Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut “Lost River” has had a bit of a lengthy journey towards theatrical release. The film originally premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year to decidedly negative reviews, with many comparing it unfavorably to the works of David Lynch and to Gosling’s frequent collaborator Nicolas Winding Refn. There were others who somewhat admired what Gosling was going for, including our own Oliver Lyttleton, who thought the film looked and sounded great, but considered the film to be shallow and “an indulgent mess.”
With “Lost River” getting its theatrical release this past weekend, filmgoers can finally make their own assessments on the film. And if you were seeing the film at Sundance Cinemas in West Hollywood last Sunday, then you would’ve had the chance to tell Gosling your thoughts in person. Along with special guest Edgar Wright, he was there for a half-hour long Q&A that was conducted after the film was screened.
At the very least, Gosling can take comfort that some of his filmmaking peers have responded favorably towards his debut film. Guillermo Del Toro accompanied Gosling at SXSW to talk to audiences about the film (and the pair will be working together on “Haunted Mansion“), and at Sundance Cinemas, Wright called it “an incredible film” and gave the first-time director props for being so ambitious in his approach. While this Q&A covered similar ground to Gosling’s conversation with Del Toro at SXSW, there were still plenty of interesting tidbits and anecdotes. Take a look at some of the highlights below.
How The Project Came About – Why Detroit?
Wright: Talk a little bit about why you decided to do this as your first movie.
Gosling: I had the opportunity to work in Detroit just for a week or so.
EW: “The Ides of March“?
RG: “The Ides of March.” With a young upstart named George Clooney [laughs]. We were pretending it was Ohio when we were shooting, but it was cool for me because I’m from Canada and I’d grown up always wanting to go to Detroit. It was too far away that we never went, but it was close enough that it felt like I could almost touch it. It just seemed like everything cool came from there, like Motown and Eminem. The whole iconic American dream, like the Motor City. So I was really surprised when I got there, because it’s very different now, like the dream had become a nightmare. And there were people in those neighborhoods trying to hold onto their homes, and I remember driving around seeing this one family sitting on their front steps and there was a house burning across the street, and they were just watching it like a normal thing. It just seemed so surreal, so I started going back and forth over the course of the year. It wasn’t a conscious choice to direct —it just felt like I was already making it and then it was about seeing it through.
EW: When you did “Ides of March,” was that your first time in Detroit?
EW: I’ve been there a couple times and I have a similar fascination. It was the richest city in America at one point and there are still pockets, which you show a little in the movie, of untouched architecture that’s just amazing. I’d been there once 10 years ago, and I went there again last year and was pleasantly surprised at how lively it was and how many artists were moving in there. It seems to be having a renaissance.
RG: I’m glad you said that, because one thing what we want to mention when we talk about the movie is that this is just a part of what’s happening there. There’s this rebirth. There’s so much creativity there, so many amazing characters and so many incredible locations outside of this whole world. You can shoot 10 movies there and never know you’re in the same place. It has so much to offer and the crews are incredible, so it made for a dream to shoot there because there’s so much diversity and history and there’s such an interesting future. It was a great experience.
EW: Talk a little bit about using some of the locals within the movie. There were a couple of scenes where actors are interacting with people from the neighborhood. Is that correct?
RG: Yeah, part of the idea of the movie was what’s happening there is very real but also extremely surreal. And the people who live in these neighborhoods are so isolated that they’re kind of alone with their memories. Some of them look like they’re under some kind of spell. For instance, that’s the reality of the first guy in the movie, Skip. He grew up on that street and he has a million memories of playing on the street. Now he’s the last guy for 10 blocks. So we wanted to find a way to incorporate the reality into the fantasy and a way to do that was to invite people from the neighborhoods into the scenes.
Influences and Barbara Steele
EW: So I was reading some of the reviews and as soon as one mentioned Mario Bava and Dario Argento, I was like “Oh I’m in!” So can you talk about some of those influences? That’s something I found surprising, in that I’ve never seen you in anything quite like that.
RG: I came to those filmmakers late. A lot of that stuff came from doing research on The Grand Guignol. The club in the film that Christina Hendricks’ character goes to work at is based on that club, which was like the birthplace of horror, you know? Also, the Hell Cafe, The Death Tavern and this macabre murder/entertainment scene in Paris in the ’20s.
EW: Yeah they would do makeup effects on stage and optical illusions and show people being murdered on stage as a theatrical trick.
RG: Right, so in reading about that, I started reading about this was how horror started. And so I started learning about Mario Bava and Argento. And it was from there that I saw their films.
EW: When I did “Hot Fuzz,” I tried to get Barbara Steele in the movie, but I was told she had retired. So I was quite jealous of you casting her; she was in a bunch of Mario Bava films, but also Roger Corman and Federico Fellini. Talk about casting her.
RG: That part is a silent part that only has a few scenes. She’s supposed to be the last remaining part of that town and the way things were. She represents a lot and is meant to be a real ripple effect in the movie. So it was like, who can do that, you know? I remember her from “8½.” And when I started doing the research, I saw all those other films and I thought that would be the coolest if she could do this. It was just so exciting when she agreed to do it.
The Rest of the Cast
EW: Talk about the rest of cast a little bit. It’s quite a diverse bunch of individuals. Now I’ve met Ben Mendelsohn at a party once, but I’m always scared of him [laughs] because of the roles he played on screen, this being no exception. But I’m sure he’s an absolutely lovely guy.
RG: When he came to set, everyone got really excited. He’s very improvisational, very alive. With that whole dance number at the end, we didn’t know exactly what he was gonna do, and he just said, “look, just set up the cameras, I’ll do what I’m gonna do, and then that’s it.” So we put the camera down, and we’re waiting for Ben, and he just comes down and puts down his iPad and plays Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Bitches” [laughs]. And he starts having this crazy dance attack, and I just wanted to cry. That’s the beauty of working with him. If you give him some work to move, he’ll literally… move.
EW: There seem to be moments within the characters where you let these characters bring life to different places. Did you have that worked out? How did you come to control that?
RG: We had to adapt to the environment we were shooting in. For instance, that kid who plays Franky [Landyn Stewart]? It turned out he didn’t like the camera, and he’d cry when he saw it. We only had him for 3 hours a day because he’s 4 and we have scenes to shoot. So I remembered seeing “Animal Planet” and how they would hide. So I thought, I’ll try anything. So we got long lenses and we hid in the bush and we got that opening shot of him coming out of the door, or we hid it in the laundry one time. What I heard is that it was like working with Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now.” We even started calling him Marlon, you know? Amazing.
EW: And he’d turn up on set 200 pounds overweight, right? [laughs]
RG: Yeah, it was part of what we were trying to do with the movie. How can we mix these documentary moments with this heightened reality and fantasy, and how can we meld these worlds together.
Advice From Other Filmmakers
EW: Did you get advice from directors you worked with before?
RG: I had $5 million and I was concerned that wasn’t enough. I told Nic Refn that and he went, “$5 million? You can make “Star Wars” with $5 million!” [laughs]
EW: That’s bullshit by the way. I think even in 1977, Star Wars cost $15 million.
RG: Exactly. Yeah, he’s a liar [laughs]. And I hadn’t worked with Guillermo del Toro, but I had met him. I was invited into his mancave.
EW: It’s a house basically, right?
RG: It is, but it’s also a museum of the macabre.
EW: He built a house for his stuff, it’s kind of amazing.
RG: And there’s a room where it rains all the time, so anything is possible in this house. I had been filming in Detroit over the course of this year, and I had this footage and this idea. I thought I’d show it to him and he went, “If you don’t direct it, I will.” And I thought that was the coolest thing you could say —it felt like the wizard had given me a sword and my shield and sent me off on my mission. So that was really helpful.
EW: Did you do storyboards at all?
RG: We storyboarded the whole film. “The Secret of NIMH” being an influence, I became friends with one of the animators [David Spafford] and we storyboarded together.
EW: Did he actually make some of the nightclub, some of the interior?
RG: Yeah, again we didn’t have a lot of money, so he made our whole set out of cardboard. It cost like $47 and he did it in a night. It’s amazing. He actually made our initial version of our underwater town. And Rat’s house that burns, it was burned before. And we were hiding in the film that it was already burned. We had to shoot a shot that was in the front of the house and he made a facade for that house that was as big as my hand. He was great to have around.
Gosling also answered questions from the audience at the end of the Q&A, here are two of the more interesting ones:
Audience member: What advice can you give to first-time filmmakers?
RG: The way to learn how to make a film is to make it. You learn so much so fast. Now’s a great time to do that. I just saw a film called “Tangerine” which these guys shot on their cell phone. It’s beautiful and really intimate. You don’t have to wait for permission anymore or get an agent or go through a casting director. Don’t wait for permission anymore: just do it.
Audience member: There’s a scene where the two teens are watching a movie with dragons. Is that real or did you guys make that?
RG: Detroit used to have these industrial musicals when they were selling cars. And they’d be for the people who worked for that particular car company. They’d have really big production value, so that was actual industrial musical that we found.
“Lost River” is now on VOD and playing in limited release.