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Gosling of 'Half Nelson': An Un-Hollywood Star

Ryan Gosling has earned Oscar buzz for his turn as a drug-addicted teacher in
Ryan Gosling has earned Oscar buzz for his turn as a drug-addicted teacher in "Half Nelson." (Thinkfilm)

What he has done so far is land a series of substantial roles almost sure to prevent him from becoming an American sweetheart. There's the neo-Nazi, of course, then a teenage killer in "Murder by Numbers" (2002) and a juvenile delinquent in "The United States of Leland" (2003). In "Half Nelson," he's an inspiring charmer of a teacher, but one wracked by disillusionment and addiction, careless enough to hit the crack pipe in the girls' locker room and be discovered by a student as he convulses against a bathroom stall.

It's not that Gosling isn't getting offers to act in potential blockbusters or that he's philosophically opposed to big-budget films, it's just that -- well, maybe he is philosophically opposed to big-budget films. "I understand the studios, in the sense that if they're going to spend $100 million on a film, they want to make sure they're gonna get that back . . . but I don't know how to guarantee you you're going to make that money back, and I'm uncomfortable working with those kind of numbers."

He is thinking of directing now, taking a turn on the other side of the camera. Will he continue to perform as well?

"Yeah, we'll see."

And the satisfaction he does derive from acting, this endeavor that has won him such acclaim: "I'm sure it would be hard to articulate."

Articulation is a funny thing. It's one of the qualities he finds inauthentic about so many Hollywood-concocted characters. In the movies, he says, people always have the ability to say what they mean. In real life, "I think that, you know, people are always trying to say what they mean but rarely get there."


Then Gosling breaks his choppy rhythm. He is responding to a question about the way he prepared for his "Half Nelson" role -- moved to Brooklyn, shadowed a middle school teacher, gave himself an education in the civil rights movement he'd be teaching on screen.

And: "I did a lot of crack, you know. A lot. It was cheap, so it was no big deal -- I used my per diem for it," he says with perfect delivery.

"I'm just kidding. I didn't get per diem."

It's nice to think that this is a glimpse of the genuine Gosling, the one who charms his co-stars into off-screen romances (first Sandra Bullock, then Rachel McAdams), who, during "Half Nelson," floats effortlessly into a lyrical discourse on the capacity individuals have to effect change, who has the sense of humor to choose, for his next project, to play a guy who falls in love with a sex doll.

Incidentally, what is it that Gosling really wants out of a character?

"Really, it's simple -- just somebody I think is a real person," he says. "The theme for me is love and the lack of it. We all want that and we don't know how to get it, and everything we do is some kind of attempt to capture it for ourselves.

"Anyway, whatever, I'm rambling."

That's true, and it's lovely to hear.

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