To sum up director Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines is a daunting task, so let's just give you the bare bones of it: A motorcycle stunt driver named Luke (Ryan Gosling) begins robbing banks in order to support his girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and unplanned child, a move that inadvertently brings him face to face with a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper) struggling with the corruption in his police department.
That's just the first act. What occurs throughout the film is the unraveling of a tangled web of relationships that span generations—and incorporating a cast that includes Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Dane Dehaan and Emory Cohen—all tied to the encounter between the cop and the robber.
Which is why we we're looking at the film from a different point of view: Ryan Gosling. At the movie's New York press day, the 32-year-old actor sat down with us to not only address the film's intricacies, but indulge us in conversation about his chemistry with the cast, the skyrocketing of his career, and of course, his "Hey Girl" meme.
As told to Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
On the comparisons between The Place Beyond the Pines and director Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive:
"I feel like they are very different movies. Drive is a very surreal film, more of a dream. And [The Place Beyond the Pines] is a film all about consequences and the ramifications of your actions. In Drive, I could smash a guy's head in an elevator and you never hear about it again, while in this there are only two shots fired and they resonate throughout the entire movie. I felt like the Driver was not a real person, and this character is someone that is very much kind of a mess or a disaster of a person. I guess to me they’re like The Notebook and Blue Valentine. [Laughs.]"
On working with director Derek Cianfrance:
"[Cianfrance] says [I have freedom], but that isn’t true. [Laughs.] For instance, with the face tattoo, I regretted it instantly and I said, 'This looks ridiculous and I can't do this to me or your movie. I regret it.' And he said, 'Well that is what people do with face tattoos, they regret it.' Then he said, 'This movie is about consequences, so know you are stuck with it.' I was upset at the time, but I was glad that he held my feet to the fire and it gave me this sense of shame that I don’t think I could have acted in the film.
"I didn't want to be photographed, or even look at myself in the mirror. I felt ridiculous and I started to feel how this character felt. This was a character who was a melting pot of every masculine cliché: tattoos, muscles, guns—it’s overkill. And when he is presented with this child that he didn’t know he had, it's like a mirror is held up to him and he realizes that he wasn’t really a man at all, that all of those things don’t make you a man, and that at the heart of it he is an empty person. So, he desperately tries to, in an equally romantic—in his own mind—and unrealistically romantic way, turn it around by doing this dangerous grand gesture for his kid, which is as foolish as a knife under your eye."
On his chemistry with co-star Eva Mendes:
"I would like to say that it was us, but I think the reality is that it is Derek’s process. I think that chemistry is evident in other relationships in the movie as well. The chemistry between Dane [Dehaan] and Emory [Cohen] and Bradley [Cooper] and Rose [Byrne], so much of it is about Derek’s process and the kind of environment he puts you in that evokes a kind of connection. I think we all have chemistry with one another because we were the only actors in the vicinity, because everyone else was real people from the environment. There was a connection [between us actors] because you're like, 'Oh my god, they are going to smell a rat.' I’m sure I was sticking out like a sore thumb."
On the homoerotic storyline between him and Ben Mendelsohn that got cut from the film:
After I did [The Believer], people were talking to me like I was some serious person all of a sudden. I tried to play that role for a while because it felt good, but it wasn’t something that I knew, it was something that I was pretending to be and hoped to believe at a certain point. You fake it until you make it.
"It got cut, because the film was too long, but I think it's hard to separate myself from that when I see the movie. I think when we initially played it, it was two men, Luke and Robin (Mendelsohn), sharing a jail cell for a long time, and there is a deep intimacy there that can manifest itself in a number of different ways. I think that they were both very lonely people who found themselves together and were craving intimacy and connection. [To them], there was this possibility for that even though it wasn’t something that was necessarily going to happen, it was just kind of looming. The way that Ben played it was so beautiful because there were scenes where he genuinely felt like he was falling in love and he was doing this to make Luke happy and to bond them because they weren’t going to be able to bond physically. It was like a connecting experience that they could have, and it was very heartbreaking and beautiful. It was not a choice that I expected, but that is what is incredible about Ben Mendelsohn, he just completely turned it on his ear."
On the experience he's bringing to his own directorial debut, How to Catch a Monster:
"As much as you want to try and adopt styles, I don’t think it's wise. The things I admire about the filmmakers I've worked with is that they're themselves, and they don’t try and make movies like anyone else, but not in an egocentric way. When you're a director, there's nowhere to hide; you're completely exposed. As an actor you can say, 'It’s the character, or I didn’t write it, I didn’t direct it, I didn’t cut it, I didn’t score it, I didn’t make that poster.' You can hide behind a lot of things, whereas a filmmaker, you're responsible for everything. I didn’t realize how much you can tell about a filmmaker by their films."
On transitioning from child star to leading man:
"The reality is, I was gift wrapped a career by Henry Bean who gave me this opportunity to do this movie The Believer, which was coming from doing Young Hercules and The Mickey Mouse Club. The movie was something that gave me the opportunity to break out of that in a way that I don’t think I could've done without it. I couldn’t get an audition for The Believer, or anything like that because of my past, and yet after I did that film, people were talking to me like I was some serious person all of a sudden. I tried to play that role for a while because it felt good, but it wasn’t something that I knew, it was something that I was pretending to be and hoped to believe at a certain point. You fake it until you make it."
On being an Internet sensation:
"It is just like a wrong place, wrong time kind of thing."