Ryan Gosling has made his mark as an actor who digs down into characters that are dark and often deeply scarred. Among them: a crack-addicted inner-city teacher in Half Nelson (for which he earned an Oscar nomination); a bewildered husband in a doomed marriage in last year's Blue Valentine; a getaway driver with a contract on his head in Drive, which premiered at Cannes in May; and a press secretary enmeshed in political scandal in the George Clooney-directed The Ides of March, which screens at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
But with the Crazy, Stupid, Love, which opened Friday, the London, Ont.-born Gosling tries his hand at something way more light. His playboy Jacob is a smooth-talking, borderline unctuous dude who takes a newly single Steve Carell under his wing, teaching his unsmooth protégé the rules of modern dating with something approaching farcical savoir-faire. Gosling sat down with Robin Lynch to talk about channelling Bugs Bunny, bedding Emma Stone and the downside of big abs.
Here comes Ryan Gosling, the funniest man in show business.
I think you're thinking of Ryan Reynolds. I've never been funny.
[In Crazy, Stupid, Love]you sing, you bartend, you do comedy, you do improv, you dirty dance.
It's all going to be downhill after that.
People are saying, "I never expected Ryan Gosling to be able to do that stuff."
It's just because I was so boring before. Here's the thing. I wanted to work with Steve Carell. When I was a kid, I moved to Los Angeles and I got a small part in a pilot that Steve was in. One time, he was so funny that the boom guy just threw down his boom and had a laughing fit in the corner. It was the first time I had ever worked with somebody that was so good that it was a problem. He had to tone down the funny. I would have done anything with him. Also, I finished Blue Valentine. I had to go to the doctor for a physical. And when I left he gave me a prescription and he wrote, "Do a comedy."
On the prescription, yeah.
You have to ask him. Although I don't know if he was a real doctor. He looked a lot like Steve Carell in a lab coat.
You just had a great Cannes with Drive [playing]some cool action guy?
It's kind of like a violent John Hughes movie. Like Pretty in Pink with head smashing. You know you've always wanted to see that.
Are you the Molly Ringwald character then?
Sure. I'd be honoured.
What's your take on your character in Crazy, Stupid, Love - like how he approaches women? How did you approach him?
I think he's like Bugs Bunny. Every time I make a movie, I try and think about what level - Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck - is the character. And in this, it was in its purest form. Jacob as Bugs and Cal (Carell) as Daffy. And then they switch roles sort of halfway through.
As a point of comparison, your Blue Valentine character was a Daffy?
He was, like, 80 per cent Daffy and 20 per cent Bugs.
And what about Drive?
Bugs meets Yosemite Sam ... a little Tasmanian Devil.
What was it like working with Emma Stone?
My character has to give it all up for her. So that has to make sense. And you show me someone that wouldn't give it all up for Emma Stone and I'll show you a liar.
Was the trickiest part that whole scene with her where you're initially just trying to bang her, to use the term she uses?
Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Was that an issue for you, to make that believable?
Well, it was until I met Emma.
And I understand it was your idea to do the Dirty Dancing stuff?
Whenever I have a few too many drinks and I go dancing with my friends, we always end up trying to do that.
Sounds like tequila to me.
No comment. The Dirty Dancing thing was funny because Emma wanted to do it, and then she had no faith in me and was sure I was going to drop her. As soon as I got her off the ground, her whole body turned into a bag of rats. It was just trying to wrangle this bag of rats. And then she said, "Well, show me that you can do it with a stunt person." So this stuntwoman came in and I did it 10 times in a row. Never dropped her. And then when it was over, Emma looked at me and said, "Well, after 10 times you've got to be tired. I'm definitely not getting up there now."
Have you paid attention to real-life Jacobs in action?
When I first got the part, I really wanted to play The Situation from Jersey Shore. And then I showed up to the set with that idea and the director said, "This isn't that kind of movie."
Had you been working out for another movie and came in with those abs?
No. James Cameron invented this program called Abatar. You just put on this motion-capture suit, you do the scene, and you instantly have muscles.… I like to exercise. I don't like to go to the gym. I like to do ballet. And I do gymnastics. Making muscles is boring. And they don't do anything. They're just like pets eventually. You have to feed them and take care of them.
Well, they're not completely useless.
Gym muscles are useless. And they look stupid, because you can't do anything with them. They have no practical use.
Okay, but did I read that you're involved in some Thai kickboxing movie?
Yeah. We shoot at the beginning of next year.
Who's the director on that?
Nicolas Winding Refn.
… Who just did Drive with you?
He won best director at Cannes?
Yeah. And it's also been fun, the press part, because when I come to a roundtable, I'll leave and they'll say, "Oh, so Nicolas said that you both made a movie baby in the back of your car." Or like, "He penetrated you creatively. He impregnated you with a movie baby."
We don't do that at this table.
Do you feel like you're in competition with Justin Timberlake, since you started out at the same time?
Who's that? Is he cute? Yeah, he's cute. He looks sharp, too, by the way. No, I don't feel that way.
Do you ever see each other?
All those Mickey Mouse Club kids, people want to know if we hang out. There's no reason why we … I think I'm in my Daffy Duck stage.
When did you develop this philosophy of Bugs vs. Daffy?
I didn't develop it. That philosophy exists in the world.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Special to The Globe and Mail