Ryan Gosling burst into the public consciousness playing the pretty boy heartthrob in the weepy mega-hit The Notebook, but it's as a man who has trouble with women that he's getting all the awards acclaim.
The Canadian-born actor's latest nomination is for a Best Actor Golden Globe for his turn as frustrated husband Dean in the relationship drama Blue Valentine. Playing his wife is Michelle Williams, in a story that juxtaposes the start and end of a relationship. The young Dean is Gosling as the pretty heartthrob who has been lighting up our screens since appearing in The Mickey Mouse Club – but to play the aged Dean, the actor put on weight, grew an unkempt beard and was given a receding hairline.
Gosling could easily have walked into a series of high-paying romantic lead roles on the back of the success of The Notebook, but instead he chose to pursue projects where he had a greater affinity to the characters.
Half Nelson saw him garner an Oscar nomination for his turn as a drug-addicted school teacher. It's rare for a young actor in a low-budget independent picture to get Oscar notice, but he was impossible to ignore as he wandered the streets looking for his next score. Then came the quirky romantic drama Lars and the Real Girl in which Gosling falls in love with a sex doll. In both films, his characters are frustrated at being misunderstood by their peers.
In Blue Valentine Dean is frustrated because his wife no longer shows affection towards him. The 30-year-old actor has been attached to the picture since 2005 and it's easy to see why he waited patiently for the movie to come together, even as writer/ director, Derek Cianfrance, worked on 67 versions of the script.
Gosling, who has blue eyes in the mould of Paul Newman, puts his faith and desire to make the film down to his affinity with the director. "He's pretty rad!" says the Canadian. "When I read the script I thought it was amazing, but I thought I was too young for the older part. I thought I could do the young part, the falling in love, but the dad stuff I was concerned about. Derek was like, 'Okay, let's shoot the young part now and six years from now, let's shoot the part where you're married with a kid'. Who was this guy who was willing to wait six years to shoot the rest of the movie? I knew I had to work with him."
The picture was originally going to be shot in 2008, but was delayed as Williams coped with the death of Heath Ledger, the father of her child. In the end the gap between shooting the "younger" and "older" scenes was only six months. By the time cameras started to roll, Gosling had become the leading actor of his generation and – something far more pertinent to the role – he had begun to have a greater understanding of relationships.
Gosling had a high-profile relationship with his co-star in The Notebook, Rachel McAdams. The couple dated for three years until February 2007 in a match that seemed to have been made in Hollywood heaven. He had previously gone out with Sandra Bullock, who he met on the set of Murder by Numbers in 2001. Since the break-up with McAdams, Gosling has been constantly linked with a string of actresses, including Blake Lively and his co-star Williams, yet perhaps learning from the media craze that surrounded his relationship with McAdams, he's yet to officially confirm any as his main squeeze.
"It's hard to be objective about yourself, but you have to be in interviews," he says of the media interest in his life and relationships. "It's like a song that comes on and you have to dance; there are lots of songs that get played, but this one you have to move to. I think I've been through more relationships now than I had when I made The Notebook. So I've got a different perspective on relationships and what romance is."
Relationships are a lot tougher than any young man thinks they will be – and it's a lesson that Gosling has learned the hard way. "They're not like they are in the movies, that's for sure. Although Blue Valentine's trying to do its best."
He says he put a lot of his own relationship experiences into Dean. "It made me think about everything. When you're making a movie like this you wrack your brain to think about your experiences. I had five years to think about it. I had a Blue Valentine file in my brain, so every time something happened in my life or someone else's life, I would ear-mark it and put it in the file."
This meant that Gosling, who also serves as an executive producer on the film, got to add his own dialogue. The director encouraged both his stars to improvise and one of the most pertinent and controversial lines that Gosling added is that, "Guys are more romantic than girls."
Does he really believe that? "You know, I change my mind every day," he says. "That day, I believed it."
The answer seems like a cop out, so I press Gosling further about what he sees as the difference between male and female attitudes to relationships. "Well, I think we're not planning our weddings from the time that we're six," he explains. "We're putting them off as long as we can, and I think we get married for different reasons."
Again he pulls back a little by adding, "I'm just generalising really. I think everybody's different, but I think the approach worked for the character."
Blue Valentine also sees Gosling play a father. He and Williams struggle to raise a young girl (Faith Wladyka), and the actor admits it was a struggle. "I don't really like kids! I don't," he emphasises. "Faith is different; she's not a jerk. Most kids never even ask how you're doing; it's all about them all the time. But Faith is a really polite, smart, funny person."
The actor looks impeccable when we meet, dressed in a shirt and blue jeans, but he argues that he doesn't really care about his image; such has been the attention of the paparazzi on him in recent years that he's given up trying to look good all the time. "There are so many pictures of me that it's impossible to look good in all of them. I gave that up a long time ago."
One of the most popular series of pictures of Gosling are a collection on the internet, in which images of the heartthrob have been posted with hilarious romantic slogans purportedly being spouted by the actor.
Although Gosling refuses to bow to the pressure of the paparazzi, that's not to say he's not a sucker for fashion; he admits that he kept the blue suit that Dean wears on his wedding day. "I found that suit in a thrift store," says Gosling proudly. "I found it two days before we got married [in the movie]. I'd picked another suit to wear, but I wasn't happy with it, so I went out all day in New York, just going to all these thrift stores. I found it two days before, right in the fourth quarter."
This year will see Gosling move away from romantic dramas as he tries his hand at action and comedy. He says of the comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, "I think I needed to do a comedy for my own well being. It's with Steve Carell and it's about a dad whose life goes into crisis as his marriage unravels and his relationship with his children goes haywire."
But it's the action movie, Drive, that seems to most arouse the actor. "It's directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and I think he has something new up his sleeve. I'm kind of an action hero, but not in the big action movie sense. It's based on this novella called Drive, which is kind of like Michael Mann's Thief. They don't make films like this very much anymore, like French Connection or Bullitt – character-driven action films, rather than action-driven."
Now here's the rub and the nature of modern-day Hollywood; it was Gosling who gave Refn the part rather than the other way round. "I read the script and I wanted Nicolas. I saw the Pusher movies and I was like, 'that's the guy that I want to work with'."
When I ask if Gosling likes having that kind of power, he immediately responds, "Yeah! It's nice to be able to come onto a film, sometimes before there's a film-maker, so you can try and figure out who you would like."
And if Gosling continues to put in the type of performance he does in Blue Valentine, it's a sure bet that studios will continue throwing scripts his way, hoping that he'll want to put his considerable talent into them. It's not a bad place to be for anyone who has just turned 30.
'Blue Valentine' is out tomorrow