Ryan Gosling's new Thai Western flick, Only God Forgives (out July 19) casts him as a drug smuggling, kickboxing club owner and is bound to puzzle as many viewers as it repulses. Director Nicolas Winding Refn (who also worked with Gosling on Drive) fills the frames of his sparsely scripted film with moody, blood-red lighting, haunting, domineering sound design, and one brutal slaying after another.
But when it comes to Gosling himself, the movie offers a handful of revelations. DETAILS spoke with the 33-year-old actor about his recent flurry of face beatings, how "Hey Girl" fans will take to his slew of blood-soaked roles, and what he put down his pants when he was younger to inspire his budding acting career. Below are seven things we recently learned about the man.
He's not afraid of polarizing projects.
However artful, the film's hardcore gore, foul language, and ostentatious style have elicited jeers from critics, even sparking boos at Cannes. But that never fazed Gosling. "In terms of the movie dividing people, I think it's kind of like a drug," he says. "You either have a good trip or a bad trip."
He doesn't think his characters from Drive and Only God Forgives are all that similar.
In both films, Gosling plays an antihero of model-esque stoicism, but he's hip to the differences of steering the ship and being part of the ride. "Although there's still a lot of silence, this film is different from Drive in that instead of the driver, I'm more of a vehicle for the audience," Gosling says.
He isn't de-glamming on purpose.
Despite evidence to the contrary, like the face tattoo he sported in The Place Beyond the Pines and the face-distorting beating his character, Julian, endures in Only God Forgives, Gosling isn't consciously playing against his handsome-guy image by messing up that pretty mug. "[The beatdown] wasn't part of the film initially," he says. "But unexpected things happened, and working with these [Muay Thai] stunt coordinators—they're the best of the best, so it felt foolish that I'd be beating these sort of guys in a fight. It just seemed to make sense that I lose."
He has a taste for Freudian freakiness.
In what's sure to be one of Only God Forgives' most talked-about penetration scenes, Julian [spoiler alert!] cuts open the belly of his murdered mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and reaches inside—and it was all Gosling's idea. "[Nic Refn] said, 'What do you wanna do when you see the dead body? You wanna cry?' And I said, 'Well maybe I could cut her open and look at her womb.' And he was like, 'Cool, okay.' So we got a pig's stomach from the butcher and that's what we did."
He's itching to play British.
Gosling's role in Only God Forgives was initially offered to rising star and UK native Luke Evans, who ultimately dropped out to star in the Hobbit sequels. When Gosling stepped in, he wanted to take a crack at Evans's British accent, but Refn insisted he remain American. "I was shot down," Gosling says.
As a kid he kept director David Lynch close...really close.
When he was about 12, Gosling says he "saw Rambo in First Blood, and then took knives to school and threw them at the kids," which resulted in his mother putting a ban on R-rated films. So when he fell in love with Lynch's risqué Blue Velvet, he had to smuggle the VHS tape past Mom...by sticking it down his pants. "Just the idea of a film like that, that you couldn't show anyone and had to hide in your pants, felt good. It made an impression on me, like, 'I want to make a film like that some day.'"
He's not concerned about his violent art-house flicks tarnishing that "Hey Girl" persona.
Gosling says he doesn't quite get the audience bloodlust fueled by his collaborations with Refn, but he thinks it's worth exploring, and he's not hung up on fan alienation. "You can't really think like that," he says. "That's a dangerous road to go down." As to how people will keep making endearing Gosling memes amid so much on-screen carnage, he says "They seem to find a way. I'm not worried about that."
—R. Kurt Osenlund is an arts and entertainment writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him at @AddisonDeTwitt.