MoviesOnline sat down with Ryan Gosling at a roundtable interview in Los Angeles to talk about his starring role in the riveting thriller directed by George Clooney. He told us what it was like to play such a complicated character, how the Lee Atwater documentary “Boogie Man” and the Two Faced Man inspired his performance, and why “The Ides of March” reminded him of a monster movie. He also discussed working with two of his acting heroes, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti.
Q: Recently you described your character in “Drive” as somebody who’s watched one too many action films. What do you think this guy has watched a little too much of?
Ryan Gosling: Monster movies. I thought this was like a monster movie set in the political world about the Two Faced Man.
Q: Would you be like Mothra then?
Ryan Gosling: No, the Two Faced Man. He’s my idol. I love the Two Faced Man. I feel like I’m always trying to make a movie about the Two Faced Man in some way and then when I saw this poster I thought I’ve finally done it.
Q: Your character is so slippery, it’s hard to define him and you never know which way he’s going to go. How was it playing a character like that?
Ryan Gosling: I thought his dilemma was a very strong one to play. He’s someone who wants to be effective and make change and change people’s lives and had good intentions, but he can only be effective if he gets into the White House. If his candidate is going to lose, then he’s not going to be able to help make change so he’s faced with this moral dilemma as to whether he should jump ship or dance with the one that brought him.
Q: The last frame of the film suggests he has lost his innocence, but some argue that the way he is at the story’s end might represent his true colors all along. Which way do you think it was?
Ryan Gosling: First of all, I think you can take from him whatever you want. I obviously have my feelings but that doesn’t make it true. I think that he severed his mind from his heart. He made a decision to separate his mind from his heart. I don’t know if that’s something that you can ever reconnect. Now whether it was already separate or not, I guess that’s up to the audience.
Q: So, is it that he slept with this girl that breaks him, in your opinion?
A: I think it’s because he’s has a crush on her so it’s personal. It’s not necessarily political.
Q: It’s not political?
A: I think it’s both. I don’t think you can eliminate the personal reaction to that.
Q: Is it like finding out your Dad slept with your girlfriend?
A: Ouch. Why do you even say that? It just makes me mad thinking about it.
Q: How political were you before making this? George is obviously very politically minded. Did he have any influence on you in that respect?
Ryan Gosling: I was not as informed as I would like to have been. Part of the reason for doing the film was because it would force me to do research and become informed. I’m Canadian so American politics are not really in my wheelhouse. But it was an opportunity for me to become more informed. But at the end of the day, it’s not really a political film and it doesn’t have any kind of message. It’s just meant to be a good time at the movies. It happens to be set in the political forum, but I guess it could be set in Wall Street or Hollywood.
Q: How similar are the worlds of show business and politics do you think?
Ryan Gosling: I don’t know enough about either one probably to comment. But I do think there’s a similarity at least in my character’s job and my own and that it’s very difficult to be honest even though you’d like to be. It’s very hard to tell the truth because everything you say gets taken out of context and they chop up the news for parts so you have to be very careful.
Q: During your research, what took you by surprise that you didn’t know before?
Ryan Gosling: There’s so much. I don’t know. I feel like one of the things that I watched that I thought was really helpful in some way, but more than anything worth mentioning was this film “Boogie Man,” the documentary about Lee Atwater. Have you seen that? I recommend it.
Q: Adam McKay is working on a script on Lee Atwater.
Ryan Gosling: Oh, is he? Oh wow.
Q: It’s sort of about the dangers of making a movie about a romantic figure because he’s very persuasive but he’s definitely kind of evil in this way.
A: That’s a good idea. That’s a great movie there.
Q: Did you also watch “The War Room”?
Ryan Gosling: Yeah.
Q: When you looked at Morris, was there any reference point for you in terms of a presidential candidate you were thinking of?
Ryan Gosling: There’s not really anyone like George and so he is in some ways everyone’s or seems like America’s dream for president in some way.
Q: Or a dreamboat?
Ryan Gosling: Or a dreamboat president. And I thought it was very courageous of him to take that role because he’s shattering that dream and shattering people’s ideas of him. I felt like that was a pretty interesting choice for him to make considering that he’s so involved in the political world. People often confuse you for your character so there could’ve been a risk involved there but he took it.
Q: You had a nice six pack in “Drive.” How hard is it to keep fit?
Ryan Gosling: We’re talking about muscles? They’re like pets basically. They’re not worth it. You have to feed them all the time and take care of them, and if you don’t, they just go away. They run away.
Q: Evan Rachel Wood talked to us earlier about how Clooney sprayed you in the crotch with water. What other practical jokes did he do to you on set?
Ryan Gosling: He doesn’t want me to tell them. He told me to cut it out telling about his practical jokes because he thinks that people are going to be looking for them now and he won’t be able to use them. Now people are going to be looking for the water in the crotch so he can’t do it.
Q: Why should you help him after being his victim?
Ryan Gosling: You said it, not me.
Q: He’s too dreamy.
Ryan Gosling: There is that. That does make it hard.
Q: You’re in virtually every frame of this film. You spend a lot of time with both Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman. How would you compare working with the two?
Ryan Gosling: First of all, they’re two of my heroes, so terrifying. On this base level, it’s terrifying but we won’t get into that. They have very different styles. I wouldn’t want to comment on them because I don’t want to cheapen it with my opinion of it. Suffice it to say that they’re just incredible to watch and I learned a lot from working with them.
Q: It’s the old theory of if you run against someone faster it makes you run faster. Is that sort of the way you felt when you’re working with some of the best actors?
Ryan Gosling: I don’t know. I don’t know about that. I know for instance watching Phil work was something that I needed to see. I feel like I didn’t realize that I was getting as lazy as I was getting until I watched Phil work because he puts it all on the line, every single take. There’s not a take that he lets slide. I needed to see that.
Q: Was your own perceived laziness part of just having made several movies and letting things go slack or is it stardom invading on all the prep that you might have done when you were a hungrier actor?
Ryan Gosling: A lot of people say something like about Phil that he’s good in everything, in every movie, no matter what the movie is like, he’s always good. I don’t think people realize how much an actor has to fight in order to create enough space for themselves in order to do that kind of work. And that can be perceived as difficult. But it’s the reason why they’re able to be so effective every time because they know the conditions that they need to work in in order to be at their best. As an actor, there’s a struggle between how much…you know, you’ve heard things about Val Kilmer, for instance, who is one of the best actors around, but then I heard that he was difficult. Now, as I work more, I realize that difficult is just a word that people with money give you, a label that they give you, to tell other people with money that you won’t just do what you’re told.
Q: The film ends on an interesting note. How do you think Morris’s relationship with your character evolves after he gets into office given what’s transpired up to that point?
Ryan Gosling: That’s a good question. I don’t know. That’s a good question though.
Q: Do you feel this movie is fairly representative of politics and that really underneath it all it’s about everybody’s individual agendas over these ideals?
Ryan Gosling: I’m not informed enough to really comment on the political world. I get nervous to talk about it because if this was just a conversation we were having I would talk with you about it, but since it’s not, it’s too important of a subject for me to start trying to create sound bytes about it. So I’d like to just stay off that if it’s okay.
Q: Would you consider working on “The Ides of March” as a master’s class in acting because you’re working alongside some fantastic actors like Clooney, Hoffman and Giamatti.
Ryan Gosling: Sure. I’ve never taken a master’s class in anything so I don’t know what they’re like. Absolutely, but I don’t want to disparage working with Albert Brooks or Ron Perlman or Carey Mulligan. All those people are equally as good. I’m just lucky in general lately in my career to be working with all of my heroes.
Q: What did you take from working with Clooney and seeing how he moves from being in front to being behind the camera and how he directs himself? How does he do that?
Ryan Gosling: I don’t know. I mean, he’s a mystery to me. He’s so busy all the time. He’s just doing so much, it’s hard to understand how he’s doing it, but he’s doing it pretty effortlessly. He’s directing, producing, writing, starring in. He’s got the satellites over Darfur project. He’s got all these practical jokes. I don’t know how he does it. I have no idea.
Q: Did he inspire you in any way to generate your own projects either as a writer, director or producer?
Ryan Gosling: Yeah, that’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Part of the reason why I wanted to work with him was just to see exactly how that works up close.
Q: How hands on is he with your performance?
Ryan Gosling: He’s very hands on. I mean, this was something that I just allowed myself to be directed because he knew this movie like it was a song in his head. He was trying to explain to you and this whole world is in his wheelhouse. I just really followed his lead.
Q: Did you lay out the beats beforehand or was that more in the moment and he was talking to you scene by scene on the day?
Ryan Gosling: In some way, the relationship between a director and an actor is personal. I wouldn’t want to get too much into exactly how it worked because it’s private, but he’s very specific.
Q: Are there any similarities between you in real life and your character?
Ryan Gosling: A gym question is coming, isn’t it? So how at 30 does he keep his abs? Call it “The Abs of March.”
Q: Your character seems very confident but also so innocent. How would you compare yourself to your character who is about the same age as you in real life?
Ryan Gosling: I try to project confidence but I feel just like everyone else does probably. Maybe that’s why in the film I can project it but it’s not necessarily real.
Q: With all the great actors you’ve worked with in this movie, which one made you the most nervous?
Ryan Gosling: Phil.
Ryan Gosling: He’s just… Have you met Phil Hoffman?
Q: I think so.
Ryan Gosling: You have? Have you done an interview with him?
Ryan Gosling: And how was that?
Q: So how did you…?
Ryan Gosling: No, no, no. How was your interview with Phil?
Q: It was a long time ago.
Ryan Gosling: You don’t remember?
Q: I don’t remember. It was a press conference.
Ryan Gosling: So it wasn’t a 1:1 with him? Oh okay. Nicely diverted.
Q: Are you shooting “The Gangster Squad”? Some of us are about to talk to Anthony Mackie. Would you like to flip him any shit?
Ryan Gosling: No. But I’ll tell you something. Have you ever interviewed Anthony?
Ryan Gosling: Get ready!
“The Ides of March” opens in theaters on October 7th.