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Ryan Gosling has his first Oscar nomination under his belt (for “Half Nelson”), and a very hot thriller now in theaters.


But there was a time, long before “Fracture,” before his sleeper hit, “The Notebook,” before his two-year relationship with Rachel McAdams, when Gosling’s life - and lines - were a lot simpler.


cover art

Fracture

Director: Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Billy Burke, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davitz, Valerie Dillman

(New Line Cinema; US theatrical: 20 Apr 2007 (General release); 2007)

All he had to really remember was “M-I-C, K-E-Y ...” You know the rest.


That was when Gosling was a wee boy - OK, a tall boy - and he and Britney and Justin and the rest of the `90s incarnation of “The Mickey Mouse Club” were learning their trade in sunny Central Florida.


“Orlando,” he jokes. “Every time I think I’ve gotten away, it keeps pulling me back!”


Gosling was a home-schooled Canadian Mormon of just 12 when he was picked for the show. The truth is, he says, “I don’t really remember much from my `Mouse Club’ days. I’m sure not a lot of us can remember much from when we were 12.”


He lived with Justin Timberlake’s family while he was in Orlando. And even though he admits that he developed a “lot of bad (acting) habits” from his years of TV, he relished the chance to do the show and launch what has for him become a career.


“We learned a certain work ethic that served us all well,” Gosling says. “It could not have been greater for a kid, doing a TV show there. I was 12-14, and working at Disney World. Every time I had a little time off, I would ride Space Mountain. Must’ve held the record for most-times-riding it. Yeah, I was working. But I just rode rides and had a good time. I could be a kid, working there.”


Once he left Space Mountain behind, he did guest shots on a number of series and was a skinny “Young Hercules” on TV in the late `90s. As a film actor - we first noticed him in “Remember the Titans” - he tossed aside the TV actor’s “need to always keep everyone’s attention every second because they might be tuning in at that time ... The great thing about movies is that you can take your time with a characterization, play it a little smaller. You know the audience is going to sit there and pay attention to you unraveling this guy.”


He used that underplaying style to set himself apart from his peers, with movies such as “The Believer” (2001), “Murder by Numbers” (2002) and “The United States of Leland” (2003) setting the tone. Sasha Stone of oscarwatch.com isn’t alone in saying Gosling “reminds me of an up and coming Edward Norton, same kind of path paved.” It’s a style built not just from “exhausting myself of those bad TV habits,” as Gosling puts it. It’s directly related to the way he answered a question about what his favorite movie was and who his favorite actor was when he was a kid.


“East of Eden” and James Dean.


“I must’ve been 14 when I said that,” Gosling laughs. It still works. Dean, the classic underplaying scene stealer, is the very prototype of the sort of actor Gosling is.


He relished the chance to work with Anthony Hopkins in “Fracture,” sort of a “next step” in his movie education.


“The thing is, you can’t try and compete with Anthony,” he says. “You just allow him to make you better. It’s hard to strike a balance with him, because you want to just watch him, he’s so good.”


Gosling also liked the idea of playing a heel, a striving, ambitious and shallow district attorney who is humbled by a murderer (Hopkins) who toys with him in court, and gets away with it. Gosling’s character, Oklahoma-bred Willy Beachum, is “like some agents that I’ve met - the kind of guy you can’t tell if he’s faking the accent or not. I liked him because most characters in these kinds of movies and those kinds of roles are inherently virtuous. He is only the good guy by default, because the other guy is so bad. He’s narcissistic, self-obsessed, selfish, all of those things you think of as being a bad agent.”


“Fracture” is his first film since his Half Nelson” Oscar nomination, and his first commercial movie since “The Notebook.” He is looking at a stunning array of options, now that he has “two things going for him,” Stone says. “Buzz on his work and buzz on his looks. Usually that amounts to superstardom eventually. The trick for him is going to be his choice in projects.”


He may value his privacy and build his career into that of “an aloof artiste” with an “avoid the Hollywood meat-grinder,” pose, writes Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood-elsewhere.com. But that is “absolutely the right attitude” to have to be credible as an artist.


Which is why Gosling can joke about finding “the right comedy” to try his hand at, even as he talks up his next, probably less commercial film - “Lars and the Real Girl.”


“It’s a movie about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll,” he says, laughing. “I know, I know. ... I want to go on record saying it’s even more romantic than `The Notebook.’”


In any case, he is making his own path. “Mickey Mouse” castmates Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake may have had the more sudden lurch to the top. Gosling wants to take it slow, maybe save some of himself from the public eye. He makes his home in a lesser-traveled corner of Hollywood and doesn’t talk about his love life. He makes his life reflect his acting - underplayed.


“There’s no handbook telling you what roles you should play, or how you should handle your interviews or just people on the street,” Gosling says. “You have to find a way to make it an extension of you and find a way to represent yourself in all those sorts of situations. You have to be guarded. It’s a very strange thing, to deal with the idea that perfect strangers are going to feel comfortable enough to ask you about things that are very personal to you. I’m still learning how to deal with that.”


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