Blockbuster stars have a certain quality that truly defy them. Daniel Craig, for example, is the sort of bloke that would ride a motorcycle through an explosion, break his arm in three places, stitch it back together using duct tape, flip a car, decode a nuclear warhead, punch a terrorist in the face and then woo your wife into bed all in half an hour. Robert Downey Jr., for example, has that tongue-in-cheek wise-guy wit that everyone loves and adores—he’s the genius with the troubled past. Colin Firth, even. Smooth, debonair, British, Mr. Darcy’esk. These leading men in Hollywood all have one thing in common—when you see their names attached to a new film, you know what you’re in for. A leading-man (who seems to be owning Hollywood in recent times, but you never know what you’re gonna get) is Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s key blockbuster attraction, attribute and appeal, is that he doesn’t really have any defining character in his work. He doesn’t really know what he is. He fits any of those molds. He’s naturally leading material and will tackle any leading role.
So in true Hollywood-blockbuster style, for TAG Heuer’s latest campaign, Ryan Gosling takes to the screen, running at break-neck-speed down a dimly-lit corridor. Two unknown henchmen-like characters are in hot pursuit of him. We’re immediately, seconds into the latest campaign video from TAG Heuer, part of the chase. Dressed in a cool azure blue button-up shirt and denim jeans, the TAG Heuer Carrera Chronograph (the real star of the show) glistening on his wrist, Gosling looks casual and smart, yet ready for action. He dives, head-first, through a window and tumbles onto a stunt-mat below. The camera shot pans out, showing the real Ryan Gosling handing his coffee cup to an assistant and replacing his stunt-double, getting showered by ‘rubber glass’.
‘Keep the cameras rolling! Go, go, go!’
It takes a hot moment for audiences to realize that TAG Heuer’s latest campaign video isn’t an action-packed five-minute blockbuster we thought we’d been promised, but more a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look (complete with green-screen and the obvious stunt-double) at an advertisement featuring Gosling promoting the Carrera. In ‘The Chase for the Carerra’ Ryan is playing Ryan playing a movie star.
Whether it be his hard-work in being an award-winning actor, or his devotion to the campaigns of TAG Heuer (and also Gucci—in which he recently promoted the Gucci Valigeria travel campaign), one thing is for certain, Ryan Gosling is timeless, and unique, in everything he does. He doesn’t fit the mould of the blockbuster star. He just is one.
The young Ryan Gosling was born in 1980 in Ontario, Canada to Thomas, his traveling salesman dad and Donna, his personal secretary mum. Every weekend, Ryan (and his older sister, Mandi) would be taken to church where the kids were expected to worship alongside his parents, who were deeply and passionately Mormon. Not particularly enthralled with the religion, Ryan found his footing in other aspects of church-life. The performance of the services was where he sharpened his teeth—the singing, the public speaking, the socializing. Ryan loved being around kids his own age, outside of a school environment.
‘I was not Mormon,’ Gosling told Nation World News last year, ‘my parents were. My mother was very smart; she told me that religion was an option, but not the only one, and that I had to find my own truth.’
His ‘own truth’, as a matter of fact, came in the shape of performing. The razzmatazz and praise he received from the elderly congregation who ‘thought he was darling’ got him to love the limelight. He loved watching movies growing up too—his ‘safe space’—being able to transport himself from his humble abode in Ontario to some action-packed, battle scenes in a far-off land. His favorite film as a kid was Ted Kotcheff’s 1980’s First Blood, starring macho-man, Sylvester Stallone.
Upon being so inspired by the character, during his tenure in first-grade the young Gosling packed his Fisher-Price Magic Kit with his mum’s steak-knives and tried to reenact Stallone during lunch-break at school, by throwing them at his peers. Yikes. Ryan was, to put in lightly, a bit of a rule-breaker, and didn’t take too well to being told what to do by his teachers.
Due to the steak-knife incident, he was suspended from school, prescribed a hefty dose of Ritalin and diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). That wasn’t surprising to either him or his family. The poor guy had serious trouble reading, and concentrating on more than one thing at a time.
It was when Ryan was aged 12 that Donna caught wind of an open-audition 1,069km away in Montreal for the revival of Disney Channel’s The Mickey Mouse Club. Both mother and son jumped at the chance, driving across Canada to attend the audition. The audition was a success, and the young Gosling was given a two-year contract as a wee-little mouseketeer!
During his two-year tenure at Disney (in which his character was infrequently onscreen as producers thought the other kids were more talented) The Mickey Mouse Club, the young Gosling joined-forces with other well-known child stars: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake, to name a few.
‘[The producers] regretted it pretty quickly after hiring me,’ Gosling jokingly told legendary TV host David Letterman on his show in 2011. Those producers discovered pretty quickly that Gosling could neither sing nor dance, at least not up to the level he was expected to.
Poor Ryan wasn’t used a lot in The Mickey Mouse Club due to this, and appeared only intermittently throughout the seasons. Behind the scenes, he was deemed by the producers as lacking in talent and a bit of a bad influence to the other kids.
The parents of his co-stars even complained to the studio about him sharing mature content with the other kids. Our minds must only wonder what ‘mature content’ actually meant in this sense—even though we might all have a fair idea.
‘Everybody was at, like, prodigy level,’ Gosling told GQ this May. ‘I certainly wasn’t a child prodigy. I didn’t know why I was there. And I think that was the consensus.’
As all good things must come to an end, in 1995, The Mickey Mouse Club was canceled due to a disagreement on how to renew the show between ABC and Disney. So Ryan packed up his life and farewelled Florida, moving back in with his mum and sister. He didn’t abandon his time on the screen, however, and still strived to make something of himself. He took up an acting agent and went on to gather guest roles on hearty Canadian shows.
Upon moving to LA, he landed as a floppy-haired, teenage Hercules in the Fox Kids Network’s TV series, Young Hercules. The show (lasting only one season of 50 episodes) follows Hercules as he attends Cheiron’s Academy as he trains in the art of the warrior under the wise Cheiron the Centaur (played by NZ’s own acting royalty, Nathaniel Lee).
The show allowed Gosling a little slice of our paradise, being shot at Studio West in Auckland. Only 17 at the time, this move to our shores was a big leap for the young star, and really put into perspective for him how much he’d worked in striving to his dream of becoming a star.
‘It’s certainly a lot of fun,’ a charming, young Gosling told ET in 1998. ‘It’s sorta ridiculous—I told them I’d be better suited to play the young Xena, but they cast me here. It’s a lot of fun.’
After his time in New Zealand, Gosling decided to take a step back from television roles as he felt like he needed a proper character to sink his teeth into. He needed some ‘serious acting’ to rejuvenate himself again.
His first big break was as a young Jewish neo-Nazi in the 2001 Henry Bean drama-thriller, The Believer. A much gruntier role for him to sink his teeth into, alright. A role that offered the Young Hercules that substance and grit he yearned for as a young actor on TV. In The Believer he plays Danny Balint, a 22 year-old skin-head who is living in isolation.
A 2001 Sundance Film Festival favorite and winner of that year’s Venice Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize,The Believer was filled-to-the-brim with opportunity for Gosling to strengthen his acting chops.
During an interview with the hilarious Steve Carrell for Wayback Machine Internet Archive in 2010, he told the comedian that The Believer was the film ‘that kind of gift-wrapped for me the career that I have now.’
It’s here that Gosling started his trajectory to being a mega acting super-star, but on his own terms. He wasn’t trying to be anyone, just himself.
It was in 2004, however, luck really struck for Gosling. An adaptation of a 1996 novel by Nicholas Sparks was making the rounds of New Line Cinema, to be directed by Nick Cassavetes. Ryan read the script and was instantly taken by the character. It was in the audition for the lead role as Noah (the young, strapping protagonist) that Cassavetes told him that he didn’t have any ‘natural leading man qualities’.
‘[Cassavettes] called me to meet him at his house,’ Gosling recalled in an interview with IndieWire. ‘When I got there, he was standing in his backyard, and he looked at me and said: “I want you to play this role because you’re not like the other young actors out there in Hollywood. You’re not handsome, you’re not cool, you’re just a regular guy who looks a bit nuts.”’ Charming.
Ryan took that back-handed compliment and didn’t look back, being cast in the role alongside Rachel McAdams. It certainly earned him mainstream heart-throb status, along with several awards. Marked as one of the biggest tear-jerkers of the 21st century, Ryan took home four Teen Choice Awards, an MTV Movie Award, and a cult following for his role. It remains one of the biggest roles of his career, by far.
After the praise from The Notebook, Gosling really took the success in his stride, offering up performances in several critically acclaimed films. The next year, in 2007, Gosling was nominated for a Golden Globe, Satellite Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards for his performance as a man who falls in love with a sex doll in Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl.
The film was a commercial flop, but critics took great pleasure in praising Gosling. Following such dazzling success and widespread acclaim from The Notebook and Lars and the Real Girl, Gosling thought he was at the top of his game, yet could feel himself slowing down a bit, in need of a break.
‘I’ve lost perspective on what I’m doing,’ Ryan said to Associated Press in 2013. ‘I think it’s good for me to take a break and reassess why I’m doing it and how I’m doing it. And I think this is probably a good way to learn about that.’ For the next three years, Ryan kept away from the industry to rejuvenate himself. He and his partner, Eva Mendes (who had both starred in The Place Beyond the Pines in 2012) had their first child. Their second child was later born in 2016.
Taking his time with reintegrating back into the limelight, Gosling starred alongside Harrison Ford in Blade Runner 2049 (which garnered him critical acclaim again) and alongside Emma Stone in the romantic-musical film, La La Land. La La Land marked the third time Stone and Gosling had worked together, both starring in 2011 together in Crazy, Stupid Love and in 2013 in Gangster Squad.
The romantic-musical allowed him to hark back to his childhood, to the days when he used to go with his sister, Mandi, to ballet lessons. Or maybe it was to the days when he performed alongside Justin Timberlake in The Mickey Mouse Club. Whatever he drew inspiration from, Ryan Gosling fully encapsulated the role as jazz pianist, Seb Wilder, in the Damien Chazelle award-winning film.
Everyone has heard of this film, I’m sure, and knows that it won (upon its release) several major awards—except that infamous Best Picture blunder at the Oscars in 2017, where La La Land was announced the winner, but it was actually Moonlight that won!
For his role in La La Land, Gosling took home a Golden Globe for Best Actor and received an Academy Award nomination too.
La La Land wasn’t the last time Gosling worked with Chazelle. A year later he was cast in First Man, a biographical drama about the 1969 moon-landing, and gave a stunning performance as a grieving Neil Armstrong. It seemed, as he slowly slid his way back into the public gaze, Ryan was using his time wisely and not taking on too much. He has always stayed grounded, and reminded himself what really mattered to him.
Whether it was becoming an acting icon in The Notebook, or a dancing and singing jazz-man in La La Land, or an oddly quirky character in Adam McKay’s Wall Street explainer, The Big Short, Ryan has always been successful in any role he’s acquired, being his own type of leading man. For a man who took a break from acting not too long ago, he’s now working a lot. Like, a lot a lot. That’s why Ryan Gosling will always stand the test of time. He comes back harder and stronger with anything he does, giving his unique twist to the blockbuster.
All my characters are me,’ he said in an interview for Blade Runner 2049. ‘I’m not a good enough actor to become a character. I hear about actors who become the role and I think “I wonder what that feels like.” Because for me, they’re all me.’
For the past twenty years he’s been playing that sorta guy that everyone can’t live without.
His latest role, set to hit screens next month, is certainly him digging his teeth into something. He’s gonna be tasting plastic if he bites too hard. It’s in the shape of a Mattel fashion doll, Ken.
Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, the ‘summer blockbuster’ *cough cough*, Barbie will star our boy Ryan and Margot Robbie as the glamorous Barbie. Gosling certainly will bring the ‘Ken-ergy’ in the film!
Set to feature alongside a star-studded cast—with names like Will Farrell, Dua Lipa, Michael Cera and Emma Mackey—the tale tells of Barbie and Ken being exhausted in their days at Barbieland. The two go where no doll has gone before and venture into the wide world.
‘Ken,’ Gosling said to GQ this year, ‘his job is “beach”. For 60 years, his job has been “beach”. What the f**k does that even mean?’
We’re asking the same thing, Ryan.
Also set to be released next year by Universal Studios, is The Fall Guy, directed by David Leitch, who also directed the TAG Heuer Carrera campaign. A remake of the 1980’s TV show, The Fall Guy, tells of Colt Seavers, an out-of-work stuntman. Maybe then there’s a connection between the two projects? Or maybe the campaign by TAG Heuer intends not to make any such connection. Maybe TAG Heuer just wants to remind audiences what a complete blockbuster star Gosling is, in whatever way he choses, and how the man emanates everything the watch brand represents. Sophistication, style, and determination at being himself—with a little sprinkling of badass, blockbuster appeal along the way, whatever that means to him.