For perhaps the first time in his career, Ryan Gosling is showing signs of actually wanting to be a movie star. The potential has been there since 2004, when The Notebook made him an instant heartthrob and the most bankable young male actor on the planet. So instead, he chose to do a smattering of independent films. In addition to starring in the emotionally harrowing Blue Valentine, he has played a guy romancing a sex doll (Lars and the Real Girl), a junior-high teacher with a freebasing habit (Half Nelson, for which he got an Oscar nomination), and a murderous cross-dressing real-estate scion (All Good Things). * This summer’s Crazy, Stupid, Love was just the start of his return to more mainstream hunk-appropriate roles. Next, he stars as a stunt-driver turned getaway driver in Drive, from Nicolas Winding Refn (who won the Best Director award at Cannes), followed by The Ides of March, which was adapted from the play Farragut North (written by a former Howard Dean aide) and directed by and co-starring George Clooney. He spoke with Jada Yuan.
Everyone must ask you about Clooney.
Yeah, he’s dreamy.
What’s he like as a director?
It was amazing, like watching somebody try to explain a song in their head. I can only compare it to seeing Michael Jackson in This Is It, where he’s trying to explain to a keyboard player how to play a certain part—even in the sea of parts being played, he can pick that out. That’s kind of what George is like. He’s like Michael Jackson, basically.
I assume that’s a compliment.
I love Mike Jackson. [Clooney] knew exactly what he wanted, and he was very specific. A lot of directors aren’t so clear.
Did he play practical jokes?
He’d switch out the hard-boiled eggs at craft service with raw ones. And he liked to come over, give you very serious direction, get you in a very serious place, and then walk away, and you’d realize that he’d been spraying your crotch with an Evian bottle, and then he’d say, “Action.” You’d have to act with wet pants.
How’d he switch between the directing and the acting?
He’s like Bugs Bunny. He’s good at everything, and nothing really fazes him. He’s Bugs Bunny, and I’m Daffy Duck.
What about Refn? Why did you push for him to direct Drive?
I’d seen Bronson, Valhalla Rising, and the Pusher trilogy. I felt some kind of a kindred spirit with him, I guess. There was a moment during Valhalla where one character cuts the stomach open of another and pulls out his intestines [laughs], and everybody in the audience was yelling at the screen and hitting each other and turning around. It was fun to be there. I wanted Drive to be the kind of film that you wanted to go to the movie theater to see. I feel like Nicolas makes those kind of movies.
What was his take on the film?
I was driving Nick home from our terrible first meeting. He just basically didn’t look at me or talk to me. He sat next to me, so we were shoulder to shoulder, which is, uh, off-putting—and it was awkward silence. REO Speedwagon came on the radio, and he started singing at the top of his lungs and crying and banging on his knees and said, “This is what the movie is. It’s about a guy who just drives around listening to pop music because it’s the only way he can feel anything.” And I had been feeling the same way.
Drive seems somewhat commercial.
I wanted to make Pretty in Pink with a head-smashing.
With a head-smashing?
Yeah. I wanted to make a violent John Hughes movie. Because John Hughes movies are perfect. Or almost perfect. They just need a little violence. You need blood and cotton candy. So that’s what we tried to make.
People are already talking about you for an Oscar for Ides. But you had that last year for Blue Valentine and didn’t get nominated. What was that like?
Does that mean that getting nominated for Half Nelson was not a good experience?
I mean, my mother almost lost her mind. I worry about my family should it ever happen again, because they barely got out with their wits about them.
* This article has been corrected to show that the doll in Lars and the Real Girl was a sex doll, not a blow-up doll.