Fate, sin, consequences, redemption… are a few of the words that have been used in the run-up to “The Place Beyond The Pines” to capture the thematic undercurrents of the generation spanning saga. These are touchstones in the film and Ryan Gosling sets it all in motion. He co-stars alongside the excellent ensemble Derek Cianfrance has pulled together — Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Mahershala Ali, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen, Ben Mendelsohn and Ray Liotta — in the film that follows two men and their sons, and how they collide and come together across decades.
From the first moment Gosling’s Luke appears, walking with a steely confidence in a circular steel cage to perform a jaw dropping motorcycle stunt (that nearly killed the DP), we see a man who is both dangerous and damaged. Living a drifter-like existence, he carries the burden of his past on his shoulders and, when a former flame reveals he has a son, his world changes dramatically. It’s a part with a lot of nuances to it in a film that brings together many different genres to spin a unique tale. We recently sat down with Gosling to talk about ‘Pines,’ working with Cianfrance again after “Blue Valentine” and what he’s learned from Nicolas Winding Refn, Terrence Malick and more.
Check it out below, and for more, check out our interview with Derek Cianfrance right here.
How did this film and part come your way?
We were making “Blue Valentine” and we were just talking one day and I had this cockamamie plan for how I could rob a bank and get away with it but I’m too afraid of jail, but I was pretty sure it would work and then Derek said “That’s crazy, I just wrote a script about that.” We didn’t talk about it again for years and then he finished the script.
I’ll tell you what soured the deal about bank robberies though. I’m finally doing it. I’m on the counter and I’m doing it and I turn around and everyone’s smiling at me and filming me with their cell phones and I realize it’s not like how I thought it would be. And then Derek got mad at me, “They’re having a good time! You’re not being scary enough!” So he made me do 22 takes trying to scare [the people playing the tellers].
The part of Luke isn’t necessarily the lead, but its crucial. Was there any options of you taking any other roles in it instead?
I was always gonna play that guy. I loved the way the narrative is structured and I thought it’s so smart and the film has all of the conventions of a heist film or a crime thriller, family drama but yet it’s deeply constructed and laid out the way that’s new so you get to experience all of those things that you love about those genres but you get to experience them in a new way.
For those that haven’t seen the movie, tell me about the character.
The idea is that he’s a melting pot of masculine clichés. Muscles, tattoos, motorcycles, guns, knives, he’s in some kind of motorcycle boy band in the early ’90s traveling around with this low-rent carnival circuit – it doesn’t get any worse. He’s presented with this child that he didn’t know he had – and it’s like a mirror – and he realizes that none of these things mean that he’s a man. And that he’s really not a man at all. He’s a surface, superficial person with no depth. So that was the idea, but the face tattoo was too much and I regretted it. So I went to Derek and I said, “I can’t do this, this is ridiculous.” And he said, “Well, this movie is about consequences, so now you have to pay for what you’ve done and you have to have it for the whole movie.” And I was so ashamed. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and I couldn’t look at dailies and I just felt embarrassed and I think that was something I couldn’t have acted. And it became a very important part of the character: of shame, of regret. Of becoming something you couldn’t change and having to face it. And then have this child. And try and feel like this person’s father when you feel like a mess and a mistake. So I appreciated that Derek held my feet to the fire on that because ultimately it gave me a gift for the character.
The movie is a winding long narrative, did it read that way on paper?
It did. I mean that whole passing of the baton was very clear in the script and the characters are very clearly defined. He allows everyone to come in and personalize it so it becomes different. Derek gets bored easily so he’s constantly saying, “Stop saying the lines, surprise me.”
Did you train on your motorbike? Had you ridden before.
I’d ridden, but not like that. Rick Miller was my teacher, a great guy, and when Batman rides the motorcycle it’s Rick in the bat suit, so he’s the best.
How many of your own stunts did you do?
Because of the nature of the way that Derek wanted to shoot, he wanted to shoot a lot of the bank heists in one take which involved riding up and riding the bank and then escaping. So it was required of me to do more than I would normally be asked to do in a film.
There’s a lot of one takes in it, is that difficult?
They were very complicated, maybe the most complicated thing I’ve ever been a part of because it required getting to the bank, getting in having the heist go off without a hitch and then in one case in the escape there was all of these elaborate stunts organized, choreographed so that I would drive into oncoming traffic and have all of these near misses with these cars so going into the bank. I knew that 7 minutes from now, after I’ve robbed this bank I still have to drive into traffic. So there was a lot to keep track of, but I’m sure that there’s a lot to keep track of when you’re robbing a bank. So it sets up an environment for you where although it’s not easy, you’re not really required to act very much.
You and Derek must have a shorthand now that you’ve worked together on two films.
Absolutely. I just loved the idea the way Derek was constructing this linear narrative — and first off, he’s the most stubborn person of all time. And everyone told him to cut it, to change it, not to do that, no one thought it was a good idea and everyone thought in the edit he would end up changing it anyhow, but he stuck to his guns. He deconstructed all these genres and then arranged them so that you’re able to have all those elements that you go to the movies for in the first place, but you’re able to have an experience watching them that is different. And I admire him for doing that.
It seems like you’re developing that kind of trust and relationship with a few other filmmakers as well.
I love… history is important to me, I’ve been with my agent since I was sixteen and my manager since I was fourteen. I kind of thrive on it. I’m excited to be at a point in my career where I’ve developed that with filmmakers. I’m certainly not anxious to let that go I feel like I thrive on it and it makes me better in a lot of ways.
…you spend most of a film tiptoeing around people’s process and being polite and trying not to be misunderstood. You just waste a lot of time trying to be polite and it’s nice going to in to make the picture and have that trust and also as an actor not feel like you have to throw everything in the kitchen sink into the performance because you don’t know what’s going to make the edit. With someone that you trust, you’re trusting that they’ll tell the story and you don’t have to. You can be a part of the scene and not feel like the focus of it.
Do you think you’re going to work with Derek again?
I dunno, we’ll see if he has me back. Of course. I hope that we make many films together.
I think at one point he said he wanted to do a musical with you when you had your band.
I don’t know what he’s got up his sleeve, we’ll see.
Speaking of sleeves. Working with Derek, Terry and Nicolas, was it helpful to see how other people work to see how you could do it?
You know, I’ve been to the best film school you can go to. Between Derek, Nicolas and Terry Malick it’s been a great education.
If you had to describe those three an their differences, how would you describe these three?
Well they’re all very different, they couldn’t be more different but they are all the same in the sense that they are fans of film but they don’t try and emulate other filmmakers, they fiercely their own people, they don’t know how to be anyone else. And I think that’s why they make such distinct films and so the thing to be learned from that is there’s nowhere to hide as a director. You are completely exposed when you write and direct a film. It directly reflects you and you have to be willing to accept what that is when it’s finished.
Which Malick one are you in? I know he’s doing two at the same time.
He’s doing more than two. He’s cutting like five movies right now, one of which is about the creation of the universe that he’s been working on for the last fifteen years but I’m not in that one I don’t think.
You’re in the rock n’ roll one.
I’m in the music one. [Michael] Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Val Kilmer, Patty Smith, Robert Plant, Johnny Rotten, the Black Lips… every day was unlike anything.
[I ask Gosling about the screenplay and he says there is none] Really? But he usually writes one regardless.
Yeah, I think he used to have to write them and now I think they’re onto the fact that he doesn’t use them anyway so they’re not requiring them.
What can we expect from your directorial debut?
You know, I guess if I’ve learned anything from these guys I’ve worked with it’s that you are always making the film, it’s always evolving and it’s not finished until it’s, until you lock picture, so I’m not sure what it will be.
What’s the basic idea?
I feel like it’s probably better we talk about it when it’s done because I don’t want to lie to you and tell you it’s going to be something that it’s not because it could change and I think I hope that you still want to talk when it’s over and I’d want to talk to you about it.
People are very excited for your next Nicolas Winding Refn collaboration, “Only God Forgives.”
It’s very extreme.
How does it compare to “Drive”?
It’s part of the same dream, but it’s probably more of a nightmare than a dream. But it’s more extreme and we shot it in Thailand and no one was watching so that’s what happens when you let Nic loose in Thailand there’s no one around to put the reins on and he’s completely unleashed.
“The Place Beyond The Pines” is in limited release now and it opens wide on April 12th.