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CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE. directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, written by Dan Fogelman, with Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone. A Warner Bros. release. 118 minutes. Opens Friday (July 29). See listing.
New York City - Ryan Gosling swears he doesn't have a master plan. Or a process. Or an agenda. He says he operates entirely on instinct.
"The best way I can describe it is when a song comes on and you just gotta dance," he says, sitting with me at a table in a Central Park South hotel suite and wearing a T-shirt from Robin Trower's 1988 tour. "You don't know why that song makes you wanna dance, but you gotta dance. That's what it feels like."
Having just watched him charm a roomful of entertainment journalists on a press day for Crazy, Stupid, Love. without revealing a single thing about himself, and even actively rebuffing personal questions, I can sort of believe him. At the age of 30, the London, Ontario-born actor carries himself like someone who doesn't fully know where he's going - not because he's lost, but because he's open to any interesting detour.
"When I met Derek [Cianfrance] for Blue Valentine, I just had that feeling," he says, "and the same when I met Craig [Gillespie] for Lars And The Real Girl, and the same thing when I met John [Ficarra] and Glenn [Requa] for this. It's a hard thing to describe. It's a mystery. If I find myself thinking too much about whether I should or shouldn't do a film, I don't do it."
Gosling does admit there was another, very personal reason for making Crazy, Stupid, Love., his first romantic comedy: "I would have done anything to work with Steve."
In 1999, Gosling and Steve Carell shot a television pilot about retired superheroes and villains called The Unbelievables, playing supporting roles to Corbin Bernsen and Tim Curry. (Gosling played Bernsen's son; Carell was Curry's henchman.) The show wasn't picked up, but Gosling was bowled over by Carell's talent.
"I would go to set to watch him work," Gosling says. "One time he was so funny, the boom guy had to throw down his mic and have a laugh attack in the corner. I'd just never seen anyone who was so good that it was a problem."
The feeling is entirely mutual.
"He's not known for his comedy, but he's hysterically funny," Carell says in a separate interview. "He's kind of a natural. He didn't want to tell jokes, he didn't want to try to be funny, he just wanted you to laugh with the character."
Carell has specific ideas of what makes comedy work.
"Characters don't know that they're in a comedy - they're not acting like they're in a comedy, they're just in life. And that's an approach I think he and I shared"
If you had to define Gosling's best quality as an actor, it's probably his ability to be in the moment - to project whatever his character is feeling directly at the camera.
He creates moments so intimate and honest that they're almost painful to watch, even in the case of Lars And The Real Girl, when he's acting opposite a life-sized sex doll.
But he's not a dour performer. Watch him court Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine and you'll see the charming looseness and boyish vulnerability that make him the thinking woman's heartthrob.
Those qualities come out in earnest in Crazy, Stupid, Love., which casts him as a Los Angeles player who throws Carell's newly separated family man back into the dating pool.
"Without Steve," Gosling says, "I could have found myself in a completely different film. And I realized that I was not only getting to work with Steve, but getting to work with these really special filmmakers, and this dream-team cast. All these people I've been wanting to work with - Julianne Moore, Kevin Bacon - I mean, my six degrees of Kevin Bacon just went right down. I'm first level."
Gosling's character unexpectedly finds himself falling for a savvy young lawyer played by Easy A breakout star Emma Stone. And it's here that Crazy, Stupid, Love. slots nicely into Gosling's filmography, letting him play a supremely confident guy knocked off his axis by a love connection - just as he did in The Notebook and Blue Valentine.
"Yeah, I got lucky," he says, shrugging off the observation. So I shift tactics a little, asking whether he had to do anything differently to suit the tone of a romantic comedy instead of a drama. But echoing Carell's comment about what makes something funny, Gosling says he isn't sure he's actually made a comedy.
"We're just acknowledging that life is funny," he says. "For some reason [people think] drama excludes comedy and comedy precludes drama. But life is both - it's everything all the time."
He offers an example. "One time I went to a friend's funeral, and it was so sad, one of the saddest days. And this car pulled up behind us playing this really techno song - ‘I'm blue and I'm in need of a dime' - you know the song?"
I don't. And so Gosling sings a chunk of Eiffel 65's I'm Blue for me, softly but with feeling. "It filled up the entire funeral home where we were all having a moment of silence," he says, "and everyone started laughing. I think these filmmakers kind of revel in those moments of life where inappropriate things happen. The things you're not planning on."
It all comes back to keeping yourself open.
Here's another example of what happens when Ryan Gosling goes with his gut. His next movie, Drive - which Gosling describes as "a violent John Hughes movie, like Pretty In Pink with head-smashing" - almost didn't happen, thanks to a bad first meeting with director Nicolas Winding Refn.
"It was terrible," he says. "It was like a bad first date, nothing to say to each other. [I] just wanted to take him home - one of those dates where you know you're not going to get any action. And then he said, ‘Can you drive me home?' I had to drive him all the way out to Santa Monica. I turned on music, and REO Speedwagon's Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore came on.
"He started crying and singing at the top of his lungs, banging his knees with his fists. And he said, ‘This is the movie. About a guy who drives around Los Angeles at night listening to pop music.' I had secretly thought that as well. So I knew he was the right man for the job, obviously."
Obviously. Drive was the surprise hit of this year's Cannes Film Festival, the buzz splitting cleanly between raves for Refn's direction and Gosling's performance. It'll be at TIFF this fall.
"And if REO Speedwagon hadn't come on the radio we wouldn't have made the movie," he says, smiling. "I like films that are born that way, you know? Where two people, like, penetrate each other creatively and they make a movie baby in the back seat of the car."