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Not an Action Figure

His choices are daring—like the unconventional romance Lars and the Real Girl, in which he played a young man in love with a sex doll. Gosling pulled that off by digging into the character, with his usual Method-like tenacity. “I like to put it on the line,” he says, “whether it works or not, who cares?” And if he can’t do it his way, he really doesn’t care. Soon after Lars, Peter Jackson asked him to play the father in The Lovely Bones. His exit from the project, over “creative differences,” was typical. Among other things, he showed up on set 30 pounds heavier, to more credibly play a man ten years older than his then 26.

Which brings Gosling’s grand total of movies since 2006 to a whopping two—a number he’ll double this month, with All Good Things and Blue Valentine. “A friend of mine in the business told me Ryan was considered ungettable,” says Andrew Jarecki, the director of All Good Things. “He’s offered 50 big films a year, and he does one, maybe.” (Overstatement noted, but Gosling’s desirability is in remarkable contrast to his modest bankability.)

“To some extent, I think every actor would like to have been in The Notebook,” says Jarecki. “For Ryan, establishing an enormous audience means he now he gets to experiment.”

In All Good Things, he plays a character based on New York real-estate scion Robert Durst, who was linked to the disappearance of his wife (played by Dunst) and a female friend; he was suspected (but never convicted) of their murder. Durst did go to jail for killing a neighbor in Texas. He was hiding out there—disguised as a woman. Gosling liked the role because “a lot of women think they’re with the guy from The Notebook” when, in fact, they are with a homicidal nut-job.

Gosling is sitting on a couch, in a big, puffy sweatshirt, looking defiantly ordinary and talking excitedly about YouTube videos, Disneyland rides, and monster movies. When he’s not working, which is a lot of the time, he, like Franco, can’t stand still. He sings and plays in the band Dead Man’s Bones; haunts magic shows run by the original Magic Castle crew in Hollywood; takes shifts in a downtown L.A. deli, just for the hell of it; and waits tables at Tagine, a restaurant in Beverly Hills that he co-owns. At one time he was making “spooky leg lamps with sagging fishnets” out of prosthetic limbs. “He’s constantly pulling things out of his pocket—secrets that seem to be in contradiction to who he is,” says Michelle Williams, who co-stars with Gosling in Valentine. “Can you imagine someone as masculine and alpha as Ryan also likes to take ballet lessons?”

Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance, is the film that best captures Gosling’s particular brand of manliness—the back-and-forth between tender, boyish goofiness and a more virile, dangerous, and unpredictable sexuality. The film tracks the six-year devolution of a romance between Dean (Gosling), bighearted and blue-collar, and Cindy (Williams), the shy young nurse he marries and has a daughter with. The film is ultimately devastating—at times harsh and claustrophobic, like a pomo Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? “Ryan plays his character with such brutal honesty,” says his friend Mark Ruffalo. “It’s when acting becomes being.”

Gosling was intrigued by the script’s evocation of “erosion and what a powerful force that is, that can turn a mountain into a rock. The film is like that Supremes song ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ ” he says. “It’s a mystery and you in the audience are the detective because the characters in the movie are too close to it—they’re not able to see what went wrong, what happened. They still love each other, but they’re not in love: Why?”

He tried to persuade Cianfrance to shoot the two parts of the film—the couple’s courtship and the crumbling of the marriage—six years apart, to match the timeline of the script. “We couldn’t get anyone to finance that idea,” says Gosling. So the director enabled his star’s love of improvisation and full character immersion as best he could. After completing the scenes of Dean and Cindy falling in love (which includes an enchanting ukulele moment), and to prepare for the bad times, Gosling and Williams moved into a Pennsylvania house for four weeks with the young actress who played their daughter. They had a pretend Christmas and birthdays, and Gosling “would make us ice-cream shakes to put on weight,” says Williams. “We’d clean up the kitchen, take out the trash, do a budget—I’d do a budget and Ryan would try to put in $500 a year for cigarettes.”

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