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Cindy Pearlman
NYT Syndicate
The Nice Guys, their new action comedy, is the first film to team Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, but it wasn't the first time the two actors had met.
A few years ago, Crowe recalled during an interview at a Beverly Hills hotel, he called Gosling to say that he was a fan and to ask if he'd like to get together.
"He said, 'Oh, Mr. Crowe, right? I suppose I've been expecting this call. And I want to tell you right now that I'm so sorry for stealing all your roles for the last 10 years,'" Crowe said, laughing."In that moment I thought, 'This kid is spectacular!'"
The story doesn't end there. The two arranged to meet for a private dinner, but Crowe made the mistake of telling his wife about it. She invited 16 of her female friends to meet Gosling.
"She even invited her mom," Crowe said, grimacing."I tried to rebalance it and invited 16 blokes."
"It was not the intimate dinner as advertised," Gosling said in a separate interview."I learned that Russell would always keep me guessing, which was perfect."
The two actors became friends in real life, but it wasn't until The Nice Guys, set to open nationwide on May 20, that they got to work together.
Written and directed by Shane Black, whose action-comedy credentials go back to writing Lethal Weapon (1987) and its 1989 sequel, the film is set in 1977 and casts Gosling as a boozing, inept private eye named Holland March. Crowe plays another PI, the burned-out Jackson Healy, who teams with March and his tag-along teenage daughter (Angourie Rice) to find a missing adult film star (Margaret Qualley).
All of it was catnip to Gosling.
"Shane Black and (producer) Joel Silver are in my cinematic DNA," said the 35-year-old actor, dressed in a long-sleeved, off-white shirt and black jeans."I was over the moon when I read this script, because it reminded me of the movies I grew up on.
"I'm the screw-up in the film," Gosling continued,"but he's not mean-spirited. I play an adult kid at heart. My daughter in the film is more mature. On the set Angourie started speaking to me like she was the parent.
"Two actors exchange lines, something clicks," he said."Suddenly a role is defined."
The film is a throwback of sorts, and Gosling relished the chance to get involved.
"I read this as a big opportunity for me to explore the kind of physical comedy that I grew up on and loved so much," he explained."I was the kid watching Abbott and Costello.
"It was also frightening, because I didn't know how this would go over for me as an actor."
Some of his falls and over-the-top moments began as experiments in front of the camera, Gosling said.
"I didn't want to ask if I could do something," he said,"because I didn't want to be told no. I thought it would be easier to get forgiveness rather than ask for permission."
In one scene, set in a men's room, March has to juggle his falling pants, a lit cigarette and an uncooperative stall door. Things quickly get out of control.
"I went to set early to work it out," Gosling recalled."I thought I was alone as I sat on this toilet seat. Suddenly I smelled cigarette smoke. Russell was there, smoking and watching me.
"He said, 'Ryan, I think, if you kick the door with your other foot, then it will bounce harder,'" the actor said."Here I am, with a cigarette burning my fingers and my pants around my ankles, thinking, 'This film is a dream come true!'
"Russell was always my champion," Gosling added."He was so supportive."
The film isn't all laughs. In an early scene Healy not only beats up March but deliberately breaks his arm. The snap has made early audiences groan.
"I didn't know how far we could take the scene where Russell beats on me," Gosling said cheerfully."It was great that he was so physical. The only bad thing is, that's how I scream in real life. It's not a pretty sound. But we made lemonade out of it."
Crowe is mostly known for dramatic roles, and has an Oscar and two other nominations to attest to his chops in that area. He credited Gosling with helping him find his comic groove.
"No (messing) around here, this kid is a genius," Crowe said."If you go back through the jobs he's done, you'll notice he draws from the history of cinema to inform his roles."
As for Gosling, he had only one gripe about Crowe: the form-fitting leather jacket he wore around the set.
"There were two racks on the set," Gosling explained."They were clearly marked. There was Russell's rack and Ryan's rack. He went in early and picked the best thing on my rack.
"I can't even discuss it," he said with a faux wince.
"I stole the jacket," Crowe admitted with a grin."Took it right off his rack. It was our first wardrobe fitting, and Ryan was running late. I got the jacket and told him, 'You shouldn't be late.'"
Born in London, Ontario, Gosling is the son of a secretary and a travelling salesman. He grew up in Cornwall, Ontario, where initially he was home-schooled by his mother. Even as a boy, though, he was fascinated by the arts, especially acting and singing.
"At an early age I understood the effect that movies can have on you and the kind of spell they could cast."
Singing in local talent contests alongside his older sister, Mandi, led Gosling to Montreal and an open audition for 'The All-New Mickey Mouse Club' (1993-1995), in which his fellow Mouseketeers included Christina Aguilera, Keri Russell, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. After that he played occasional roles on Canadian television programs, until he was cast as the title character in 'Young Hercules' (1998-1999).
That show was his calling card to Hollywood, and led to increasingly large roles in Remember the Titans (2000), The Believer (2001), Murder by Numbers (2002) and The United States of Leland (2003).
Later this year he will star in La La Land, a musical co-starring JK Simmons and Emma Stone. Set in modern-day Los Angeles, it casts Gosling as a jazz pianist who is in love with an actress (Stone).
He's also working on the new Blade Runner film, to be directed by Denis Villeneuve and produced by Ridley Scott, who directed the original science-fiction classic in 1982 ” but Gosling doesn't want to talk about that.
"Just so you know, there's a sniper on the roof," he said, interrupting."If I say anything, it's over for me."
Well, maybe not. Gosling eventually decided to live dangerously.
"What I can say is, I can't believe I get to be a part of Blade Runner," the Canadian actor said."I really am a huge fan of the original film. It's exciting to me that Ridley and Harrison Ford wanted to expand the story.
"As a fan, I want to see this film and know more about what happened to the characters," Gosling added."It's also scary. I have such a respect for this project. I just hope I can do it justice."
Gosling has had the same manager since he was 15, ample evidence that he's happy with how his career has unfolded.
"I've found that, if you agonise too much about whether to take a role, then that's a sign," he said."When I look back, the choices that just felt natural were the right choices. When you intellectualise it too much, then sometimes it's not the best choice."
Rather than looking back, Gosling prefers to look forward.
"My next step is to direct," he said."I have two films I'm prepping. I'm working with writers on them."
When he's not working, Gosling lives quietly in Los Angeles with actress Eva Mendes and their toddler, Esmeralda. It's been reported that they're expecting a second baby, a topic that he preferred not to address.
"I have an amazing daughter now," Gosling said."Life is better than I thought it could ever be."
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