Of late, Hollywood has been pondering the question: "Is Ryan Gosling the new George Clooney?" Clooney both stars in and directs Gosling, 30, in political thriller The Ides of March, the poster for which apes a Time magazine cover in which the pair's faces are not only juxtaposed but morphing directly into each other. So often the mother of reinvention, no wonder Hollywood is confused. So too is Gosling's mother.
"I think the poster is just Clooney showing how much better-looking he is than me," laughs Gosling, "but my mother saw something else entirely. She called me and was so excited, saying, 'You're on the cover of Time magazine!' I had to say, 'No, it's just the poster for the movie, ma'."
Such milestones are not far off since, no disrespect intended to the esteemed Clooney, Gosling is streets and years ahead of his perceived career mentor's standing at the same age. Just 26, the Canadian-born actor received his first Best Actor Academy Award nomination, for his role as a drug-addicted teacher in Half-Nelson. Clooney didn't snare the role which made him famous –TV's ER – until he was 33, and was 44 before he was nominated (and won) in the Best Supporting Actor for 2006's Syriana.
The Ides of March is already garnering its own Oscar buzz and Gosling a buzz all his own as Hollywood's newly anointed leading man under 40. Certainly, there are other pretenders nipping at his ankles (fellow Canadian Ryan Reynolds, and Bradley Cooper, to name but two) but Gosling, for now, is clearly ahead of the rest of the pack-in-waiting, if conflicted about it.
"I'm just so sick of myself. I can't imagine how everyone else feels. And there's just nowhere to go but down really from here. So, hey, it's been nice. It's been real." He laughs hard, puts on his grey, self-designed leather jacket and feigns leaving, with some good reason. In the space of only three months, he has been seen as a ripped lothario who eventually finds love in Crazy, Stupid, Love, the moody disaffected driver of Drive, and now borderline nefarious political press secretary Stephen in The Ides of March. It is not, of course, that Gosling dictates film release dates, but it would be euphemistic to call him anything but "in your face" currently.
Fortunately, his current frequency in film is not to be confused with repetition. The Ides of March proffered Gosling a meatier character role, and an unusually high fear factor. "It scared me for sure. I don't know if you can imagine but it's a very nerve-racking thing to walk into this world, which is right in George's wheelhouse."
Does he have any opinion on the Clooney comparison? Gosling almost spits out his mineral water in disbelief on hearing the line. "Who the, what the?" he laughs, looking genuinely perplexed. "I don't even know what to think about that. Let me get back to you."
He combines his firm but friendly demurral with a huge not-too-fake-white smile and I suddenly understand why every woman I know (and teenage girls galore) are doolally for Gosling. Long-ago-proved acting chops aside, he is handsome but not threateningly so, boyish but not immature, and earnestly, unashamedly in touch with his feminine side.
"I think like a girl, I think," he says, in answer to a question about growing up with his mother and sister (his parents had divorced). Having been bullied at school thanks to his early TV success, Gosling was home-schooled by his mother for a year, which meant an ever greater female presence in his life. "I was literally raised by my mother and my sister. And I just feel like I wouldn't know how to think any other way. My sister was my best friend and my hero growing up. Because I was home-schooled I didn't have a lot of friends and I did ballet, which was always just girls. All of that had an effect on my brain."
Though he insists he has "no free time" currently, when he does, he is often found at a Los Angeles ballet studio. "I practise whenever I can," he says, without a modicum of embarrassment.
Have myriad LA mums not spread the word as to exactly where Hollywood's latest heart-throb can be readily observed putting in his pliés? He seems not really to have considered the prospect.
"A lot of the students are young girls so they're there with their mums but they just kind of watch and tell me to keep it up. They try and be positive but I'm so bad. I don't even know what I like about it but it's like acting, I'm just compelled to do it and I do it to find out why. The not knowing is interesting."
It may be a reaction to the burgeoning attention he can no longer fend off, but at other times Gosling already speaks like a politician and admits to being even more fascinated by the political world since wetting his feet for The Ides of March.
"It's not that I see this particularly as a political film or something with a political message. It really is just a thriller set in a political arena. It could just as easily have been in Hollywood or on Wall Street. But the research was so interesting. I learned a lot. I met some politicians, I had a lot of help and I needed it."
He says the parallels between Hollywood and politics have since become glaringly obvious. "It's very hard to be honest in both jobs. You can't really tell the truth because everything you say is taken out of context and cut up. You just have to be careful what you say."
I mention a recent interview in which he apparently claimed he'd be retiring from acting within the next decade. He sighs deeply, almost without realising it. "That's exactly what I'm talking about. What I said was that I've been acting since I was 12 [he starred alongside Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in the children's TV series The Mickey Mouse Club] and I've been feeling very creative lately but that I can't see myself maintaining that pace or doing this for the rest of my life. I really can see directing becoming a big part of my life."
Like Clooney, Gosling's early years are deeply cemented in TV, though he says he felt all along "that there would be a place for me somewhere in the film biz". It wasn't until 2004 that he hit pay dirt with nostalgic romance The Notebook opposite fellow Canadian and then girlfriend Rachel McAdams. He previously dated Sandra Bullock – they met on 2002's Murder by Numbers – and is now dating Eva Mendes, his co-star on The Place Beyond the Pines, which he recently completed for director Derek Cianfrance. Cianfrance also directed Gosling in last year's much-acclaimed Blue Valentine, and he professes a desire to work again with directors he has established a shorthand with.
"The Place Beyond the Pines was the best experience I have ever had making a film. It's because Derek and I now have one film behind us and a history. We can talk to each other in a way we never could before so Pines is an evolution. I feel like I've been dating all these film-makers and now I just want to get married."
He will also reteam with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn for the upcoming remake of Logan's Run but says, contrary to reports, babies are not next on his agenda. "Out of context too. I was saying that genetically we are programmed to have certain instincts and if you're not fulfilling those instincts, they can manifest themselves creatively."
With Gosling now booked up for months, does he not find the prospect claustrophobic? Actors, after all, are wont to espouse the benefits of time of and living life as acting enhancements.
"I've never booked myself up like this. I used to make a film every year or two. A week after I finished The Place Beyond the Pines, I started on my current film Gangster Squad [with Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone]. We'll see. I may come to regret it but I just want to be making films right now. The opportunities are so great I don't want just to be hanging out. I feel like this is the time for me to be productive."
Gosling can sometimes be spotted at Disneyland, as he was last month in the company of Mendes. "I have a love/hate relationship with Disneyland but what's so interesting to me is that the attention to detail there never gets old. There's always something new to find, something they've thought of. And there is always the idea of somebody who had a dream and made it so real you can walk around in it. "
Gosling's own interesting dream is, it seems, only just beginning.
'The Ides of March' is released on Friday