Ryan Gosling is a tough actor to pin down. One moment he’s the silent, brooding leading man, and the next he’s tap-dancing his way through Hollywood and belting out a few songs on the way. While he may now be a household name across the world, it’s only a mere 13 years ago that he came to everyone’s attention.
Unabashedly schmaltzy and romantic, The Notebook (2004) truly was Gosling’s big break. Playing the kindhearted and totally besotted Noah, he starred opposite Rachel McAdams – with whom he apparently had a fairly tumultuous relationship off-screen. There is an undeniable spark between the two leads, and a completely adorable yet heartbreaking story aside, it’s their presence that really makes The Notebook stand out. Director Nick Cassavetes was quoted as saying he wanted his leading actor to be unknown and not very attractive. While Gosling may have been the former, newfound fans across the globe would’ve wholeheartedly disagreed with the latter. The Notebook made Gosling into an instant heartthrob, whether he wanted it to or not.
Two years later, Gosling dodged the mainstream and made two very different low-key films. First came Half Nelson (2006), the story of an inner-city teacher with a drug addiction, whose secret is uncovered by one of his students. Then came Lars and the Real Girl (2007), an off-the-wall comedy about a man who falls in love with a life-sized doll. These two films, released just a year apart, showcase the breadth of Gosling’s acting. No longer was he the handsome, romantic lead; he was goofy Lars and a struggling addict. This is a pivotal characteristic of Gosling’s career, seemingly never choosing two similar roles in succession.
A few years later came Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (2010), a film about love but certainly not a romance – at least in the traditional sense. A married couple’s story is told through a non-linear narrative, showing them both deeply in love and on the verge of collapse. Raw, and so far away from rose-tinted that it’s sometimes hard to watch, Gosling and Michelle Williams perfectly depicted the extreme highs and lows of some relationships.
To make their marriage seem as real as possible, Cianfrance actually had the two lead actors and the child playing their daughter move into a house together for a month. They would eat together, play together, fight together, and go to the shops and park together. Gosling said he became so swept up in it all that he had to constantly remind himself that they were making a film. Cianfrance’s thinking behind this strange move was to have the actors film the early days of the relationship first, where they are happy and completely in love, then have them work on tearing that relationship apart. It must have worked, with Williams receiving an Oscar nomination and Gosling a Golden Globe nomination.
Then came 2011, Gosling’s busiest year of releases to date, starring in three films that year that couldn’t have been more at odds with one another. First up was Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive – arguably Gosling’s most stylish film to date, playing a role at complete odds to everything he’d done previously. Drive may have had Gosling as the leading actor, but with just 116 lines (of only 891 words) throughout the whole film, this was a lead role unlike any other. Gosling’s understated performance as ‘the Driver’, a Hollywood stuntman moonlighting as a getaway driver, went on to be one of his most iconic performances, even if it didn’t bag him any big award nominations. A stunningly retro soundtrack, incredible cinematography and sparse dialogue made Drive one of his most beloved films.
From Drive he then jumped all the way over to full-on comedy-romance in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Starring alongside Steve Carell, Julianne Moore, and future La La Land co-star Emma Stone, Gosling played all-out lothario and “ladies man” Jacob. Tasked with making Carell’s Cal sexy and irresistible to women, Jacob was the polar opposite to the Driver. A perfect example of an actor letting their hair down without a care in the world, Crazy, Stupid, Love was a genuinely fun and silly film that brought out Gosling’s often hidden comedic side. This was swiftly followed up by political thriller The Ides of March, directed by, written by and starring George Clooney. Also starring the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, The Ides of March had Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations coming out of its ears.
To say that 2011 was a varied year for Gosling is an understatement. He followed this up with the likes of The Place Beyond the Pines, Only God Forgives, and The Big Short. In 2016 came quite a different role for Gosling, as he played a goofy private investigator completely out-of-his-depth in The Nice Guys. If someone had said beforehand that they thought Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe would make a good comedy duo, you’d probably question their state of mind, but strangely the two of them ended up bouncing perfectly off of one another. A genuine laugh-out-loud film that made it to ORWAV’s #5 of 2016, The Nice Guys showcased Gosling’s incredible talent for comedy. Dry, stupid humour and even physical comedy, he and Crowe made one of the funniest films of recent years.
Gosling followed up The Nice Guys with a fairly low-key, below-the-radar film called La La Land. Starring opposite Emma Stone once again, it’s hard to know whether they had any idea just how huge the film would be. Almost winning Best Picture at the Oscars and becoming undoubtedly one of the most prominent films in recent years, La La Land saw Ryan Gosling make the leap into all-singing and all-dancing musical superstardom. Sugary sweet, yet funny and with the warmest of hearts, his role in it has now become perhaps his most well-known. No longer is he “the guy from The Notebook“. With Blade Runner 2049 out in a few days, it’s clear that Gosling’s choice of films will continue to keep us all on our toes for a long time to come.