It's been a long time since anyone's doubted the acting abilities of Ryan Gosling. The Ontario-born leading man still considers the 1993 stint he had on "The Mickey Mouse Club" (other cast-members that year were Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera) his big break. But it's his career in film acting that's blossomed, with him easily going from serious ("The Notebook") to funny ("The Nice Guys") to parts that are somewhere in between ("Crazy, Stupid, Love."). Oh, and he can sing and dance and play music, something he hinted at in "Blue Valentine" and now embraces with everything he's got opposite Emma Stone in the full-blown musical "La La Land," directed by Damien Chazelle ("Whiplash"). Stone is the aspiring actress who meets Gosling's down-on-his luck piano player who's turned cynical after too many failed attempts at revitalizing mainstream jazz. Gosling spoke about his career and this film, but remained mostly mum about his upcoming "Blade Runner" sequel, at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: Were you the type of kid who had dreams of going into show business?
A: I never did well in school and I wasn't very good at sports. I did try acting in school, but my acting teacher told me I might be better suited at constructing the sets. So I was just unhappy about not having someplace to put my energy. Then I started taking classes at a local dance studio, and that led to going to a bigger dance company, in Ottawa. I didn't know if dancing was something that you could actually make a living at, nor did I know if I was good enough to do that. So I ended up trying a lot of things in areas of show business.
Q: So what brought you around to acting?
A: I got the job on "The Mickey Mouse Club," which was singing and dancing and acting. That was the first thing I experienced some success with. I wasn't particularly successful at any one of those things on that show. I mean, it was clear that Christina should pursue the singing, and it was the same for Justin and Britany. It was a place where people found their talents, but I did not.
Q: Where did you find yours?
A: I guess it was when I was lucky enough to get a part in the (2001) film "The Believer," where even though it seemed like a crap shoot, I felt like if you could have a career at acting, you could take care of yourself. So I decided to focus my energy there, and I had a really good creative experience on that.
Q: So you didn't have that kind of experience a couple of years earlier when you starred in the TV show "Young Hercules?"
A: Well, it was great to have a job (laughs). But on that one I didn't necessarily feel like I was connecting with it in any way that suggested that I was meant to (be an actor).
Q: How did the part in "La La Land" come to you?
A: Marc Platt and David Lancaster were both producers on "Drive." Marc also produced a (2014) movie I directed called "Lost River." Marc was producing "La La Land," and David had produced "Whiplash." Both of them were telling me that I should meet Damien, that we would get along. So we got together and had a drink a few months before production began. He told me that he was gearing up to do this musical, but he didn't know how it was going to come together. He has a very infectious love of movies, and of the experience of going to a theater and enjoying movies with an audience. He talked a lot about wanting make movies that you couldn't watch on an iPhone, that you wanted to see with an audience, and on a big screen. So when this script came across my desk, I read it with that in mind.
Q: You're really playing piano in the film. Was that also something you did when you were younger?
A: I played a few instruments but I never pursued them in the way that I should have. With this movie I had a great opportunity to finally sit down and practice.
Q: Did you have any second thoughts about the challenge of this genre?
A: The thing that I always look for in a screenplay is am I engaged in this story and do I have an emotional connection to these characters. Everything else is secondary. I felt that this was a movie about these people and their relationships. The music was a way for them to connect and communicate, but it wasn't what the film was about; it was about these people. So I felt that made it accessible, and even if you don't like musicals, you can enjoy the film because it's about people.
Q: Changing subjects for a moment, can you tell me anything about your character in "Blade Runner 2049?"
A: I can't.
Q: Can you tell me if the experience of making it is blowing you away?
A: Yes, it is. Every day when I go to set I'm blown away by what (director) Denis Villeneuve and (cinematographer) Roger Deakins are creating. It's a masterclass in filmmaking and storytelling every day.
-- Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.