The most impressive thing about actor Ryan Gosling is not his dreamy blue eyes, or the internet memes he has spawned; it’s the way he switches effortlessly from high budget romances to small, gritty independent movies, refusing to rest on his good looks, constantly surprising audiences at every turn.
In 2010 Gosling won acclaim for his emotional role in Derek Cianfrance’s low budget Blue Valentine, as a husband trying to make it work with his wife (Michelle Williams). To prepare, the two actors lived in their on-set house, a rare experience that paid off once shooting began. And it was during the filming of Blue Valentine that Cianfrance mentioned the idea for his next movie, The Place Beyond The Pines. “My fantasy has always been that I want to rob a bank,” admits Gosling. “I told him how I would do it, and Derek said, ‘you got to be kidding me! I just wrote a script about that!’ So I said, ‘I’m in’, and years later I read that script and I realised that I wasn’t even really in it that much! But I was in, even though I wasn’t in it.”
In Pines, Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt rider struggling to be a good father to his baby son, born out of a fling with local waitress Romina (Eva Mendes). In a misguided attempt to provide for them, he begins to rob banks, using his motorbike as a getaway vehicle. This sets off fifteen years worth of events, involving local cop Avery (Bradley Cooper) and each of their sons.
Cianfrance says he was inspired to write the story when his wife was pregnant with their second son. “I was thinking about this fire I had always felt inside of me that had helped me do a lot of things in my life and had also been very destructive. I’m thinking about how my father and my grandfather had that fire and how this little baby was going to come into the world and just be clean. I was wishing that he wouldn’t get that fire, that I wouldn’t give it to him, that he would have his own path. So I decided to write a movie about that.”
After watching Blue Valentine, actress Eva Mendes knew she had to meet the filmmaker responsible. She tracked him down, and a year after they met, she was asked to audition for the role of Romina. “I really wanted to show them that I was serious,” she admits. “I told Derek, ‘you’re an unconventional filmmaker; I’m an unconventional auditioner. I would like to take you for a ride. I grew up around LA. I’ll show you a little bit about myself’. We went out and I just drove him around. I’m a first generation American like my character, so I showed the similarities. It was a special ride. We had a nice bonding moment.”
Like Gosling and Williams in Blue Valentine, Mendes was able to stay in her onscreen home to immerse herself in Romina’s world. “Derek tells you, ‘that’s your house. Make it your home. Spend as much or as little time as you want and just make it yours.’ There would be times I would be in there alone, other times I had my little onscreen baby. I would also be with the woman who plays my Mum. But what’s beautiful is he doesn’t tell you to do that. He says, ‘it’s there for you if you would like it to do it.’ There is just beautiful freedom.”
And not only did Mendes jump at that opportunity, she was also excited by the prospect of her character aging 15 years throughout the course of the movie. “Oh my God! That was the big thrill for me!” she says, “I was excited to go the extra mile and age 15 years. Instead of making her older, I wanted to make her more haggard. Ask Derek, I said, ‘Can I shave my eyebrows?’ Everyday I was in there creating wrinkles… I know this sounds weird but I even used things that made me slouchier, heavier on top. I worked on my speech; you name it. I would have gained a lot of weight for it, but I had two days to go from mid-20s to early ‘40s. If I had more time I would have gone a lot harder because I was very excited to completely portray this character. Derek had to hold me back!”
“You could talk to anyone who has worked with Derek,” adds Gosling, “He doesn’t just change you as an actor. He changes your life. He puts you in a situation where you’re forced to live through the experience of the character. You actually have these experiences. It’s not as simple as just acting or playing a scene. It’s unlike any other experience I’ve had on a film. He spends all of his money on just having time for you to prepare. He got rid of his lighting package on Blue Valentine so we could have those two weeks in the house to live as though we were a couple, because he believes that that time will find its way into the fabric of the movie. That’s the one thing you never get on films. Everything is rushed. You just imagine time has passed. So to work in this way is very different. Also, it has an effect on the way you do everything because you can see what comes out of really just taking the time.”
BY ALICIA MALONE
The Place Beyond The Pines is in cinemas now.