Movie Stars: Gosling, Ryan–Bankable Actor

Mark your calendars: 2011 may go down in film history as the years in which the gifted Ryan Gosling became a major bankable star.

One of the most gifted actors of his generation, Gosling makes a splash, and in a comedic part, in “Crazy, Stupid Love,” as a dashing cool womanizer. (see below).

Later this year, he appears in the action thriller,”Drive,” which had premiered at the Cannes Film Fest (in competition), winning the Best Director Award. The movie then played with great success at the Los Angeles film Festival.  (See our review). Both “Crazy, Stupid, love” and drive” are commercially viable pictures, and as such should broaden  the commercial appeal of Gosling.

Over the years, I have studied the careers of numerous actors and stars.  In many cases, it’s a single role that catapults an actor to stardom (Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” John Wayne in “Stagecoach,” Sylvetser Stallone in “Rambo”).  In other cases, the career breakthrough is a result of several performances in films released in the same year.

Prime examples: Humphrey Bogart.  After a decade of playing villains and gangsters and supporting roles, Bogart became a bona fide star in 1941, as a result of two pictures: “The Maltese Falcon,” which is the directing debut of John Huston, and “High Sierra,” made by vet director Raoul Walsh.  It’s noteworthy that in “High Sierra,” it’s Ida Lupino, not Bogart, who gets top billing.  Two years later, Bogart consolidated his star position with the legendary, Oscar-winning picture, “Casablanca.”

From the very start, Gosling was a critics darling, and highly respected actor by his peers, but largely within the indie and arthouse milieux.

Gosling’s performance in “The Believer,” which won the Grand Jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Fest, garnered him a Best Actor Film Independent Spirit nomination, a Best Actor nomination from the London Film Critics’ Circle, and earned him the Golden Ram for Best Actor by the Russian National Critics Association.

He returned to Sundance in 2002 starring in the indie feature “The Slaughter Rule,” playing an emotionally vulnerable and estranged teen, opposite David Morse.

Gosling received strong reviews for his follow-up performance as a nihilistic predator in the psychological thriller “Murder by Numbers,” one of the few studio pictures he made, opposite Sandra Bullock. Other mainstream pictures include “Remember the Titans,” but that movie belonged to its leading man, Denzel Washington.

Half Nelson

Talent has never been in question, but so far, Gosling has mostly played dramatic roles in serious movies, such as “Half Nelson, for which he received Best Actor Oscar nomination.  His performance as Dan, a drug-addicted inner city junior high school teacher, also garnered Best Actor nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, Film Independent Spirit Awards, Chicago Film Critics, Online Film Critics’ Society, Toronto Film Critics and the Satellite Awards. He was awarded the Male Breakthrough Performance Award from the National Board of Review, and won Best Actor Awards from both the Seattle and Stockholm International Film Fests.

There have been various disappointments along the way to stardom.  Playing the lead role in Sundance indie, “The United States of Leland,” opposite Kevin Spacey and Don Cheadle, was not particularly impressive. Marc Forster’s “Stay,” in which Gosling appeared with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, was a bad, incoherent picture.

But the good work kept coming.  Gosling revealed an intense, erotic quality in the blockbuster romantic drama, “The Notebook,” benefiting form strong chemistry with Rachel McAdams.   The movie became a sleeper and even a bigger hit when released on video and DVD. Gosling then held his own when acting opposite Anthony Hopkins in the thriller “Fracture,” wining the highest praise from the vet, Oscar-winning thesp.

In 2007, Gosling was honored with both a Golden Globe and SAG Actor nomination for his work in “Lars and the Real Girl.”  Last year, Gosling excelled in another dramatically intense role, in “Blue Valentine,” starring Michelle Williams and directed by Derek Cianfrance.

Range and Versatility

What was unknown until now, but is going to change very soon, Gosling’s diverse range and versatility. Only question left is, can he sing and dance well (I am not kidding). Gosling had released the album Dead Mans Bones, but I am not familiar with it.

And now comes his first major role in a comedy, as Steve Carell’s co-star (and on screen mentor).  He has never looked so handsome and sexy before.

Dashing Playboy

After 25 years of marriage, Cal Weaver’s wife, Emily, suddenly asks him for a divorce, revealing she’s had an affair. For suburban insurance man Cal, who hasn’t paid much attention to his wife—or his life—the news proves shocking, setting him on a road to discover just where he might have left the man he used to be. The first stop on that path: drowning his sorrows in fruity cocktails at a local bar, where he sticks out like the poor schlub he’s become.

Turning point occurs, when Cal gets help reinventing himself from an unexpected, and unwelcome, source, the single, self-assured Jacob Palmer, played by Ryan Gosling. Unbeknownst to Cal, the dashing playboy has been watching him bore the bartender with his sob story night after night.  Jacob refuses to let Cal wallow in misery, not because he feels sorry for him, but because he doesn’t want to watch it

“Our first order of business was casting Jacob, because the Cal-Jacob relationship is pivotal to the film,” producer Di Novi says. “We didn’t necessarily associate Ryan with comedy, but I think because the characters in this movie have so much depth and are so complicated and so rich, and because there are dramatic elements to the story as well, he thought he could really sink his teeth into it. And then, of course, we realized how funny he is.”

Says Carell: “Ryan is so fantastic, and it struck me from day one how comedically gifted he is. And as funny as he could be, he also made a character that was cocky and arrogant so endearing.”

Gosling’s Homework
To play Jacob, Gosling did his homework, as he says: “Jacob is really kind of a jackass,” he shares, “a knucklehead with a heart of gold who has this sort of twisted wisdom he thinks he should pass on. So I watched this TV show about a pick-up artist and read a couple of books about foolproof strategies for hitting on women. They are kind of terrifying, but I did manage to get some inspiration from them for Jacob.”

“We were awed by Ryan,” Co-director Requa says. “His insights into the character and the story were remarkable, and the interplay between him and Steve was just perfect.” Co-director Ficarra concurs. “They had a definite chemistry and really enjoyed working together, so for us it was just a matter of capturing that.”

I have no doubts that many more viewers will be awed by Gosling after seeing this endearing comedy.