LOS ANGELES—Having reinvented the drug addict in “Half Nelson” and then parried with Anthony Hopkins in “Fracture,” Ryan Gosling arrived on the set of “Lars and the Real Girl” and found no one would talk to him.
“I thought they were being really rude,” said Gosling, who plays the title misfit, who is in love with a rubber woman, in a movie whose virtues cannot be inflated. “My driver, for a week, he wouldn’t say anything to me, and I finally said, `Look man, you’re a really rude guy. I’ve been talking to you for a week and you never say anything back. And ... it’s not nice.”
Lars and the Real Girl
Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Patricia Clarkson, Kelli Garner
(MGM; US theatrical: 12 Oct 2007 (Limited release); 2007)
The driver had an excuse.
“He said, `Well, I was told not to talk to you,’” Gosling recalled. “I said, `Whattya mean you were told not to talk to me?’ He said, `Yeah, I heard you were real Method and I was only supposed to call you Lars and not supposed to look you in the eye.’
“I don’t know how the hell this stuff gets out there about me,” the actor said. “But I don’t deserve it. I was so embarrassed.”
Gosling’s allegedly intense preparation—the results of which have elevated such films as “The Believer” and “The Notebook,” and led to his Oscar nomination for last year’s “Nelson”—is something he pooh-poohs.
“I’m not that good,” he says. “I always hear about people `becoming’ the character and I get jealous `cause I think, `Oh that sounds like so much fun.’ But that doesn’t happen to me.”
His director begs to differ.
“I can’t think of anyone else who could have done what he did,” Craig Gillespie said. “The preparation was astounding, the analysis, the metamorphosis he went through. He even lost his body mannerisms, which is not something you see very often in an actor. I think he surprised himself.”
Gillespie’s assessment of the whole experience: “I think it ruined me.”
For moviegoers who might, sometime, have imagined it nice to be a character in a Frank Capra film, the experience of “Lars and the Real Girl” provides a kind of interactive alternative, a chance to leave your seat for a higher moral plane: Will you get aboard a film that’s about a man in love with the sex doll he buys online, an act that causes a crisis for his sister (Emily Mortimer), brother-in-law (Paul Schneider) and, basically, most of the small town around them? Will you buy into a movie about love, however weird it may seem at first? Or will you batten down the emotional hatches?
It’s an important decision for the people in the movie. But it’s just as important for the people in the theater: You want to have a wonderful life like Jimmy Stewart? Or be cranky like Lionel Barrymore?
“Personally, I think it’s even more romantic than `The Notebook,’” Gosling said, referring to his notoriously sentimental Nick Cassavetes film co-starring James Garner, Gena Rowlands and Rachel McAdams. “I think there’s something really romantic about someone who chooses to love someone, or something, that can’t love them back; who looks at love as something other than a transaction. Who has this love to give and just decides to give it, and doesn’t need to receive it.”
As an actor who has rapidly (he’s 27) become one of the most respected of his generation, Gosling understands the reasons for not taking such a role. He would have understood, he said, if he’d been warned off it. Playing a young man with a delusion—even if the object of that delusion is very attractive, and mostly silicone—is not the kind of thing guaranteed to enhance one’s leading-man potential.
“I think that’s right,” he admitted. “I just happen to work with really great people and we’re all on the same page. Actually, every time I would mention the movie, it seemed it someone would say, `That’s the greatest script I’ve ever read. Don’t ruin it.”
The script—by Nancy Oliver of “Six Feet Under” fame—was both precise and improvisational, Gosling said.
“There was no description in the script, for instance, of how Lars looked,” he said, “which is the great thing about Nancy’s writing. Everything is so clearly laid out for you—the characters, the characters are so clearly defined. But at the same time there’s all this room for you to be creative. I think she did that for every character. Also for the director.”
As conceived by Gosling, Lars is a knot of inhibitions, augmented by an anemic centipede of a mustache and the fashion sense of a tollbooth attendant. “To me, he seemed like he could be one of my uncles.”
Such observations tend to not make one want to ask about the extended Gosling family, with whom the Canadian Mormon actor grew up in several Ontario locations. At age 13 he beat out thousands of other aspirants and became a cast member—along with such stars-to-be as Keri Russell, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake—on the `80s and `90s “Mickey Mouse Club.” His mother was supportive of his career back then and still is. During the filming of “Lars,” in Toronto, he said, “I lived in my mother’s basement.”
The woman in his life now is Rachel McAdams, a far cry from his “Lars” co-star.
Working opposite a woman as close-mouthed as Bianca the love doll—even if her lips are perpetually parted—has apparently led to a lasting relationship. “She’s at my house,” Gosling said when asked about her whereabouts. “She’s reading a book by the window.”
Asked about the difficulty in directing an actress of such presumably limited emotional range, Gillespie said, “You’d think it would be easy ... ” before dissolving in laughter.
Therein lies the “Lars” problem, if it has one.
“I do think there’s a tendency to write it off,” Gosling said, “and if you just look at the trailer, you might think it’s a one-note movie. When I first heard the premise, I’ll be honest, I thought, `There’s no way; it’s a funny idea, but there’s no way it can hold up for an entire film.’
“So I don’t blame anyone for thinking that,” he said, “but I can guarantee you it’s not. I was wrong to judge it. It’s very, very special, and I feel it’s in the vein of a `Harvey’ or a `Being There.’ Those movies, everyone loves them, but for some reason there’s not many of them. They’re a genre unto themselves.”
The key? “I think it was something we all admired about the script,” he said. “It believes in people’s goodness. I think it’s kind of a radical film, in that Nancy Oliver and Craig Gillespie have the guts to be nice. There’s nothing cynical about this movie. It wears its heart on its sleeve and believes there’s an inherent goodness in most people. And that’s the alternative.”