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Ryan Gosling: Fully Immersed In 'Blue Valentine'

Ryan Gosling received an Academy Award nomination for his role in Half Nelson. He has been nominated for two Golden Globes, one for his performance in this year's Blue Valentine and one for 2007's Lars and the Real Girl. (Getty Images Entertainment)

The independent drama Blue Valentine stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple whose relationship has eroded over time; once madly in love, they spend most of their time fighting now, trying to figure out whether they can -- or should -- make their relationship work.

Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance shot the picture on a hand-held camera, giving the footage a shaky, realistic quality. He told Williams and Gosling that he wanted to divide the film shoot into three parts. During the first part, they would shoot all of the flashback scenes, in which Gosling and Williams' characters were still madly in love. During the third part, they'd shoot the rest of the movie, in which the relationship takes a nose dive.

And during the second part -- which lasted a month -- Cianfrance wanted Williams and Gosling to move in together, along with the child actor who plays their daughter. In the same house their characters live in in the movie, no less.

The three lived together for a month. (But only during the day: At night, Williams went home to her daughter, Matilda.)

"During the month, we tried to dismantle this thing that we had been building," Gosling tells Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies. "[Originally,] we all worked really hard to create this love story portion, when they're falling in love. We wanted it to feel genuine and real and true. And we spent all of this time building it up, and then we had to tear it down."

Cianfrance asked Williams and Gosling to take their characters' wedding photos, put them in a wheelbarrow and douse them in kerosene -- and then set them on fire.

"We also celebrated fake Christmas and put up Christmas trees, and baked birthday cakes and bought birthday presents, and went to Sears," Gosling says. "We fought all day, and then we'd have to take [our characters' daughter] Faith to the family fun park ... whatever we could do to create real memories, so when it came time to shoot the [last] part of the film, we were drawing on real memories."

Gosling tells Davies that Blue Valentine was the first film project he's worked on where he forgot along the way that he was making a film.

"Most movies, you have to try and forget you're making a movie, because there are trailers and booms and lights and marks, and it's everywhere," he says. "And with this, you're trying to remember that it is a movie, because it's so easy to get lost in it."


Interview Highlights

On the differences between filming the flashbacks and the later scenes

"When we were shooting the scenes in the past, we shot on film because it had a romantic quality to it. And it would all be in one take. No do-overs. Everything happened for the first time, and then it was over. And we would share the frame together. When you're working that way, it's easy to maintain a mystery, because you never have to go back and revisit a moment, and you can hide behind these personas that you've created -- which is a lot like when you're first falling in love.

When we were doing the latter part of the film, it was all shot on digital, which has a clinical, surveillance-camera feeling. And we were locked off into singles -- we were never sharing the frame. And we would do takes 50 times. We shot one scene for two days in the shower, just all day. So when you're doing 50 takes with somebody, there's nowhere to hide. It's very exposing."

On Blue Valentine's initial NC-17 rating

"I was very confused. It seems like I don't really understand this rating system. I was told it's because my character performs oral sex on his wife, and I thought, 'There's plenty of movies with men receiving oral sex from women with R ratings.' It seemed like a double standard. On top of that, it seemed like there are horror movies that are like torture-porn that are R rated. What a lot of people don't understand about the NC-17, which I didn't understand, is that you can't show it in major theater chains -- and you can't even air spots for your film on television. It really stigmatizes the movie."

On performing on The Mickey Mouse Club

"These kids were prodigies. Not all of us. I wasn't. But you look at someone like Christina Aguilera, who was singing like Etta James [as an adolescent]. And you see someone who is realizing their destiny. This is where they're supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing -- and the same goes for a few of the other kids. I realized that my destiny wasn't that. I could make it and do enough to get by on the show, but it wasn't my calling. So I was depressed by that, but I was also encouraged to go out and find what [my calling] was. As a result of not being as talented as the other kids, I didn't work a lot, so I spent a lot of time in Disney World, riding the rides and walking around. And this made a big impression on me. I was very impressed by Walt Disney and the idea that you could have a dream and you could realize it to the point where people could walk around within it. ... It still resonates with me. I wanted to be somebody who believed in their ideas that much."

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, Host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Our guest, Ryan Gosling, was nominated for a Golden Globe yesterday in the category Best Actor, Drama for his performance in the new movie "Blue Valentine." His co-star, Michelle Williams, was nominated for Best Actress.

Gosling earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination playing a drug-addicted inner-city teacher in the film "Half Nelson," and he got a Golden Globe nomination for "Lars and the Real Girl," where he was an introvert in love with a life-size sex doll.

He was the romantic lead in the film "The Notebook," and he's currently starring with Kirsten Dunst in "All Good Things," inspired by a story of disappearance and murder in a wealthy New York family.

His new film, "Blue Valentine," directed by Derek Cianfrance, is an emotionally intense drama that follows a young married couple as they fall deeply in love, and as their relationship falls apart. Here's a scene with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in which the distance between them is growing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLUE VALENTINE")

MICHELLE WILLIAMS: (As Cindy) Why don't you do something?

RYAN GOSLING: (As Dean) What does that mean, why don't I do something?

WILLIAMS: (As Cindy) (Unintelligible) something you wanted to do? (Unintelligible) want to do?

GOSLING: (As Dean) Like what?

WILLIAMS: (As Cindy) I don't know. You're so good at so many things. You could do anything you wanted to do. You're good at everything that you do. Isn't there something else you want to do?

GOSLING: (As Dean) Than what, to be your husband, to be Frankie's dad? What do you want me to do? In your, like, dream scenario of me, like, doing what I'm good at, what would that be?

WILLIAMS: (As Cindy) I don't know. I just think you're so good at so many things. You can do so many things. You have such capacity.

GOSLING: (As Dean) For what?

WILLIAMS: (As Cindy) I don't - you can sing. You can draw. You can - dance.

GOSLING: (As Dean) Listen, I didn't want to be somebody's husband, okay? And I didn't want to be somebody's dad. That wasn't my goal in life. Some guys it is. It wasn't mine. But somehow I've - it was what I wanted. I didn't know that, and that's all I want to do. I don't want to do anything else. That's what I want to do. I work so I can do that.

WILLIAMS: (As Cindy) I'd like to see you have a job where you don't have to start drinking at 8:00 in the morning to go to it.

GOSLING: (As Dean) No, I have a job that I can drink at 8:00 in the morning. What a luxury, you know? I get off of work. I have a beer. I go to work. I paint somebody's house. They're excited about it. I come home. I get to be with you. What's - like, this is the dream.

GROSS: A scene from the new film "Blue Valentine." Ryan Gosling spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies.

DAVE DAVIES: Ryan Gosling, welcome to FRESH AIR. Your new film, "Blue Valentine," is about you in a relationship with Michelle Williams, a relationship where, you know, love has eroded. I mean, you were once madly in love, and now you fight a lot. You're tense. You're impatient with each other.

And I read that you shot the scenes of the early part of the relationship all at once, and then there was like a month or so break between then and when you shot the times when the relationship was on the rocks. Is that right?

GOSLING: Yeah, that's right.

DAVIES: Yeah, yeah. So what - what did you do in the intervening month?

GOSLING: Well, we sort of lived in a house that our characters lived in, and what we were trying to do was dismantle this thing that we had been building because, you know, we all worked really hard to kind of create this.

We focused on the love story portion and the past, when they're falling in love, and we wanted it to feel genuine and real and true. And, you know, we spent all of this time building it up, and then we had to tear it down. And tearing it down was difficult.

DAVIES: But you actually lived in a house with Michelle Williams and the child actor who played your daughter?

GOSLING: Yeah, Faith.

DAVIES: For a month? Yeah, right.

GOSLING: Yeah, and then we had, you know, fake Christmas and put up Christmas trees, and baked birthday cakes and bought birthday presents and went to Sears and took the family portraits.

And, you know, we just - we had a budget and we fought all day, and then we'd have to take Faith to the family fun park and try and pretend like we haven't been fighting, and, you know, did the Jane Fonda workout and, you know, whatever we could do to create real memories, so when it came time to shoot that part of the film, we were, you know, we were drawing on real memories.

DAVIES: So are you spending this month, what, kind of learning not to love each other somehow?

GOSLING: We're trying to not be able to hide from each other. You know, the way that the director had a kind of a manifesto, which was that in the past, when we would shoot it on film, which has kind of romantic quality to it...

DAVIES: The flashback part when you're young and happy, you mean.

GOSLING: Yeah, and it would all be one takes, no do-overs. Everything that happens happens for the first time, and then it's over. And we would share the frame together.

And so, you know, when you're working that way, you build - it's easy to maintain a mystery in that because you never have to go back and revisit a moment. You know, you can hide behind these personas that you've created, which, you know, is a lot - it's a like when you're first falling in love, I guess.

And then when we were doing the latter part of the film, it was all shot on digital, which has kind of a clinical, almost like surveillance- camera feeling, and we were locked off into singles. We were never sharing the frame, or for the most part he was trying not to.

And we would do takes 50 times, 75. You know, it's just - we would do - we shot one scene for two days in the shower, just all day. You know, so when you're doing 50 takes with somebody, there's nowhere to hide. I mean, you can't. It's very exposing.

DAVIES: And so do you replicate the feelings that your character has for his wife? I mean, do you get annoyed, impatient, angry?

GOSLING: Yeah, because, you know, that's what Derek wanted. He would say, you know, he would give us a budget and, you know, we'd have to fight about that or, you know, try to focus on the small stuff.

Like, I'll give you an example. I met some friends of mine, and they're married - they were married, and I asked them what their biggest problems with each other were, and she was - she was convinced and got very upset that he, when he washed the dishes, didn't squeeze out the sponge. And she thought that he was doing it - it was a passive- aggressive act on his part, and he was doing it to spite her.

WILLIAMS: Why would I go through the effort of washing the dishes just to not squeeze out the sponge at the end, you know? It doesn't make sense, but you couldn't...

Anyway, it ended up becoming this, it was a huge thing in their relationship, and they've since gotten divorced. And so, I mean, I'm not a psychologist, but I'm going to take a stab and say that it wasn't because of the sponge.

DAVIES: Right.

GOSLING: But they - you couldn't tell them that. And so we didn't try to pretend to know the bigger reasons. You know, we just tried to genuinely, you know, focus on those small things and try and feel like they're as important to our characters as they would be to them in real life.

DAVIES: You know, there was a scene I wanted to ask you about, and it's in one of the flashback parts of the film, where you and Michelle's character are getting to know each other. And it's shot on a bridge. Is that the Brooklyn Bridge you're on, on a walkway, I think?

GOSLING: Yeah, that's right.

DAVIES: And I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but she has a secret that she doesn't want to tell you. You can sense something is up and really want her to reveal the secret to you, and when she doesn't, you start to climb this hurricane fence there next to the walkway, and it looks as if that might actually put you in danger of going over.

Tell us about that. Was that scene improvised?

GOSLING: Yeah. The film - that's how the filmmaker works. You know, he tells you, okay, so he pulls Michelle aside and says, look, whatever you do, I don't care what he does, don't tell him your secret, okay? And if you tell him the secret, you lose, you know, because he set every scene up like a boxing match, and action was when the bell rang.

And when it was over, he would say who won or lost, you know, so then he'd say to me, pull me aside and say I don't care what you have to do, but you've got to get her to tell you her secret. Action.

And so hours go by, and I'm asking in every way you can ask somebody to tell him your secret. And it's humiliating because - the things that you'll do, you know, to try and get someone to tell you. And she's not. You know, she's winning every, every scene. She's winning every round. She won't tell me.

Until the sun starts to go down, and on top of this we're stealing this shot on the Brooklyn Bridge. We don't have a permit. We could be kicked off. And we're not coming back. So I have to get her to tell me.

And I start climbing over the edge of the bridge, and it wasn't until I was on the other side and hanging onto this fence, staring down at the water, that I realized that, you know, I - you know, I'd been brainwashed by the director and Michelle Williams was trying to kill me.

DAVIES: And then she blurts out her secret.

GOSLING: She tells me the secret, thank God.

DAVIES: Right, right, and afterwards, did you talk? Was she really afraid that you were going to hurt yourself and that's what finally caused her to cough it up?

GOSLING: Yeah, I mean I think Michelle said that she was - she felt like she was watching a movie. You know, so she - that's why she let me go so far. And I felt like I was in one. And the producer was crying. And it was, you know, it was stupid. I don't think it's cool or anything. I think it was dumb. You know, I think the movie would be the same without it, but it just, it seems to be the scene that people kind of single out as an example of what working this way can evoke in an actor.

DAVIES: A lot of the part of the movie where the marriage is troubled takes place in a hotel room in the Poconos. It's the future room. It's this sort of stylized room that they sell. And you must have been shooting these nonstop marital fights day after day. I mean, what was it like emotionally just to go through that in such close quarters? Could you shake it off?

GOSLING: It's hard to remember what happened because we were so - you know, I remember one time I fell asleep. We fought so hard that I just got - I had to take a nap. I fell asleep on the couch. And I woke up and the director was filming me sleeping and filming her cleaning up the house.

And then I woke up and we went back at it again. So it was - the lines were very blurred, you know, and it was very hard to tell, really even to remember making it.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Ryan Gosling. He stars in the new film "Blue Valentine." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with actor Ryan Gosling. He stars with Michelle Williams in the new film "Blue Valentine."

You've got an interesting background. I mean, you grew up in Canada, and I read that you were home-schooled at some point. What led to that? What was wrong with you and the school system there?

GOSLING: Well, I really think that if I - two things. I think fluorescent lighting. It just - I really think if they had turned the lights off, and we could have just had natural light in the room, it would have been more soothing. But something about it genuinely made me uneasy, and distract - it was distracting.

And also, I think if they had let me walk around, you know, I think if they - I feel like in classrooms, if they had a space in the back of the class where, you know, kids that are kind of hyperactive or whatever you want to call it could just kind of pace while the class was going on, I feel like that would help a lot, because I just have to move, you know, in order to think. I can't - if I'm sitting still, I can't really think straight.

And I had a lot of problems. I couldn't - I wasn't doing very well and they kept passing me, and I was really falling behind. And at a certain point they were trying to put me in these special ed classes, you know, just to see how that would work.

And I remember playing chess one time with this kid who was in special ed. He was eating his queen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: And I was thinking: I know that - you know, I don't know - I don't know - I know things are - I know I'm not doing that well, but I...

DAVIES: Something's wrong with this picture, huh?

GOSLING: Yeah, something's - so I talked to my mother, and she, she was very upset, you know, that they were passing me. You know, she thought she'd rather them fail me, you know, than to pass me, because I had pretty low, you know, self-esteem, didn't feel like I was very smart. And I was getting into a lot of trouble because of that.

And you know, she took me out of school, and she sort of - you know, she let me move around while I was learning and found, you know, sort of alternative ways for me to learn. You know, she found out that - you know, she just got big rolls of paper and laid them out in the basement, and I just, I kind of - I drew, or I made pictures of the things.

If I was learning about history, I would draw the scenarios that I was learning about or the people that she was telling me about. And I was able to remember them that way, you know.

DAVIES: And you became a performer at an early age, and I know that you tried out for "The New Mickey Mouse Club" and against all odds was selected. But I also read that - a reference in stuff about you to a move you developed onstage at age seven. Is this true? Can you describe this for us?

GOSLING: Well, my uncle was an Elvis impersonator and a really, a great Elvis impersonator, went by the name of Elvis Perry(ph), and although he didn't look much like Elvis, he sounded just like him.

And I was in his act. I was very little, you know, like, I don't know, I was like six or something, seven. And he - and I was the head of his security, you know.

So I'd come out - and I took it pretty seriously. But I would watch him kind of get ready backstage. You know, I'd watch him...

DAVIES: You were seven and you were head of his security?

GOSLING: Yeah, it was like a joke, but I didn't know it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: The joke was on me. I really thought that I was head of security, and the way that they talked to me was that I was head of security. And so that's - I took it very seriously.

And I took it seriously, as he did. You know, he would - I would watch him put on this, you know, sequined suit, and, you know, that music would start playing...

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

GOSLING: And he was becoming Elvis, you know. He was like a racehorse banging against the boards. And it didn't matter that we were - he was performing, you know, at a town hall. You know, it could have been Madison Square Garden.

And, you know, there was something about watching him kind of get into character that really made an impression on me. And also his - you know, in his performance he was highly sort of, you know, sexual. You know, I saw these women just going crazy for him, women losing their minds, trying to jump up onstage, like he was Elvis.

So I took some notes. And I started, you know, performing, you know, in like whatever - you know, like local talent shows or something that my father would put on. And I started being just as, you know, sort of sexual, if not more so, than he was. And I saw that I got a certain response. You know, you see like a seven-year-old or a six-year-old kid gyrating on the stage, you know, everyone thinks that's pretty funny.

And so I was able to kind of milk that for way too long. And I would go up to secretaries and kind of try and grind on them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: And for some reason everybody thought that that was fine. I think it was because I was so young. If I had been any older, it would have been weird. I think it's weird, but...

DAVIES: Now, is that what got you the successful audition on "The New Mickey Mouse Club," when you were like, what, 12 or so?

GOSLING: Well, no. You know, I ended up - you know, I did that for a little while, and I realized that I wanted to - I thought I wanted to be a dancer. So I joined a dance company, and I was sort of training to be a dancer.

And all of the girls in my class were auditioning for this TV show, and I just went, you know, because I wanted to be around the girls, you know. And I got it. I got the part. So we moved to - my mother and I moved to Florida, and we lived in this trailer park, Yogi Bear Trailer Park in Kissimmee - Kissimmee, Florida. We lived in Boo-Boo Harlem, and I worked at Disney World for two years.

DAVIES: So here you are a kid on this TV show, "The New Mickey Mouse Club," which, by the way, included - your class included Justin Timberlake and Cristina Aguilera, right, and Britney Spears?

GOSLING: Uh-huh.

DAVIES: And you're a kid essentially living at or around Disney World.

GOSLING: Yeah.

DAVIES: Did this seem - did you grow up thinking this was normal?

GOSLING: No, but it changed my life, you know. Disney World the park changed my life...

DAVIES: How?

GOSLING: ...more than the experience of making that show. Well - well, two reasons. One is that, you know, I was - you know, these kids were kind of prodigies, you know. You look at - not all of us. I mean, I certainly wasn't. But you would look at someone like Cristina Aguilera, who's, you know - was like 11 years old and, you know, like 40 pounds and singing like Etta James. And, you know, you see someone who is realizing their destiny.

I mean, this is where they are supposed to be and what they're supposed to be doing. And I think the same goes for a few of the other kids. And, you know, I realized that my destiny wasn't that. You know, I wasn't a prodigy.

I could do - you know, I could make it and do enough to get by on the show, but it wasn't my calling. And so I was depressed by that, but I was also encouraged to go out and find out what that was.

And as a result of not being as talented as the other kids in the areas that were needed for the show, I - I didn't work a lot, so I spent a lot of time in Disney World just kind of riding the rides and walking around.

And this made a big impression on me. You know, I thought - I was very impressed by Walt Disney and just in the idea that you could have a dream and that you could realize it to the point where people could walk around within it and the attention to detail. You know, even the butter has ears. They haven't missed anything. And it's fascinating. You know, I still go to Disney World. In Los Angeles, I go to Disney Land at least once every couple months, you know, because I just - I'm still - it still kind of resonates with me. You know, I wanted to be somebody who believed in their ideas that much.

DAVIES: And so making movies is something like that, creating another world?

GOSLING: I found that so - so far, yeah, that you could - you know, it's like when I was 14 and I saw "Blue Velvet," you know, I just, I wasn't supposed to see it and I'd watched all the movies in my local movie store, and the guy gave me - he said, okay, if you like movies, you're going to like this.

And I didn't even know what it meant. I still don't know what "Blue Velvet" is about. But I knew that I wanted to be somebody like that, somebody that believed in their ideas enough to make something like that, to be okay with the fact that it didn't make sense, you know, but it made sense to them.

GROSS: Ryan Gosling will continue his conversation with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in the second half of the show. Gosling stars in the new movie "Blue Valentine," which opens soon. His movie "All Good Things" is currently in theaters. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded with actor Ryan Gosling. Yesterday Gosling was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the new movie "Blue Valentine." His costar, Michelle Williams, also received a nomination. Gosling's movie "All Good Things" is currently in theaters.

DAVIES: So I want to move forward in your career. You did television. You did some films. You did a well-regarded performance in a film called "The Believer," where you played sort of a confused Jewish young man who becomes a neo-Nazi. And then in 2004 you do "The Notebook," which is, in which you were a romantic lead and it was a big commercial success and you became a heartthrob and - and could have looked for another big studio project, could have molded your career around being a leading man, and instead you picked this project "Half Nelson." Do you want to describe your character, Dan Dunne, in this film?

GOSLING: Yeah. He was a, you know, he's a teacher in a school in Brooklyn, and he, you know, he's like a drug addict and - but he's always on the mend. You know, he's always - I thought that the film kind of captured that, the monotony of addiction. You know, a lot of films cover the person that kind of, you know, is a babe in the woods and they discover drugs and they have this kind of rock 'n roll roller coaster and then they crash hard - crash and burn and then the movie ends, you know. But this was just kind of just about the monotony of, you know, cleaning up and trying to go straight and then, you know, thinking that you've gone long enough and then delving back into it, and then, you know, then trying to pull it back together again and just, just how monotonous that can become, that kind of the cycle, you know, it just keeps repeating itself.

DAVIES: Right. Your character is - when he's not doing drugs and - he's a teacher in eighth grade inner city school and talks a lot about dialectics, the Hegelian, you know, notion of history being conflicts. And I thought we'd listen to a clip from the film.

Your character, Dan Dunne, takes an interest in a young girl who he coaches in basketball, also in his history class, but is concerned as he gets to know her that she may be falling under the influence of a neighborhood drug dealer - a guy who his, the girl's brother had worked for. And so your character, Dan, goes to confront this drug dealer about his interest in this eighth grade student who he might want to, you know, bring into the drug dealing business, and your character goes to confront him. The character, the drug dealer here, is played by Anthony Mackie. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HALF NELSON")

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) Can I talk to you?

ANTHONY MACKIE: (as Frank) What's up?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) Okay, look, I hate to be this guy right now, all right.

MACKIE: (as Frank) Mm-hmm.

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) But I need you to stay away from Drey.

MACKIE: (as Frank) Excuse me?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) You heard me, okay? So just do me this solid, all right, man? Please?

MACKIE: (as Frank) Do you a solid?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) You know what I'm saying. You understand.

MACKIE: (as Frank) Oh, so it's like, stay away from the girl? She's too precious kind of (bleep)?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) I'm not kidding.

MACKIE: (as Frank) Oh, I know.

GOSLING: (as Frank) So you understand?

MACKIE: (as Frank) Look, man, Drey is my family. She's my friend. Now, all these cats, these are my friends. Now, would you like to be my friend, man?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) What the (bleep) is this? Is this "Romper Room?"

MACKIE: (as Frank) (Bleep) "Romper Room."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) Are you (bleep) listening to me?

MACKIE: (as Frank) Look, why you so (bleep) angry, man?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) Because you are not listening to me.

MACKIE: (as Frank) Look, I'm right here, baby. Tell me what you're talking about.

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) I'm telling you to do something good.

MACKIE: (as Frank) Oh.

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) Are you capable of that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MACKIE: (as Frank) Oh, so now we back to the point of what is white is right, right?

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) This has nothing to do with that.

MACKIE: (as Frank) No, no, no. It's good for Drey to have somebody like you looking out for her, Mr. Model A-One (bleep) citizen.

GOSLING: (as Dan Dunne) I don't know. I don't know.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Ryan Gosling, and Anthony Mackie in the film "Half Nelson."

I love that at the end, where you say I don't know. It's sort of like this guy who thinks he's helping out this girl suddenly realizes that the drug dealer, who's actually a criminal, has his life more together than he is and he doesn't know whether this makes any sense.

GOSLING: Yeah. They're great directors. They're just, they're great filmmakers and great writers, you know. They really wanted that scene to be, you know, like a, about, you know, a teacher that had seen "Dangerous Minds" or that film with Edward James Olmos too many times. You know, like, you know, just put yourself in the situation and, you know, try and act like the characters you've seen in movies, you know, but you can really back them up and you're more, you know, you're more flawed than the bad guys.

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, were speaking with actor Ryan Gosling. He stars in the new film "Blue Valentine" with Michelle Williams.

I also wanted to talk about "Lars and the Real Girl," the film you made with Craig Gillespie in 2007. This is a pretty unique film. I mean you play this young man who lives in a, what, a garage apartment, painfully shy. I guess you could say he's somewhere maybe on the autism spectrum, avoids a lot of human contact, doesn't like being touched, and ends up getting a full-sized sex doll and introducing it to his family as his girlfriend. Town kind of begins, for reasons that unfold as the film develops, kind of plays along in a way. You know, when you look at this script, why didn't it seem ridiculous? How did you see this working?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: When you describe that to somebody, they say, are you kidding me?

GOSLING: Yeah.

DAVIES: I'm not going to see that movie.

GOSLING: Yeah.

DAVIES: And it really works. I think it's a terrific movie.

GOSLING: It, I, look, I felt the same way. The whole time I was reading it, I thought, you know, this shouldn't be working, but it is. And, you know, I'd like to take credit for that, but it's, but it was, you know, it was just a really well-written script. Nancy Oliver is a very, very special writer, and it worked. It worked as a script, you know, potentially more than it was going to work as a film because, it's like if you look at a book like, you know, "The Velveteen Rabbit" or something, you know, you talk about this kid who loves this bunny so much that it becomes real. His love makes it real - you know, that's an easier thing to imagine than it is to visualize, I mean to actually, you know, kind of try and shoot that; then you have to get into how do we make it real, like CGI, do we use a puppet, you know? And then it turns into something, something else. You know, I think the idea of a guy - you know, in the script she became real. You know, when you're reading it she became - the more real she was to him and the more the town treated her like she was a real person, the more real she became to you. But when you're watching it, it's a guy talking to a doll and she never becomes real.

DAVIES: Right.

GOSLING: You know, it's never - it's never going to happen. It's always going to be a guy talking to a doll no matter how, you know, how much I believe it. It doesn't make her real.

DAVIES: Well, let's listen to a scene. This is a scene where your character, Lars, has just told his brother and his sister-in-law he has a visitor, and it's his girlfriend and she's from abroad and she needs a wheelchair and they're excited to hear this because they think he's actually met someone. And then they bring the friend, Bianca, in and discover that indeed she is a sex doll, although she's fully dressed, and they're not quite sure how to react and they say, well, we're having dinner. And so the scene were going to hear is where you're all sitting at dinner and they've set a place for your friend, your doll, Bianca, and you're beginning to explain to your sister and brother-in-law, who are played Emily Mortimer and Paul Schneider, and there are some moments of the scene where you whisper aside to Bianca, the doll. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LARS AND THE REAL GIRL")

GOSLING: (as Lars) So you're never going to believe this, it makes me mad. Bianca is from the Tropics. She, well, she's Brazilian - well, half Brazilian, half Danish. That's right. And somebody stole her luggage.

EMILY MORTIMER: Really?

GOSLING: (as Lars) Yeah. And they stole her wheelchair.

MORTIMER: That's terrible.

GOSLING: (as Lars) Yeah. Can you believe that, Gus?

PAUL SCHNEIDER: (as Gus) Yeah, I can't believe it.

GOSLING: (as Lars) Right. Well, it's, it makes me angry. Anyway, I wanted to ask you a favor. She doesn't mind. I promise. Karin, you don't mind lending Bianca some clothes, do you? She doesn't have any. Do you?

MORTIMER: I'm not sure we're the same type, Lars.

GOSLING: (as Lars) Well, that's okay, Karin, because Bianca doesn't really care about superficial things like that, so it's okay.

MORTIMER: Sure.

GOSLING: (as Lars) Yeah. (Unintelligible) told you. Thanks.

DAVIES: And that's our guest, Ryan Gosling, with his friend, Bianca, the sex doll in the film "Lars and the Real Girl."

How do you get this - how do you,...

GOSLING: She's still in my living room, by - she's still in my living room, by the way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: She is. She's reading a book by the window. I don't know what to do.

DAVIES: I don't know whether you're kidding me or not.

GOSLING: I'm not kidding.

DAVIES: Really?

GOSLING: I'm not kidding. But what do I do, put her in the garage? It just feels weird. It feels like she'd be lonely out there or something.

DAVIES: Do you ever talk to her?

GOSLING: No, I don't.

DAVIES: That's reassuring.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DAVIES: Now, I read that - I don't know if this is true. I read that when the film was being made, that the sex doll, Bianca, had her own dressing room with magazines to read, right?

GOSLING: Yeah.

DAVIES: I mean was she sort of treated as a cast member?

GOSLING: Yeah. I mean we tried very hard, the director did - I appreciated - to make her as real as possible, that the crew could go on the same journey that we as the cast were being forced to go through. And, you know, she had a trailer and she had her own like contract with nudity clauses and all the things that actresses would have. And, you know, and I'll tell you, I've worked with actresses that have given me less.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: And she had, you know, she was given magazines in between takes. And, you know, what was kind of amazing about the experience - by the end people were trying it out. I saw, you know, grips would take five minutes with their coffee and go over and you'd see them kind of mumbling to her...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOSLING: ...trying to see what it was like to talk to her. And what she, the effect that she had was interesting. You'd just end up getting and to this, you know, dialogue with yourself. That was an interesting dialogue to have. You know, I embraced it and I started to see people embrace it. And, you know, but ultimately, you know, the main criticism of the film that I heard was, you know, people saying, oh yeah, that's not possible, you know, people in the town would never believe she was real and would never go around acting like that. You know, and I mean in one case I would say maybe that's not true because I saw this film crew really trying to give it a shot. But at the same time, you know, it was a fantasy. And it's like a fairy tale.

DAVIES: Yeah, a fable. Yeah.

GOSLING: People were taking it so literally. It was interesting.

DAVIES: Well, Ryan Gosling, thanks so much for spending some time with us.

GOSLING: Oh, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank you.

GROSS: Ryan Gosling spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Gosling's new film, "Blue Valentine," opens in New York and LA December 31st. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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