Awards: 2007 Film Independent Spirit Award as best male lead in “Half Nelson”; 2006 National Board of Review Award for best breakthrough performance male for “Half Nelson.” Current credit: As the sweet-natured but shy Lars, who embarks on an emotional love affair with the reserved Bianca, a life-size and surprisingly realistic-looking “companion” doll, in MGM’s “Lars and the Real Girl.” Memberships: Screen Actors Guild; Academy member since 2007.
The Hollywood Reporter: This is a truly unusual love story and a serious departure from your previous film “Half Nelson,” a gritty drama for which you earned a best actor Oscar nomination. What did you first think when you were sent Nancy Oliver’s script for “Lars and the Real Girl”?
Ryan Gosling: I thought the concept was funny, but I didn’t think it could hold up for a whole movie. Then I read it, and I thought, ‘Wow.’ I’d been waiting to read a script like that my whole life. I didn’t want it to end. It was completely unique. I think it’s a movie for people who are bored with movies. I read it on a Saturday and was committed on Monday. Everyone I’ve talked to says it’s the best script they’ve ever read.
THR: And how long after that did you first meet Bianca?
Gosling: I first met Bianca at the read-through. I developed a legitimate bond with her, and in a way I became dependent on her. She relaxed me — she was a support system. It became easier to understand the bond. People hear the idea for this film, and they think, ‘Oh, how kitschy or funny,’ but there’s a whole culture of guys out there who have these dolls, and they have very intimate relationships with them. Part of it is sexual, but a lot of it is emotional. One guy goes hang gliding, and he takes his doll to watch, so that he has someone to support him in the things that he likes to do. Some guys cook with them and have dinners; they’re part of the fabric of their life. So, all of this is possible. I know it’s a funny idea, but it’s not so far-fetched. Some guys really love their cars — they spend all their time on them. Or sports. Or some people love money. I think it’s a romantic idea the way that Nancy approached the script, that love’s not a transaction. It’s something you have to give, and you give it freely to whoever and whatever you want.
THR: Did you do a lot of research into that subculture before starting production on the film?
Gosling: I didn’t until after because it’s so interesting, but Lars isn’t aware that he’s with a doll. He believes she’s a real person. For me, the movie I was in is totally different from the movie I watch. The movie for me was about a guy who meets a girl and they fall in love. She comes and moves into his house; there are fears of intimacy and falling in love. That’s a movie I would see anyway, so to me, they’re both good movies.
THR: You’re essentially carrying the story on your own in so many scenes, but it sounds as though you approached working opposite Bianca as though she were just another actor.
Gosling: Everybody was respectful of the idea, the spirit of the film. We tried to honor how Lars felt about Bianca, tried to achieve that level of intimacy. The focus puller would apologize if we got too close to her eye when he was taking the focus and not realize he’d done it. Everybody developed their own private relationship with her. It was fascinating to watch her effect. The fact that she looks so real is a part of what makes her so magnetic. She looked sometimes like she was looking at me — I would think that I would see her blink. She had these beautiful little freckles; she was so still and peaceful.
THR: What was the key to really inhabiting such an offbeat character?
Gosling: It reminds me of a Gene Wilder performance in some ways. There’s something in the spirit of Gene Wilder in this film. Gene Wilder, he’s my Marlon Brando. Gene Wilder, he’ll break your heart and make you laugh at the same time. He gives you everything, and you decide what you’re going to do with it. This film in some way does that as well.
THR: You’re about to begin shooting Paramount’s planned 2008 release “The Lovely Bones” with director Peter Jackson. Is it difficult for you to switch gears after you complete a project, making the transition from one character to the next?
Gosling: I hear actors talking about how they become characters. That’s never happened to me — I’m not that good. They’re me; I’m them. There are differences in the sense that I amp up parts of myself that are like them, and I turn down the parts that aren’t, but other than that, I am all of those people. I think that must be an amazing experience, to turn into somebody else and try to turn back into yourself.
THR: But isn’t that the art of performance?
Gosling: I don’t really consider it an art — for some people it is. For me, it’s more of a job. I don’t know what art is, but I’m pretty sure it’s something you don’t get paid to do. I think you can get better at it — if you don’t attach your identity to it. You just play the character because that’s your job. You’re not trying to prove anything to the world about yourself and use this character to do so.
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