Gosling the Great: Whether a psychopath, action hero or action figure, there is no character Ryan Gosling cannot master
Ryan Gosling has generally preferred to keep his cards close to his chest offscreen, in contrast to the thrilling and diverse parade of characters he has portrayed onscreen. From Jewish neo-Nazi in the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning The Believer (2001) and teen psycho-killer in Murder by Numbers (2002) to the romantic lead in The Notebook (2004) and a drug-addicted teacher in Half Nelson (2006), the former child actor showed a mesmerising range at the start of his adult career.
Half Nelson earned him the first of two Academy Award Best Actor nominations; the second came a decade later for the musical La La Land, which landed him a Golden Globe. Nominations for the latter trophy have been plentiful – Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Blue Valentine (2010), The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love (both 2011). Critics and fans alike hail his standout performance as Ken in this year’s Barbie, opposite Margot Robbie, as deserving of the highest acting accolade.
Gosling’s fascination with all things dramatic, action-packed and comedic began early in life. Reared in Cornwall, Ontario, the young Canadian watched Sylvester Stallone’s primal and vicious revenge epic First Blood, the original Rambo movie, on videocassette one evening when he was in the first grade. He put the family’s steak knives in his Fisher-Price magic kit the next day, and armed to the teeth, made his way to school, eager to apply the knowledge he had just acquired.
“I didn’t think it through, you know,” he says, looking back at his foolhardiness. “I just thought, in my mind: This is not right, what is happening, and something has to be done. Thank God, you know, I was suspended. I should have been. My mother was mortified. And it was like reality came in. I had to get control of my imagination.”
Music to movies
The acclaimed actor is a talented singer, too. At age 12, he went on his first audition for a role in The Mickey Mouse Club. He was cast as a Mouseketeer and later shared the TV screen with future stars Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. He frequently sang on the show and was supposedly invited to join The Backstreet Boys by band member AJ McLean, his then-next-door neighbour. In 2007, Gosling released his own music and started an indie rock group called Dead Man’s Bones.
One of his great bait and switches is that, despite the fact that it’s obvious there are many deep, dark and bizarre things churning inside of him as an artist, his face and behaviour give the impression of a regular guy. From First Blood to other less violent pictures, movies clearly helped shape his young mind. Over time, they beckoned him toward them.
“When I saw Dumbo and The Elephant Man, I felt like those films were smashing down some wall inside of me and creating a room called empathy,” he says. “And being very grateful for having seen those films even though they were painful, and the idea of watching them again was scary because I didn’t know that I wanted to feel those things again, but it did feel different after seeing them. Like they had exposed some part of myself to me that I didn’t know was there.”
He credits his uncle, who was an Elvis impersonator, with setting him on the road to performing. “I remember things being very mundane until he came [for an extended stay], and suddenly he was wearing a jumpsuit around the house and talking like Elvis, putting together a show and putting my mom as a backup singer and my father as head of security,” he recalls. “And all our family was coming around, making costumes… family members that didn’t necessarily talk before. It just brought everyone together. I was in the act – I handed out teddy bears and scarves.”
Fame and fatherhood
The grownup Ryan Gosling has made it known that his family comes before his job. The 42-year-old has two daughters, Esmeralda, aged eight, and seven-year-old Amada with long-time partner Eva Mendes. Supporting child-soldier awareness group Invisible Children and the Enough Project, which works to end genocide, he has long campaigned against the conflicts in Central Africa. His own children had a big impact on his choice to star in the Netflix action thriller The Gray Man last year, and he intends to introduce his daughters to his work through the widely acclaimed Barbie.
Gosling, who plays the iconic Ken doll, explains: “Barbie was a way to do that. Not necessarily like I’m making it for them, but it’s the first time I think they kind of are understanding it. Although, they can’t for the life of them understand why I want to play Ken because nobody plays with Ken. But that’s why we must tell his story.”
The Barbie promo cycle has branded Ken as just some guy. He’s not just any person, though; he’s Ken; and that’s what exactly the creator and director of the Barbie movie intended it to be. Along with a legion of Kens defending their right to own some kind of personality, Gosling performs a massive 1980s’ power ballad. Incredibly blonde and impossibly ripped, Ken pulls himself together and finds some value in himself through words of self affirmation. “I’m just Ken and I’m enough / And I’m great at doing stuff,” he sings.
It’s an apt line for the actor as well as the character. In real life and in his chosen craft, Ryan Gosling has proven to be one of the greats.