If someone needed proof that Ryan Gosling is one of the coolest leading men in Hollywood, they needn’t look any further than Drive, where he plays a stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway man. Ironically, the film primarily seems to focus on the deterioration of his character’s coolness; but Gosling has always been more interested in getting under his characters’ skins than embracing their surface. Movies.com sat down with Gosling at the recent Los Angeles press day for Drive, where he talked about creating a rapport with his director, Nicolas Winding Refn, discovering his character’s identity, and engineering a career that balances commercial opportunities with creative challenges.
Movies.com: How cool does this guy know he is, or how much self-awareness does he have? The movie is so spartan in its depiction of both action and character detail.
Ryan Gosling: Well, it wasn’t that way when we started, and it was a process of discovering what the movie was while we made it. Nicolas and I had a bad first meeting and we weren’t going to make this movie together, but then REO Speedwagon came on the radio and if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t have made the film. And that sounds funny, but it’s true. Something happened when REO Speedwagon came on the radio; we creatively copulated, and a movie-baby was born, and now we had to raise it. And we kept chasing – it wasn’t in the script that the movie should be about a guy driving around listening to music because that’s the only way he can feel and that he was a guy who had seen so many movies that he was confusing his life for one, and was lost in the mythology of Hollywood.
But I felt that way even though it wasn’t in there, and so did Nic. And for some reason REO Speedwagon made us realize that. And so we were trying to figure out how is it that we could be so wildly different, and yet we’re sharing the same dream. And we kept chasing that night; anytime we had a minute, we were just in the car driving around listening to music, trying to create a movie around that experience.
Movies.com: The character’s background is never explained in the film. How much do you retain that sense of ambiguity in your preparation? Or do you still create a backstory even if it’s not going to be revealed in the film?
RG: Well, the Driver is a myth, and so in his mind, he is a knight that’s been sent to rescue this damsel in distress. So the way to prepare for something like this is to get lost in the mythology, to allow yourself to get lost in it, not to try and be too realistic. He is not a person who’s realistic. He’s psychotic, and he’s having a psychotic lapse towards the end of the film. And the one thing that I thought more than anything else is that he always had this feeling that he was a werewolf, and he was going to turn into one someday. He felt this darkness and this violence in him, and it was growing, and he was trying to find something good that he could channel it into and be a hero – because if he didn’t, he would just become a villain. So I thought more like that.
Movies.com: Does the script do the work of making sure that he can be cool and ferocious and vulnerable, or do you have to create an emotional foundation that connects these different reactions?
RG: Um, well, you’ve got to take out the dialogue, because then you can hear yourself think. There’s so many lines floating around, and they can misrepresent or confuse the spirit of what’s happening. So what we did was just cut out all of the dialogue and then try and run the scenes without any dialogue at all. And it would become clear what needed to be said and what didn’t need to be said, and in moments like that, which originally was like a lot of exposition about the story and what had happened and why it happened and all of those things, when we took that out and just walked down the hall together, it just felt like all you really needed to say was, “I have this money and I thought you could have it and I could come with you and protect you if you wanted me to.” So it’s a testament to the way Nicolas works, if you enjoyed that scene; if you didn’t then it’s not a testament to it (laughs). But if it worked for you, it’s a testament to allowing yourself the freedom to eliminate dialogue so you can let the scene tell you what it wants to be.
Movies.com: The original idea was of the character listening to pop music, but the film’s soundtrack is obviously much more stylized. Did you listen to more conventional pop music, or even some of the songs that made it into the film, as you played the role?
RG: I had been listening to Glass Candy, Chromatics, Mirage, the After Dark record, stuff on Italians Do It Better, and I had been listening to it a lot right around that time. And it’s hard to talk about this film without talking about Mat Newman, who was the editor; if you saw Bronson, he was the one listening to the Walker Brothers and decided to put in “The Electrician,” you know. And Nic was listening to the Pet Shop Boys, and they’re just a great team. And Mat had been listening to Kavinsky and FM Attack, and so had Nicolas, so we were all in that world when we started making this movie. So we knew immediately – the first thing we all agreed on was that that would be the sound of it. And it definitely drove the aesthetic of it. There’s something electronic about the Alexa we shot on, because it’s not film; it’s digital, but it also has this kind of – it’s like a visual version of a synthesizer.
Movies.com: You seem to be at a place where you’re more easily able to find projects that have commercial potential but also have real artistic integrity. How hard is it to find collaborators like Nicolas or Derek Cianfrance whose projects both give you a mainstream visibility and creatively challenge you?
RG: Well, look – I’ve been looking for these guys for a long time, and now that I’ve found them, I just want to make movies with them. I hope we get to make many movies together and keep honing what’s already naturally there. The dream has always been for me to make personal films that resonate with a large audience. I don’t want to make little movies that nobody sees, you know? But if that’s the way it is, so be it. I’d rather make something – I mean, I see how it works in the other world, but I also feel like the films that resonate with me are films that are personal to that filmmaker, and to have a singular vision. That there aren’t like too many cooks in the kitchen. Those are the films that I want to make.
But you have to share the same vision as the director. You can’t – I’ve tried it. I’ve tried to infuse my dream for a film into a movie where the director disagreed, and it just hits the cutting room floor and it’s depressing every time. The film becomes a feathered fish – it doesn’t swim, and it doesn’t fly. It just doesn’t work. And so for me, it’s as important to find filmmakers where we share the same dream – and I fucking thank God I found these guys.
Movies.com: In sharing that vision, how much of the ultimate success do you feel like comes from giving yourself over to what he wants, or having him shape it while shooting or editing the film?
RG: It doesn’t work like that when you make movies this way, because the thing that both Nicolas and Derek have in common although they’re very different filmmakers is that Derek is only interested in the truth; he’s only interested in what would really happen, and Nicolas is only interested in what turns him on. But they both work the same way in that the process of making the film informs what the film is. It’s not like they have some kind of master vision and then you’re just fulfilling that during the course of the making of the film. Your life becomes the movie and the movie becomes your life. When I work with Derek I’m always at his house and we work all day and I’m at his house all night, and we’re just walking in the streets and talking about life and movie. And the same thing with Nic when I work with Nic; when we weren’t shooting, we would drive around listening to music, go to the 101 Diner, and talk about life and movies. And the discoveries that we make in those moments, we then go to set the next day and implement them into the film. So you trust the guy who’s directing, because you’re living the same life at that moment; it’s not like you’re wondering, well, where’s this guy coming from? You’re in each other’s skin. So it’s not like his idea versus mine. We’re having the same ideas.