'The Nice Guys': Ryan Gosling loved playing for laughs opposite Russell Crowe
LOS ANGELES — There is a crazy comedian lurking deep inside low-key Canadian actor Ryan Gosling. For years, that hidden side has been desperate to emerge full force — and finally does in Shane Black’s retro noir comedy, The Nice Guys.
“I just think it’s part of life,” Gosling says about finding humour, even in the dark stuff of tragedy. “In movies, it gets sort of surgically removed,” he continues during a Canadian-exclusive, one-on-one interview, “and I never quite understood it.
“It also feels that, if you’re looking for the truth of something, you have to acknowledge the humour of it as well. So it is something that I always look out for and try to incorporate into the films that I am doing. It is not always welcome and often it gets cut out, you know. But I’m always confused by that because it seems counter-productive to me. Because, a lot of the time, it actually helps you feel more deeply about something. It kind of disarms you and you can’t prepare for the emotional punch that’s coming.”
The 35-year-old Gosling is one of the not-so-nice guys from the title of writer-director Black’s latest mashup of genres. The film opens Friday. The other guy involved is played by a brash-and-bold Australian star, Russell Crowe. Together, Gosling and Crowe form a crime-fighting team of misfits in a story set inside the seamy underworld of 1970s Los Angeles.
Limbs get broken, faces get punched, bodies rain from the sky-high top of buildings and plenty of people die, sometimes in agony. But audiences find themselves laughing at the noirish action hijinks, especially when Gosling and Crowe riff together and Gosling does his outrageous pratfalls, silent film style.
Says Crowe, in a separate interview: “There were definitely times on this when Ryan and I were looking at each other and saying: ‘If we do this scene, we are going to hell!’ ”
Count Crowe among Gosling’s admirers. Gosling is the reason Crowe said yes to doing the film, because he had intended to turn Black down before finding out who his co-star was going to be.
“Ryan is a cineaste,” Crowe says. “He has a knowledge of the history of film.” Audiences can see a physical comedy in Gosling’s performance, Crowe says, “that feels like it stretches between Harold Lloyd (a silent film star who almost always did his own risky stunts) and Gene Wilder (the beloved frizzy-haired comedian who peaked in the 1970s and ‘80s). And he knows where he is going with that stuff. That’s what I really love about working with him, man. Because, as funny as he is and he really makes me laugh genuinely, he is a serious intellect. He approaches the job very seriously. He loves it. He thinks about it. He has a perspective on everything you’re about to do. And that’s great, man. I dig that!”
Gosling is a bit aw-shucks about Crowe’s compliments. “It’s been so surprising to me how he has been so wildly supportive,” Gosling says. “And I really am grateful for that. I am used to meeting a certain amount of resistance when I am trying to take something in a comedic direction. To want to go as broad as I wanted to go with this, and to have Russell be such a champion of that, well … I am very grateful.”
Gosling does not, however, accept the notion that Crowe said yes to Black about The Nice Guys simply because the director revealed his casting choice. Especially because Black had flown to Sydney from Los Angeles to personally talk to Crowe.
“I think the reality of the story is that he felt guilty that Shane flew all the way to Australia,” Gosling says with a mischievous grin. “So he said: ‘Yes!’ But I’ll take it. I’ll say it. I’m happy to think I had something to do with that.”
In fact, Gosling had a lot to do with the entire enterprise that became The Nice Guys. The film was written more seriously by director Black and his writing partner Anthony Bagarozzi. But Gosling spiked his pre-shoot auditions and early read-throughs with crazy comedy moments. So the filmmakers had no choice but to notice, revel in the jokes and change the screenplay to embrace it all, Bagarozzi says. “Shane and I got together and said: ‘We’ve got to start writing around this stuff as it happens!’ ”
On the first few days on set, Gosling pushed it even further. “He’s Peter Sellers!” Bagarozzi recalls in awe. “We were thinking Drive, where he’s noir and cool. But he brought so much humour that the script kind of evolved around that. And Russell immediately picked up on that. It’s not that we set out to make this exact movie but, as it evolved, we thought: ‘This is a better movie!’ ”
“Okay,” says Gosling in mock distress. “It’s on me! It’s my fault! I just want to say that there’s a giant talking bee, a smoking bee, in this (in the original screenplay). So I can’t take full responsibility for the comedy element and I don’t know how serious and hard-boiled it was meant to be.”
Gosling giggles. He seems happy in his skin, as long as you are talking about his work, his sense of humour and his specific films. He wisely prefers not to talk about his private life, keeping it private. Of course, some things do not stay personal: Media reports have documented that Gosling and long-time girlfriend and actress Eva Mendez welcomed a second daughter last month. Amada Lee Gosling was born on April 29th at the Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
Fatherhood has seemed to settle the London, Ont.-born Gosling into a new rhythm. He had been known to take time off from acting to reflect on his career. And to explore his love of music through his rock band unit, Dead Man’s Bones.
But now Gosling is pursuing acting with more consistent vigour, as well as planning his second feature film as a director.
“I just realized that I’m lucky just to be an actor,” Gosling shares. “It’s an honour. I grew up dreaming about doing this. It sounds cliched. But I get to do it. Not only that, but I get to have choice and to work with people that I admire.”
He even chose to sign on for an undisclosed role for Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner reboot, a long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s original 1982 film, starring Harrison Ford. Gosling will co-star along with Ford, for whom everything old is new again.
Otherwise, the entire project is shrouded in secrecy. In a group interview, while looking out the window of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Gosling explains why he is helping to keep it that way: “There’s a sniper on that roof. So, if I say anything, that’s it for me!”
RYAN GOSLING’S TOP FIVE ROLES
At 35, actor-director Ryan Gosling already has major credits behind his name, along with an Oscar nomination and street credibility for balancing his serious career with mainstream entertainments.
As he waits for Shane Black’s noirish action comedy The Nice Guys to debut, and for the summer shoot on the Blade Runner sequel to begin, we look at the five most important and impactful films he has made to date. In chronological order:
1 — The Notebook (2004): Nicholas Sparks’ novel comes to life on screen as a full-blooded, deeply emotional romance. Gosling co-stars with another emerging Canadian talent, Rachel McAdams. Nick Cassavetes’ movie is now a cult favourite.
2 — Half Nelson (2006): Gosling earns his Oscar nom as best actor for playing a Brooklyn high school teacher with drug problems. Ryan Fleck’s acclaimed drama was little seen but respected by all who did screw up the courage to watch it.
3 — Blue Valentine (2010): After a three-year hiatus from the screen, Gosling returns in Derek Cianfrance’s gorgeous if traumatic drama about a troubled marriage. Michelle Williams co-stars.
4 — Drive (2011): He drives by night! Gosling is stunning as a movie stunt driver who moonlights in crime before getting caught up in a selfish act of protection and vengeance.
5 — The Big Short (2015): Gosling joins a remarkable ensemble that humanizes the financial events at the heart of Adam McKay’s unique Wall Street drama. The film is Oscar-nominated as best picture.