Interview: 'Drive' actor Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling rose to fame with the 2001 Sundance hit The Believer, which told the searing story of a violent, anti-semitic neo-Nazi thug who hides a shocking secret from his friends: he is Jewish. The film established Gosling as a fearless and meticulous actor ready to embrace the most difficult projects, although his starring role in the acclaimed 2004 tragi-drama The Notebook revealed his softer side. Though that film was a modest mainstream hit, Gosling has since chosen to concentrate on smaller, more character-based movies, most notably Half Nelson (2006), which brought him an Academy Award nomination as an urban schoolteacher with serious drug and alcohol issues.

After Lars And The Real Girl (2007), a bittersweet comedy in which he played a lonely man who has a relationship with an inflatable doll, Gosling gave what was arguably the keynote performance of his career to date in Derek Cianfrance's extraordinary Blue Valentine, which charted the crumbling marriage of a young blue-collar couple. In the violent, electronic-music scored retro thriller Drive – directed by Danish-born Nicolas Winding Refn – Gosling plays a nameless drifter who works as a stuntman by day and moonlights as a getaway driver by night. The driver keeps himself to himself, until his love for his pretty neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son leads him to abandon his usual caution and recklessly put his life on the line…

View some clips and a trailer from DRIVE right here on Cinemas Online. Or read our review of the film here.

When did you first meet Nicolas Winding Refn?

I met him in a restaurant and he ignored me for two hours.

Was that because he was ill?

Yeah, but I only found that out later. And I had really emphasised to everyone, to Marc Platt, the producer of Drive, that this was the guy. Even though I hadn't met him, it didn't matter. I knew he was the one that had to make this film, so I set up a meeting with Nicky.

What happened when you met?

It goes like this. We meet in a restaurant and he acts bored and disinterested. He just makes noises, y'know, like, 'Ummm…' 'Umm…' And that is //not// an answer. (Laughs) He doesn't eat anything, he doesn't drink anything, he doesn't wanna talk, he just wants to go home. So I say, "I'll take you home." Which was gonna be another hour and a half out of my day. I'm thinking, How could this be? How can I have been so //wrong// when I was sure I was so sure I was so right?! It's quiet in the car, so I turn up the radio to kill the silence. Suddenly REO Speedwagon comes on – Can't Fight This Feeling. Nicolas... I hear him crying. I look over, he's crying. And he's singing: 'I can't fight this feeling any more...' He's banging his knees. And he looks at me and says, "This is it! This is the movie! It's about a man who drives around listening to pop music at night because it's the only way he can feel." And so the movie became about driving. Not about stunts. Not about crashes. It became about the spell that being in a car puts you in. You start somewhere, and then you get to your destination and you don't remember how you got there.

A lot of people might be expecting car chases and spectacular crashes in a film called Drive, but that's not necessarily the case here...

Yeah, there's all kinds of different forms of driving. But more than anything, it's just being in the car. My favourite part of the movie is that sound you hear as the cars are going by.

The film has the feel of a certain era, specifically the '80s...

We watched a lot of movies together. (Pause) The beauty of Nic is that he wants the film to mirror the experience of making the film. He never wants it to stop, he never wants to go home and he never wants it to end. So you shoot all day, you go to his place, the editing room's in the house, and you cut all night. And when Matt wants to go home, you get in the car, you take a drive, listen to some music, maybe watch a movie... Everything just feeds each other, until eventually, I think, the film is the essence of what the experience of making it was like. But as regards the era, we talked a lot about John Hughes, and how much we wished that Pretty In Pink was violent. Because if it was violent it would be everything. It would have it all. (Laughs) Seeing what we've made, it makes sense now. But at the time we really didn't know.

What's your level of tolerance for violence? For example, the scene in the lift is very explicit, where you stamp on the guy's head until it explodes...

Well, I loved Irreversible, and Nic and I talked a lot about the violence in that. To the point where we called Gaspar Noe to ask him how he did his head-smashing scene in that. But I didn't really ever watch a lot of violent films. I've started now – I realise that I like blood. But Nicolas, the first thing he ever said to me is, "Violence is art."

Did he ever ask you what his favourite movie is? His is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre...

Oh yeah, he used to watch it while he was eating breakfast, getting ready for school in the morning. His mother was very worried.

Did the level of violence ever make you nervous?

No, it felt like it had to be... (Pause) It just felt right – I felt like it had to be that violent. Also, when I was trying to decide who should direct the film, I went to see Valhalla Rising in the theatre. It's a very serious film, it's poetry, it's an art film. It's very intense and it's very heavy. Then, halfway through the movie, the lead character is fighting, and he starts pulling out some guy's intestines. And everybody in the audience started laughing. They were hitting each other, turning round in their seats, they were covering their eyes – they couldn't believe what they were seeing. Because Nic had brought them to life. Everyone was so relieved, because they figured that if something was art, it could also be entertainment.

What was the reaction like to Drive when it premiered in Cannes?

People started cheering. They started cheering halfway through the movie.

Was there a particular moment?

As soon as the driver comes out covered in blood in the hotel room they just started cheering, after he smacks Christina Hendricks on the bed. And after that, they started clapping to the beat of the music. They seemed so relieved that they were allowed to enjoy themselves.

How good are your driving skills? Did you learn to do everything the character does?

Well, Nic said I could pick the car, and it could be any car I wanted. I didn't know anything about cars, so I picked a 73 Chevy Malibu – it cost $2,000 from a junkyard. And I rebuilt it. I did everything on the car except the transmission. This guy called Pedro did the transmission, even though I asked him not to. The last thing was the transmission; it was a very emotional day for me, because I was finishing the car. And Pedro fucked with me and did it the night before! He knew it would hurt me but he did it anyway! I was going to take it out but I didn't have time because the movie needed the car. So I can't say I did everything on it.

What about the stunt driving?

I did stunt-driving classes with Darrin Prescott. That was the best time ever. You show up at a church parking lot that's abandoned and there's a brand new Camara and a brand-new Mustang sitting there. And you get in your car and you drive it until it won't drive any more – till it's smoking or it's on fire. Then you get out and a tow-truck takes it away. The first thing I learned how to do is a 90, which is where you drive as fast as you can towards a target, and then at a certain point you get lock-up, which is where the rear wheels lock up and the car starts like to slide, like it's on ice. Then you drag the wheel 90 degrees and the car goes sideways until the passenger window lines up with your target and you stop. So I started with a pylon and then, about an hour into training, Darrin gets out of his car and says, "OK, now me! Now me!" And he goes and stands in the middle of the car park and I drive as fast as I can towards him. I get lock on, I pull my rear wheels, and when I come to a stop the passenger door is resting right up against his leg. And once that happened, I gained his trust. Although I didn't really have an option. The driving part was just so much fun. So addictive. And such a a bad habit to get into, because you can't //do// it anywhere!

Was that research helpful to getting into character? It's a very different film to, say, Blue Valentine, which was much more dialogue-based…

I talked so much in Blue Valentine. Now, I love Blue Valentine, I loved //making// Blue Valentine, it was a big deal in my life, the experience of that. But there was so much talking. And then I did so much talking while I was promoting it. I was tired of talking. So I said to Nic, 'I need to take out all my lines.'

So it was your idea to make the character so quiet?

Well, I think it was maybe Nic's plan all along. But what we both found while we were having such a great time working together is that we were having a lot of the same ideas at the same time. So we took out a lot of the dialogue, and it was such a relief to basically have to trust Nic that he was going to tell the story and I didn't have to. All I had to do was drive.

Did you ever listen to the electronic music that you use in the movie?

Me, Nic and Matt Newman, who edited Drive, we were all listening the same stuff at that time. I was listening to a lot of Johnny Jewel, Mirage, The Chromatics and Glass Candy. Matt and Nic were listening a lot to FM Attack and Kavinsky, so we were all in that world when the film started. We really knew that that was the sound of the movie, which helped.

What's your approach to work? You haven't made all that many movies – do you prefer to take your time?

I used to, but then I made a lot of movies recently. I guess I hit 30! (Laughs) I did a comedy with Steve Carell called Crazy Stupid Love, and I just did The Ides Of March, with George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright – lots of great actors. Then I'm going to do A Place Behind The Pines, which is with Derek Cianfrance, who did Blue Valentine, and that's a movie about a bank robbery... And after that I'm going to do a gangster picture called The Gangster Squad, in which Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen.

What's important to you when you're choosing roles? You seem to alternate auteur movies with genre movies...

Well, I think after making Drive, I realise they're not mutually exclusive. So I'm interested in exploring that idea right now.

Have you already started working with Derek Cianfrance? His process takes a long time...

It does, but this movie is different. Pines is gonna be a very different film.

Do you like a lot of rehearsal? Is preparation important to you?

It is, it just depends on the film. For instance, I don't know how much preparation actually makes its way – in obvious ways – into a film. I mean, someone else could have built a 73 Chevy Malibu and you'd never know the difference. My character never has to talk about cars or do anything underneath a car, so it doesn't really matter. But it felt important to me. Who knows why, but it was to me. And with every character you have to find a way. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes you can't really find the thing you need. But it's important to me.

Does that explain the toothpick that the Driver has in his mouth all the way through the movie?

It was an amalgamation of things. He felt like a guy who'd seen too many movies and done stunts for all these action heroes. And in reality, he's the hero, he's the one doing the stunts. So he's a product of all the movies he's seen.

Do you think directors are scared of you? Or have a preconception of you as a serious actor?

I do think... (Pause) I have encountered that. But I think that's why I'm interested in working with some of the same people now, like working with Derek and working with Nic. We get each other. It's hard when you don't know a director. You might like their work, but you spend half the movie just trying to develop a dialogue with them, and you lose a lot of opportunities to make something great because there's a miscommunication between you, or something's off. I'd be happy just to make movies with Nic and Derek.

Have you thought of directing yourself?


What appeals to you? Is it a frustration that comes from being an actor that you're not in control? I'm thinking here, for example of Brad Pitt's role in Tree Of Life, which is very much secondary to the director's filmmaking style...

It's interesting... (Pause) Did you ever listen to the commentary on Days Of Heaven from Richard Gere? He says in the commentary… Don't quote me on this, but it's something to the effect that he was disappointed for a lot of years because he felt that some of the best work he'd ever done was in that film, but it all ended up on the cutting-room floor, and it was so frustrating to him because no one was ever gonna see it. But he also said it was the best film he'd ever made and he was proud to be in it. So he was wrestling with that for a long time.

Will you be working with Nicolas again? Is Logan's Run happening?

Yeah, we're working on it. It's like the reverse of Drive. He has a vision for it. I don't know, I'd never seen the film when he first mentioned it, but we were talking about some of the ideas and... I don't know how it's gonna work out, I really don't, because it's still so early in the process. (Laughs) But it will be interesting to see him working with a big studio!But before Logans Run gets going we're working on Only God Forgives in Bangkok with Kristen Scott Thomas, which I'm excited about.

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