Ryan's new avatar

Ryan's new avatar

Daunting roles

Ryan's new avatar

Actor Ryan Gosling is teaming up with his ‘Blue Valentine’ director, Derek Cianfrance, for the three-part drama ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’, Dennis Lim writes

“I never felt more like Janet Leigh in my life,” Ryan Gosling said with his best straight face. Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance, who has known Gosling for seven years and directed him in two films, chimed in, “You have a nice figure, like she does.”Gosling replied: “The hair. That’s why I went platinum.”

The two men were slumped on a sofa in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria recently, legs up on a coffee table, evidently happy to reprise the bantering double act they honed while promoting the acclaimed 2010 indie drama Blue Valentine. Speaking of their second film together, The Place Beyond the Pines, they were not exactly finishing each other’s sentences — the voluble Cianfrance tends to finish his own — but had clearly settled into an established rhythm. While 39-year-old Cianfrance (pronounced SEE-in-france), spoke with earnest passion, Gosling, (32), mostly listened and smiled, contributing the occasional wry remark and arched eyebrow.

About chemistry

Cianfrance was describing the unusual structure of The Place Beyond the Pines, a triptych of related stories, as an homage to what he called “the baton pass” of Psycho, in which the top-billed Janet Leigh made a famously premature exit.

The Place Beyond the Pines begins with the faintly mythical tale of Luke (Gosling), a nomadic motorcycle stunt rider who rolls back into an upstate New York town and reconnects with an ex, the mother of his child (Eva Mendes, with whom Gosling has been romantically linked since the shoot). The second segment follows Avery (Bradley Cooper), a police officer struggling to escape the shadow of his father, a powerful politician. The third explores the aftermath of the event that links Luke and Avery, revisiting some of the characters 15 years later. Pines received mixed reviews when it was played at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, with The Guardian calling it “ambitious and epic, perhaps to a fault”, and The Hollywood Reporter noting that it “packs moments of searing power.”

Each story within the film concerns fatherhood and the burden of legacy. “It’s the idea of trying to avoid something and ending up colliding into it,” Cianfrance said. “Luke is trying to avoid his son growing up without a father. Avery is trying to avoid being his father’s son. Every character in the film deals with that. They’re avoiding a bit of destiny.”

Despite his departure a third of the way into the film, Gosling’s character looms over the rest of it. “Ryan is playing the legend that the movie’s built around,” Cianfrance said. “Whoever I cast as Avery had to be the flip side.” He knew Cooper was right, when he met the actor and detected an edge of unease beneath the star surface. “I could see this storm inside of him, like a pot of boiling water with a lid on it,” Cianfrance said. “I wrote the role for Bradley to play with that — a guy who’s paraded around as a hero but inside feels corrupted.” Gosling, by contrast, was playing a man whose scars were more conspicuous. “I was trying to create a portrait of somebody who had made a lifetime of bad decisions, and tattoos were the best way,” he said. In experimenting with (temporary) tattoos he went a bit overboard. “I had no restraint,” Gosling said. “They were crawling up towards my face.”

After one regrettable choice — in the shape of an exclamation mark, under his eye — he said he told Cianfrance he wanted it removed before filming: “But Derek said, ‘Well, this movie is about consequences.”’ Mortifying as it was, the tattoo served its purpose. “I felt this shame that in a way became the foundation of the character,” Gosling said.

Luke’s newfound fatherhood inspires a sense of responsibility, which paradoxically compels him to a life of crime. “When I look at the movie,” Gosling added, “I see this melting pot of all these masculine cliches: motorcycles, muscles, tattoos, guns, and yet when faced with this mirror, which is his child, he sees that none of those things make you a man.”

Action packed

Gosling recalled that his first meeting with Cooper was on camera, catching a glimpse of each other through a door. “It was like two alpha wolves, these two guys peeking at each other,” Cianfrance said. He added with a laugh, “I was reading a lot of Jack London at the time.” On Blue Valentine, Cianfrance had Gosling and Michelle Williams live together for a month in what would be their characters’ marital home.
For Pines he again wanted to “put the actors in an aquarium of real life,” he said.

They shot in police precincts and used actual tellers for bank robberies. Cianfrance modeled chase and getaway scenes after rough-and-tumble reality shows like Cops. While Rick Miller, a veteran stuntman, handled the most dangerous scenes, Gosling, a motorcycle enthusiast, trained for months and performed many stunts. One robbery scene was designed as a single-take set piece that allowed no room for error.
“There’s no place to cut or hide a stuntman,” Cianfrance said. “Ryan had to rob the bank, come out, start his motorcycle — it doesn’t start, finally it starts — go out into traffic, be pursued by a cop, blow through an intersection and avoid, like, 36 cars. We shot that scene 22 times.” How many did Cianfrance think were usable? “Just that last one.” Gosling deadpanned, “Welcome to my world.”

The Place Beyond the Pines continues the somewhat unexpected run of tough-guy roles for Gosling, not so long ago known for sensitive romances and indie dramas. This interest in violence, he acknowledged, began with Nicolas Winding Refn’s stylised, blood-soaked Drive (2011). Gosling has since worked with Refn again, playing a vigilante in the Thai boxing world in Only God Forgives, due this year.

“Drive is a dream. Only God Forgives is a nightmare,” Gosling said. “I feel very fortunate to be able to go back and forth between those wildly different realities.”
For their next projects Gosling and Cianfrance have reversed roles and admit to having taken cues from each other. Cianfrance can be seen in Towheads, a comic psychodrama directed by his wife, Shannon Plumb, that also stars their two sons, Walker and Cody. “It’s like a funny ‘Woman Under the Influence,”’ Gosling said. Cianfrance added, “It’s like Blue Valentine, but a slapstick comedy.”

Gosling is making his directing debut this year with How to Catch a Monster, which will star Christina Hendricks, his Drive co-star, and Mendes. All he will say about the film is that it was inspired by a screening of Drive at Cannes.

When Hendricks’ character meets a sudden, gruesome end “the audience gave a standing ovation,” Gosling said. “It was the strangest thing I’d ever been a part of, and in some way my movie is a bit about that experience.”

Being on Cianfrance’s sets has been useful. “It’s hard to explain the amount of effort I watch him put into making things look effortless,” Gosling said. With Blue Valentine, Gosling said, “I feel like time was the star of that movie. It took 12 years for him to make, and that made it unique.”

But on Pines, “we didn’t have a lot of time,” he continued. “I thought we were rushing it, and we had to make snap decisions. But that became the essential ingredient. It was very different from Blue, but in the same way Derek found a way to make the process the key.”

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