Ryan Gosling seems to have become a superstar without ever having appeared in a blockbuster film.
He is the indie darling who reduces ordinarily sensible, intelligent women to blushing, giggling schoolgirls. He is the idiosyncratic outsider who refuses to play the Hollywood game and yet has become one of the most marketable and charismatic young faces in film. He is the celebrity actor whose best films most people haven’t seen. Surely it must be for a reason greater than, as Derek Zoolander might say, he’s really, really, really good-looking?
So where and how did this profile and popularity emerge?
Ryan Gosling was born in Canada in 1980. After struggling with bullying at school, he was home-tutored, a development he claims helped drive his fierce independence.
Though he would probably rather people forgot, Gosling's first taste of fame came via Disney, as a mouseketeer presenter on The Mickey Mouse Club. He was on the show at the same time as such other entertainment luminaries as Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears- a pretty remarkable roster. Indeed, he even shared a house with Timberlake while shooting in Florida, with JT’s Mum briefly becoming his legal guardian.
Having dropped out of school, and with no formal training, Gosling gravitated towards acting, appearing in a string of unremarkable fare. His ambitions to pursue more serious roles were hampered though by his precocious presenting past. However, after a change of agent and a small role in Denzel Washington’s Remember The Titans in 2000, he has never looked back.
In The Believer, his first serious role, playing a neo-Nazi of Jewish extraction, he was a revelation. His first taste of bigger budget roles followed in the indifferent thriller, Murder By Numbers. The film may have been unremarkable but dating his co-star Sandra Bullock, 16 years his senior was not. He had made the gossip pages for the first time as a ‘face’. It was something to which he would have to become accustomed.
The Notebook marked his career breakthrough. Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, and depending on your point of view, the film was either an iconic, timeless romantic classic…or a syrupy, risible melodrama. It may have met with critical indifference, but the movie was a huge hit, further raising Gosling’s profile- boosted inevitably by his real life relationship with his co-star Rachel McAdams. Together, they had become tabloid fodder.
The Notebook helped define Gosling’s career as almost immediately, he turned his back on similarly safe, accessible, and populist projects.
The ultra-low-budget, exceptionally high quality Half Nelson embodied the projects Gosling was now pursuing. A stunning performance as a drug addicted, inner city teacher who befriends a vulnerable pupil saw Gosling become the 2nd youngest ever Best Actor Oscar nominee. He had most definitely arrived.
Starring opposite Anthony Hopkins in the underrated thriller Fracture was the closest Gosling ventured back towards the mainstream, and even then, the film’s budget was a mere $10m.
Instead, Gosling opted for intriguing films like the acclaimed drama Blue Valentine, and perhaps most notably, Lars and the Real Girl, in which Gosling played a socially awkward man who forges a relationship with a sex doll. Both films were well received and profitable, but neither huge hits.
It was between the making of these two films that Gosling agreed to star in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the hit novel, The Lovely Bones. His involvement certainly made headlines as Gosling was apparently fired two days before filming began. Subsequent reports were that the famously intense actor and his director quite simply didn’t get on. Gosling had decided that his character should wield an enormous bushy beard and a paunch.
Jackson…disagreed. There was only ever going to be one winner.
It has hardly affected his employability though. Drive, in which Gosling’s character barely speaks, is a superb performance- a man whose conflicting emotions are revealed in every subtle twitch and tic. The film is a stunning, violent, compelling thriller and couldn’t be more different from his follow up.
Crazy, Stupid, Love was a romantic comedy that was a critical and commercial hit. A genre in which those two notions rarely converge. Alongside Steve Carell, Emma Stone and Julianne Moore, Gosling was terrific as the charming womaniser who is floored when he actually falls in love. The film was witty, charming and utterly delightful. And prominently featured a ripped Gosling with his shirt off. Neither a paunch nor beard in sight.
His status as a sex symbol was confirmed. He had become the thinking women’s beefcake, and the unthinking woman’s carnal prisoner.
Gosling is one of the few actors who can stand next to George Clooney and not look like they have a face like a dropped pie. This worked in his favour in The Ides Of March, Clooney’s scintillating political thriller. His choices of films continue to be exceptional. He has yet to sign on to a poor project- a sign of good judgement, an enduring career and a potent legacy.
His latest film, The Place Beyond The Pines, reunites Gosling with his Blue Valentine director in a crime drama that is already attracting awards buzz. He is then reportedly taking a break from acting to write and direct his own film, How To Catch A Monster, but when he returns, it will be fascinating to see what the 32 year old chooses to do.
Will he follow in the footsteps of Robert Downey Jr? A man who left his indie sensibilities (and personal problems) behind to embrace big budget blockbusters, and become the centrepiece of a billion dollar franchise? Could Gosling ever be persuaded to become Batman or Bond? With his looks, popularity and charisma, you could see how studios might be tempted to enquire.
Perhaps he will agree. Though ever the iconoclast, you wouldn’t bet against him insisting that Robin The Boy Wonder perhaps be a puppet…or a monkey, or that 007 wield a handlebar moustache, a baseball cap and open-toed sandals.