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Business News/ Specials / Ryan Gosling brought the fun back to movies. He’s just getting started.
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Ryan Gosling brought the fun back to movies. He’s just getting started.

wsj

Coming off a ‘Barbie’ high, the actor shares his post-Ken plans and the way being a dad has shaped the arc of his career.

Gucci shirt, pants and shoes, stylist’s own T-shirt and Gosling’s own ring and necklace. (Image: WSJ)Premium
Gucci shirt, pants and shoes, stylist’s own T-shirt and Gosling’s own ring and necklace. (Image: WSJ)

Ryan Gosling really isn’t just Ken. The 43-year-old, an improbable elder statesman of Hollywood, is more like a rare reissue—a movie star–singer-dancer combo not equaled in charisma and box-office allure since Gene Kelly swung around a lamppost in the rain.

Mostly, however, he’s Papi.

The actor is so much of a dad that he does the celebrity impossible: He mentions his children unbidden near the start of an interview about his newest movie, repeating a story about how the kids critiqued him while watching him rehearse for his big Oscars musical number just days earlier. Toward the end of the conversation, when asked if his two daughters with Cuban-American actress Eva Mendes call him Papi—or “Daddy" in Spanish—he allows that they do. The girls are learning the language. They say it with a little accent.

“It kills me every time," he says. “There’s just nothing, nothing better than that."

At this moment, the springtime of 2024, there may be nothing, nothing better than being Papi Gosling.

The massive hit Barbie is in his back pocket. His performance of the film’s bombastic song “I’m Just Ken" brought down the house as the openly stated high point of the Oscars, helping power the show to its first broadcast gain in years. Now he has The Fall Guy, an action picture about stuntmen that racked up sparkling reviews after it premiered at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

Chatting from a quiet spot at Austin’s exclusive Soho House, he still maintains a strong protective bubble around the subject of his family. But every now and then Papi can’t help himself, like when he mentions that one of his daughters had just given him a prize: The Center of My Life Award.

Pouring coffee from a pot placed next to a cookie that he doesn’t touch, he allows that he’s a little exhausted. “I’ve been on this Barbie high for a while now," he says, still wearing the necklace his daughters gave him, which he kissed at the end of his Oscars number as a signal to them. He commandeers a good block of personal space at 6 feet tall, with black work boots on the bottom and three layers of shirts on top (open plaid button-down over T-shirt over thermal long sleeve).

After crisscrossing a variety of roles, from the lovelorn regular guy (The Notebook) to the brooding loner (Blade Runner 2049), the onetime indie favorite has achieved a new level of fame. And he’s taken it upon himself to do what few actors can: lure people not just to his movie, but to the movies, in all their decibel-rattling, big-head-blocking-your-view glory. Gosling was involved in The Fall Guy from top to bottom, reinventing the 1980s Lee Majors TV series as a mainstream crowd-pleaser that is itself a love letter to moviemaking. Now he’s producing for the first time in a decade, angling for The Fall Guy to become his first mini-franchise and trying to champion the everyman on-screen and in the theater seats. He’s targeting a wide audience by making a film that’s a comedy, an action movie, a love story and a bonanza of real stunts all together.

“I want to make stuff that’s inclusive and that’s not for an audience of one," says Gosling, whose mass appeal announced itself once again last month when his Saturday Night Live hosting gig propelled the show to its biggest viewership since 2021.

“I think for so long I was just trying to pay the bills and work," he says. “It’s only recently that I feel like I realized that I have this opportunity to actually make the kind of films that made me love movies."

THE MOVIE INDUSTRY sometimes appears to ignore the very films that sustain it, the way Barbie was largely snubbed at the Oscars even though it led the 2023 box office.

Gosling can’t help but raise a question about the awards season he just experienced. “There seems to be such a hyper-focus on everyone in the room that these shows tend to forget about everyone at home," he says. “It almost feels like, ‘Well, why is it televised?’ So, yeah, I too want to be entertained."

A movie about stunt doubles and actors is the definition of Hollywood looking at itself. But the film’s creators see The Fall Guy as a chance to focus on stunt performers, people who date back to the start of cinema but are so overlooked they’ve never had their own Oscar category.

“Most of these action movies are spy franchises and remorseless killers and assassins, and I’ve done them all in the past," says the film’s director, David Leitch, a former stuntman himself. “But The Fall Guy is a very relatable blue-collar hero."

The film is a meta movie-within-a-movie that starts with a rock anthem—“I Was Made for Lovin’ You," by KISS—before walkie-talkie chatter and a call for “quiet, please" on set. Within minutes, stunt double Colt Seavers (Gosling) falls 12 stories in a stunt gone wrong. After a mopey 18-month recovery from a back injury, he returns to work to pursue an old flame, Jody (Emily Blunt). She’s got her big break directing the sci-fi alien picture Metalstorm, whose leading man, international celebrity Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has gone missing. Cue the car chases, fight scenes and Ryan Gosling on a spinning garbage truck.

Gosling and the cast often improvised. “He’s always looking for something more surprising than what you’d find in a usual movie scene," says Blunt. “It feels very alive."

While making the movie, real-life stuntman Logan Holladay set a Guinness world record for cannon rolls—that’s when a car rolls over completely—with eight-and-a-half revolutions. Gosling likes to tell the story of how Holladay, who has a cameo as a stunt crew member in the cannon-roll scene, buckled Gosling into the car, did the stunt himself, then patted Gosling on the back for the cameras.

Gosling moans in pain a lot in this movie. He’s acting. He’s never really been injured on a film set, even after doing some of his own stunts in The Fall Guy. For the character of Colt, Gosling talked with stunt performers about how different stunts feel physically. He learned that nothing is easy and everything hurts.

“You can’t breathe or the wind is knocked out of you, or you’re seeing stars or you’re kind of blacking out," he says.

The film mocks movie-star egos, but Gosling sees that kind of celebrity self-regard as more than simple vanity.

“There’s a mythmaking, a self-mythologizing that first has to go on in order for you to believe that you have something to offer, and that you can go into these rooms filled with a hundred other people that are better looking and more talented and somehow think that you should get the job," Gosling says. “There’s a fake-it-till-you-make-it type of thing that then once you start to work, then there’s a whole business around helping you create that even more so."

Gosling is about to start shooting Project Hail Mary, which he’s also producing. It’s about a science teacher who is sent into space, where he meets a benevolent spider alien while both attempt to save their respective worlds. The long-in-development feature is based on the novel by Andy Weir of The Martian.

The crowd-pleasing nature of Gosling’s Barbie stardom provided a jolt of energy to his career not long after his return from a four-year hiatus, which he took to spend more time with his family. Following the critically praised but underperforming Apollo 11 drama First Man in 2018, Gosling didn’t return to acting until The Gray Man in 2022. That spy thriller marked the actor’s first major foray into streaming, and though the Netflix movie reported to cost $200 million drew plenty of viewers, it never quite hit the zeitgeist. There are no talks for Gosling to reprise the role.

He is, however, eager to prolong the life of The Fall Guy. A second movie has not been announced, but Gosling, Blunt and Leitch say they are ready to proceed should the first film do well. “We already know exactly what the sequel is—we, just for ourselves, wanted to know what happened to these characters," says Gosling. “I hope that the audience wants to see it."

Gosling grew up in Cornwall, Ontario, where his father and uncle worked in a paper mill and where, according to an old Mouseketeers video, young Ryan hung out in the local music store, walked his white dog Smidgen, played ball hockey at school and ate corn on the cob at the local Cornfest.

One day, a family member surprised Gosling in his living room. “My uncle was bedazzling a jumpsuit and saying, ‘I’m going to be Elvis for a little while,’ " the actor recalls. His uncle, who went by the name Elvis Perry, needed a venue to perform, so Gosling and his sister, Mandi, helped organize his shows, where they sang and danced. Ryan found unlikely performers with special talents for the show—“someone from the grocery store, a teacher from school"—and his uncle brought down the house with the finale.

Gosling had been dancing in a local troupe when the girls from the group wanted to try out for The All New Mickey Mouse Club, so he joined them. Gosling was cast. On the show, he looked credible in a suit while pretending to be a newscaster. But he was still so young that when he sang “I want you back, baby," he should’ve added the word “sitter."

Gosling and his mom lived in a trailer park. His parents divorced when he was 13. He has described roaming Disney World alone, seeing Mickey Mouse with his head off on a break drinking coffee. Gosling’s lower profile would help keep him out of the tabloids years later, unlike some Mickey Mouse Club veterans from his era, including Britney Spears andJustin Timberlake.

In 2004, he appeared in the sentimental love story The Notebook. He was struck by the commitment of director Nick Cassavetes. “When I met Nick he was crying by his pool telling me that he loved so much and he only wanted to work with people who loved a lot," says Gosling, who recalls the director weeping and saying the words for the two lead characters while he filmed.

He’d already met Eva Mendes before co-starring with her in the drama The Place Beyond the Pines from filmmaker Derek Cianfrance, who also directed Gosling in Blue Valentine. It’s about a motorcycle rider in a traveling carnival who meets up with his former fling and falls hard for her and the child he didn’t know he had.

“All I can say," says Cianfrance, “is I believed every moment of it."

NOW GOSLING is in peak Dad mode.

The actor says that these days he is picking roles that are not too psychologically twisted so he can go home and still be present with his family, which would be Mendes and their two children, Esmeralda, 9, and Amada, 8. “I don’t really take roles that are going to put me in some kind of dark place," he says. “This moment is what I feel like trying to read the room at home and feel like what is going to be best for all of us. The decisions I make, I make them with Eva and we make them with our family in mind first."

This desire to lean into lightness is still new.

“I think La La Land was the first," he says of his shift since having kids. “It was just sort of like, Oh, this will be fun for them, too, because even though they’re not coming to set, we’re practicing piano every day or we’re dancing or we’re singing. Their interest in Barbie and their disinterest in Ken was an inspiration. I thought, they were already making little movies about their Barbies on the iPad when it happened, so the fact that I was going off to work to make one too, we just felt like we were aligned."

As a producer, he can shoot his movies when his kids’ school schedules allow, in locations that enable his family to stay together. So far the family has accompanied him on every film, including The Fall Guy, which was shot in Sydney, Australia.

Gosling hasn’t feared for his life in previous roles, even when he spun so crazily in a NASA rig for First Man that he needed an MRI. This time, however, things felt different. While preparing to drop in a safety harness from a ledge into an atrium in The Fall Guy, he realized he’d developed a sudden terror around heights. He tried to make the white-knuckle moment look casual on film, but internally he froze. “My body turns to stone," he says.

“I think it’s happened when I had kids—really, you start to be way more conscious of everything you do and everything you’ve ever done and everything you will do if you get a chance to do it."

Rather than raise his kids in reaction to his own childhood, Gosling says, he wants to clean the slate. “I’m trying to just figure out who they are and be there for them in the way that I can," he says. “They’re such clear and distinct personalities that it’s sort of becoming obvious."

The actor calls Mendes, who still has the hall-monitor sash from her straight-arrow student days, “a dream mother" who studies child-rearing with a sense of purpose. She posts parenting quotes on her Instagram. “Heal," reads one. “Because we have children that don’t deserve the broken version of us."

Gosling follows the empathetic advice of Instagram-famous parenting expert Dr. Becky Kennedy. The Fall Guy even includes the line, “Two things can be true," which sounds like a comic twist on a signature Dr. Becky catchphrase about how parents and kids can hold two seemingly opposing thoughts or feelings at the same time.

“You just want to be everything they deserve," Gosling says, “and you struggle with your own flaws."

From his bad-boy roles in film over the years, Gosling has picked up some tricks, including as a stunt driver. But with the kids in the back seat, he’s sensible behind the wheel. For now.

“I drive like my mother," he says. “But when I’m alone, and I pass an empty parking lot, I’d be lying if I don’t run through the possibilities of drifting a little and doing a few backwards 180s. Once you have that knowledge, it’s hard to shake it."

Write to Ellen Gamerman at ellen.gamerman@wsj.com

 

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