Ryan Gosling interview: Blue Valentine, controversy and NC-17 ratings

Ahead of Blue Valentine’s UK release, Michael Leader spoke to lead actor Ryan Gosling about the making of the film and its MPAA rating controversy in the US…

Press junkets often involve a lot of waiting, and the roundtable interview for Blue Valentine we attended in December was no different. However, our interviewee, Ryan Gosling, had what we deemed a valid excuse. You see, that morning he’d received a call from the States. His performance in the film, as Dean, one half of a doomed romance, had landed him a Golden Globe nomination.

So, you can guess what the first question was about. But things soon opened up, as Gosling, every bit as intense and thoughtful as his on-screen personae, chatted with us about the curse of an NC-17 rating in the States, the unconventional shooting process with co-star Michelle Williams and writer/director Derek Cianfrance, and how he needs to take a break from heart-rending independent drama.

Congratulations on the Golden Globe nomination! How does it feel being at the start of the awards season, with Blue Valentine generating such a buzz?

For a film like this, for a film so small, these things are really helpful. They make up for a lack of printed advertising money that you don’t have. They’re very helpful for the film, that’s great. A lot of people will go and see the film, because it’s getting acknowledged on that level.

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That happened with Half Nelson, for sure. It gains an awareness for the film that you can’t afford.

Is it good to have this positive development, after all of the talk around the ratings of the film, with it nearly getting an NC-17 rating? Were you worried that people might be shut out from seeing it?

Well, they would have been. It’s not just, like, kids under 17 can’t see the film – I agree, they shouldn’t – but it means that it can’t play in a lot of major theatres and they can’t even run ads for it on television or in newspapers. It was more exciting to find out that we’re not officially pornographers.

Could you understand at all why it got that rating initially?

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Not really. I mean, it’s very confusing. It feels like a real double standard. You can’t speak to them directly, so you can’t find out exactly why. But it seems like that ratings system needs to be revisited, I think.

We were happy that they rethought our rating, but the problem still remains. It’s a problem that’s bigger than our film.

Do you think it’s because scenes of sex, even if they’re in the context of a relationship, are still taboo, whereas violence isn’t?

RI just think that 10 people that live in the valley, representing parents across America is… how is that possible? They just make these decisions and they decide for these parents what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. So, their tolerance of violence is so different to their tolerance of sexuality, and if there’s violence involved in the sexuality, it’s somehow perceived as entertainment, but if there’s love involved with sexuality it’s seen as pornographic, and therefore not acceptable.

They really control what happens to these films, if they get out or they don’t get out. By giving a film an NC-17 rating, you’re not saying, “I don’t want kids under 17 to see this film.” You’re saying, “I don’t think anyone should see this film,” because it’s relegated to arthouse theatres in big cities, and it doesn’t get out to the people, the people who it was made for.

Talking of promotion, the poster says “Blue Valentine: A Love Story”. Would you call it a love story?

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Yeah.

Would you take a date to see it?

I would! I think it’s very romantic. Back home, they call it an anti-love story. But the filmmaker, when he first started writing this film 12 years ago, he said he wrote it as a reaction to all these films that he was watching, which seemed like the actors were carved out of marble and made in the image of gods.

He wanted to make a film that was made in the image of man, that embraces that our faults are what makes us special and human. And these characters in this film couldn’t embrace each other’s faults, because they were trying to live up to some idea of perfection that only exists in movies. So, I think that it is romantic to acknowledge the faults.

The film is structured around two timelines, at the beginning and end of the relationship. Did you film it in two parts? Did this help with the chemistry with Michelle Williams?

To shoot all the beautiful stuff first – the falling in love – was like a dream. We built this castle, and we had to tear it down. But while we were tearing it down, we knew what we were losing, because we’d built it.

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We wanted to show the effects of time, and we wanted to treat our characters like flags. When you see a flag, it’s torn at the edges, because the wind has beaten it down and the sun has made it lose its colour. We wanted to show the erosion of time on our characters.

How much does playing a character like Dean take it out of you, especially when you’re tearing the castle down?

I left it all on the field on that film. I can’t imagine going back and doing another independent drama for a while. I went and made a comedy, with Steve Carell, afterwards. It was a completely different experience.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I did a pilot when I was 17. I had a small part, and so did Steve Carell. I remember watching him shoot one day. He was so funny that they couldn’t make it through the takes. The crew was laughing. At one point the boom guy had to put down the boom and laugh. And it was the first time it ever occurred to me that you could be so good that it was a problem. And I made a promise to myself that I would work with Steve one day. So, it came along at the right time, right after I’d finished Blue Valentine.

How was it working with Derek Cianfrance?

I feel like I’ve been dreaming of this person to come into my life who’d want to work this way. There are very few filmmakers who are willing to just dismantle the whole idea of the process in general. He always treated the filming process like the convention of making film was like a big monster hand that was always trying to get its grasp on us, and we were always outrunning it. He did so many things.

For instance, at the beginning of the movie, where I’m waking up, he set up the cameras in the living room at night and I went to sleep, and I woke up and the crew had all snuck in and had been filming me sleeping. And then my little girl woke me up and we went out into the yard, and there were cameras in the forest filming us.

There was so much thought put into what would be the most fruitful environment to put us in. It’s very thoughtful. The idea that acting is a last resort, that he’ll do as much work as he possibly can and when you’re asked to act, it’s like there’s no other option.

Over the years that we were prepping our characters, Michelle and I never met. We’d had one dinner. So, when we showed up on set, we really met each other on camera, in character. So, when something’s happening for the first time for the audience, it’s really happening for the first time for us as well. We didn’t have many do-overs either. Most of it was long, one take.

Did you know your characters’ trajectory all the time? Had you seen a finished script?

No, he would give us pointers. We knew that, eventually, we were going to do this part of the film where we’d be living together with a kid. We knew what the scenes were. But within each scene the director would give us a point A to point B, and how however we wanted to get there was up to us.

You could draw a line between those two dots. It could be a squiggly line. It could be any colour you wanted to be. But you had to get from those two points. So, we never really knew what the other one was going to do. So it had a life of its own.

The script was a traditional script. He wrote about 75 drafts and a manifesto. And then when we got on set, he said, “This script is 12 years old. It’s dead to me. If you say any of the lines, you’ll bore me. Action.”

Do you feel that, after Lars And The Real Girl, Half Nelson and Blue Valentine, that you’ve done your time in independent cinema for a while?

No, I love those films. I don’t just want to make small movies that no one ever sees. Every time I make a movie, I think they’re going to be bigger than Avatar, and it just never happens. But every time I’m sure that this is the one.

And films like Blair Witch Project instigate that, because it makes me feel like it’s possible to make a small movie that resonates and becomes successful. That would be my dream. That they would be so good that that would be the special effect. The authenticity would feel like you’re watching it in 3D. And then everyone would want to run and see it.

So, where does Drive, the film you’re doing with Carey Mulligan in which you play a stuntman, fit in?

I think, you know, Nicolas Winding Refn is the director on that, and he’s a very special filmmaker. And I think it’s ended up being more like some kind of cross between Blue Velvet and Purple Rain – which I’m excited about, and I hope everyone else will be excited about it too.

I spent a couple of months going to a big parking lot, and there’d be a new Camero or a new Mustang, and we’d just run it till it was stripped, and then a tow truck would pull it away and we’d go home. It was the best time in my life.

How was it putting on the weight for the latter parts of Blue Valentine?

I was supposed to put on a lot of weight, but I got concerned that people would walk out of the film and feel like, aw, well, if he hadn’t have let himself go, it would have worked out. You know, if he’d have just hit the treadmill, it would have been fine. So, we didn’t want it to be too extreme. We had eating contests, basically. Michelle won.

It’s always quite dangerous to do that, for your body. How do you feel about that?

I did it for The Lovely Bones. I was 150 pounds and I got up to 210. And I never even shot it!

How did that feel?

Terrible! I was fat, bald and unemployed, walking around New York. It was not a fun time. And it’s not good for you. I don’t know how Christian Bale does it.  It’s incredible what he does. Really. I’m in awe of his commitment.

But it’s your job, though. Every job has its downside.

Ryan Gosling, thank you very much.

Blue Valentine is released on January 14th.

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