As you may know, this week has been declared National Ryan Gosling Week, so if you're not yet up to speed on the most exciting movie actor under 30, now is the time to catch up.
The Goss on Gosling
1. He was brought up a Mormon in Ontario, Canada, although his mother later divorced and renounced the religion.
2. His first acting gig was as a bodyguard for his uncle, an Elvis impersonator. He was 8.
3. At 12, he jointed the Mickey Mouse Club, a TV show that also boasted the pubescent talents of Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera. Search www.youtube.com for more on the Mouseketeers.
4. He played Young Hercules in the shortlived TV show, Young Hercules (1998-99).
5. Although they played lovers in The Notebook, even winning an MTV award for Best Kiss, Gosling and fellow Canadian Rachel McAdams loathed each other on set. Two years later they met again and fell in love.
It's hardly the résumé you would expect from an actor becoming known for his integrity, his ambivalence towards fame, and his taste for provocative, challenging material. But hey, maybe you can take the Mickey out of the man. At 21 he signaled his Disney days were well and truly behind him when he grabbed the lead role in Henry Bean's controversial The Believer with both hands and throttled; Danny was a ferociously articulate Nazi skinhead with a guilty secret - he was Jewish. 'A dynamite performance in a unique, and uniquely troubling, role,' declared Variety.
Six years and only half a dozen movies later, Gosling is finally delivering on that promise. In the interim, the projects have ranged from Murder by Numbers and Stay to The Notebook and The United States Of Leland. He's about the only thing that makes any of them worth watching. Other than that, I guess he's been saying 'No' a lot.
Gosling has two very different movies opening in cinemas on Friday, both recommended on their own terms, and he's terrific in both. Fracture is a fiendish cat-and-mouse courtroom drama with Anthony Hopkins ('I'm the mouse,' Gosling admits). It's a slick Hollywood thriller built around its two stars, the old pro and the young pretender, and they relish going at each other - it's like ping-pong with words and body language instead of bats and balls.
Half Nelson probably cost about as much to make as they spent on Fracture's catering budget. This is the indie movie about a teacher with a cocaine habit. It proved too tough for crossover success in the US, but Gosling's performance generated so much heat from the critics, he found himself sharing the red carpet at the Oscars with Peter O'Toole, Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, and Forest Whitaker.
It's a searingly honest piece of work. Gosling is Mr. Dunne, a History teacher in an inner-city high school. As is usually the case in this kind of movie, he's unorthodox enough to get in trouble with the principal (he's talking about dialectics when he's supposed to be regurgitating dates). He also coaches the girls' basketball team. But just because he's on the side of the underdogs it doesn't mean he's not a screw up. One of his kids, Drey (Shareeka Epps) finds him cowering in the girls' changing rooms one night, so high he can't stand up.
It's a mash up of two diametrically opposed kinds of films: the inspirational teacher movie (which is socially progressive) and the drug movie (which is nihilistic). That's a great starting point for an actor, because it allows him a whole range of colours from across the spectrum. He can be passionate and considerate one minute, pathetic and callous the next. 'One thing doesn't make a man,' Dunne tells Drey. But this one thing can overwhelm him.
Good looking, smart and committed, Gosling has the odds stacked in his favour, but he does things in this film that movie stars generally can't afford to risk. I don't just mean he'll wear a Stars and Stripes band-aid over his lower lip for several scenes (though many heartthrobs would hate to look so ridiculous). He's prepared to alienate the audience with his aggressive, boorish behaviour towards friends and lovers. Even when Dunne attempts to do something noble, he fails miserably. He can't even look after his cat.
It's a compelling, devastatingly authentic performance, but to really get its measure don't try to keep up with his rapid-fire twitches and gestures, just look into his tired, defeated eyes.
'There's the script,' Gosling says, 'You have to put a body on it. You have to give that body taste and clothes and the way he holds himself. That person has to have a style. I think actors do that…it's our job.' Right. Now do a double take and check out Fracture, where this self-same young man transforms himself into a cocky, fresh-faced prosecutor from the wrong side of the tracks, so keen to prove he's a winner he loses all sight of the game. The dress, the style, the bearing, they're all so different; you have to wonder what this kid might not be capable of.
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