lot of it was scripted, too, but the directors would ask us. For example, in the scene where Emma comes over to my character's house and we do the whole Dirty Dancing move, you know, we have a whole night together where we bond, without bonding physically. That was mostly improvised.
Slate: Another new film you are in, Drive, was such a huge hit at Cannes. From everything I've read, it sounds like you had a deep connection with director Nicolas Winding Refn. Is a collaborative environment important for you when you're choosing your projects?
Gosling: For me it's important. I need to know, why does this filmmaker want to make this film? But for instance, with Nicolas, I thought he'd be the right director at first. But we had this awful first date where we had nothing to say, and we didn't really look at one another, and it was one of those terrible experiences, so I kind of got the check early and he told me he needed a ride home. I was stuck giving him a ride out to Santa Monica. So I drove him out there and he didn't talk, so I turned on the radio, and REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore" came on, and he started crying and singing this song at the top of his lungs. And he said: "This is the movie. It's about a guy who drives around listening to pop music." And that's secretly what I had been feeling, so he voiced it and knew that it was right. But I never would have made that film if REO Speedwagon hadn't come on the radio.
Slate: Do you know why he started crying? I don't know if anyone has had that reaction to an REO Speedwagon song before.
Gosling: You show me someone who hasn't cried to that song, and I'll show you a liar.
Slate: I watched this interview where you were talking about Drive, and you said that 16 Candles was the perfect film, but the only thing missing was a head smash, which was included in Drive. Could you elaborate on that?
Gosling: I just sort of feel like John Hughes movies are perfect, but they're missing violence. If they just had some violence, they'd be perfect.
Slate: What violence would you have had included in 16 Candles? Would you have Molly Ringwald's character punch her sister in the face?
Gosling: I don't know specifically what scenes I'd like to see violence in—I crave violence when I'm watching a John Hughes movie. So we tried to create that in this film.
Slate: I can't wait to see that.
Gosling: It's like blood and cotton candy.
Gosling: At last.
This interview has been condensed and edited.