Mention Ryan Gosling to women – and to a number of men as well – and frequently a sound escapes them, like a tyre squeaking out air. They crumple visibly at his name, thinking perhaps of that square successor-to-Clooney jaw in The Ides of March; or grizzly and sodden as Noah Calhoun in The Notebook; or even smashing heads in cult hit Drive. He's the man of the moment, no other actor has quite the same giddying effect.
It seems there is only one person in the world not interested in talking about Ryan Gosling – and that's the 32-year-old Canadian himself. It's this trait that, frustratingly, makes him even more attractive. Wrapped in new-man cashmere, he fixes those baby blues on you and immediately starts asking the questions himself.
"Have you ever met Arnie?" he starts off. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Los Angeles, with a new film. "I'd love to meet him," he adds, almost wistfully. " My mom had a picture of him on the fridge when I was growing up – he was on a horse. Let's talk about him instead of me."
This is a pattern with him. Mention Gosling's beloved dog, George, and he'll reply, "George is way more interesting than I am. I'd much rather talk about him." It's not a defensive gesture; he is genuinely self-effacing. Perhaps more so than normal, given his soaring level of success.
The year 2011 was a life-changer for the actor. He appeared in three hit films, gathering a couple of Golden Globe nominations for two of them – Drive and political thriller The Ides of March – as well as playing a rom-com smoothie in sleeper hit Crazy Stupid Love. It made more than $100m at the box office – although 2004's sob-a-long weepie The Notebook remains his most successful film to date. But in Crazy Stupid Love Emma Stone's character voices the thought of millions when she looks at Gosling's washboard abs and pronounces, "please tell me those are photoshopped." His career was sealed from that moment on.
He and Stone have a natural chemistry, although he describes them as "a couple of knucklehead friends" and has been dating actress Eva Mendes for nearly 18 months. But director Ruben Fleischer has reunited Gosling and Stone for Gangster Squad, a slick, brutal film noir, set in Los Angeles in 1949. Also starring Sean Penn and Josh Brolin, Gosling will melt any more unconverted hearts as Sergeant Jerry Wooters, a former soldier who falls for Stone's gangster moll. As far as scene-stealers go, think the young Russell Crowe in LA Confidential – a movie that Gangster Squad echoes in style.
The body count in the movie is higher than in Drive, but Gosling has no particular love for action films. "I'm Canadian," he deadpans. " I don't really have that much angst to get rid of.
"I never was that boy who loved gangster films, but when I was growing up I was obsessed with the detective Dick Tracy. It was one of my favourite movies as a kid and he really inspired me. I would have loved to be part of that golden age of Hollywood in the 1940s. It made me want to become an actor."
Gosling's hero worship of crime fighter Dick Tracy is poignant, considering an incident in his childhood. When he was in first grade at his home in Ontario, Canada, and having been mesmerised by the film First Blood, the boy took some steak knives to school and threw them at his classmates. He was suspended. His early years sound lonely – he's said he didn't have any friends at school, and was home-schooled by his Mormon parents for a while. Mormonism, he's said in the past, affected everything when he was a child. He dropped out of school again, aged 17, to take up acting full time.
Performance is one thing he excelled at from an early age – indeed, the uber-cool Gosling was a Mouseketeer for two years, alongside Britney, Justin, Christina and all the gang on The Mickey Mouse Club in Orlando, Florida. He once said that this was the happiest time of his life, and confirms now that he still believes this is true.
"Although these last few films have been good," he adds, "because they've brought back that time for me. You know, when everything was like a wonderland." He pauses. "Everything was new and magical."
Perhaps that's why Gosling is loath to enjoy his success – because he knows how quickly both the success and the enjoyment of it can be lost. Asked about his fame, he responds quickly with, "That means the clock is ticking and it's about to go wrong. I mean, do you think you're seeing too much of me? Am I doing too much?"
His tone isn't aggressive – Gosling is softly spoken most of the time – but he seems genuinely curious to see if other people think he's in danger of over-exposure. It's quite possible that he would disappear for a while. Gosling initially broke through from TV to movie roles back in 2001 when he starred as a Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer. It won the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and, he says, "gift-wrapped the career I have now." Roles like that in The Notebook handed him four Teen Choice awards, and he was nominated for an Oscar in 2006 for Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson, where Gosling starred as an inner-city schoolteacher.
Then, in 2007, he was replaced at the last minute on Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. Gosling had gained weight for the role, and so he was left, as he's pithily put it, "fat and unemployed." He took a three-year break from acting, producing an album with his band, the self-titled Dead Man's Bones, although three years on he admits they're "still working" on that tricky second album.
He returned in 2010 with the critically acclaimed Blue Valentine, a low-budget, mainly improvised story of a relationship breakdown, playing opposite Michelle Williams. He went back, he said "with more energy than I've ever had before. I had to keep reminding myself in Blue Valentine that I was actually making a film.
"That break did me good," he adds, "in the sense that taking some time out meant I had some experience of life. Experience of normal life, I mean, that you can then reflect in a movie. It's not good just to have life experience of film-making and that's all. It's hard to play a real person when you've been in jets and town cars for three years."
It's part of the reason, he continues, why he moved to New York two years ago, on a whim for "something to do, as I had just turned 30. But also, in Los Angeles, it's easy to lose touch with everything. You just sit in your car the whole time. In New York, you're forced to deal with life, it's there in front of you on a daily basis."
He still doesn't get left alone much though, he adds, even in New York. The decibels which greet him when he appears on chat shows like Letterman and Jimmy Fallon have reached deafening levels in the past year, although once again Gosling is quick to decry the reason for it – "they have to scream because they have big signs saying 'applause' you know," he grins. He once took his dog George on a show for moral support – and so the attention would be fixed on someone else.
At the mention of George – an 11-year-old mixed breed with a mohawk haircut – Gosling lights up for the first time. He's described the animal as "the great love of my life" – which must give Mendes, and his other long-term, ex, love, The Notebook's Rachel McAdams, pause for thought.
"I wanted George here today, you know, doing interviews with me," he says, glancing down to an empty floor. "Normally, I take him everywhere, I have special paperwork so he can travel with me wherever I go. Can we just talk about George?"
Like many of the characters he plays, such as those in Drive, The Ides of March and Gangster Squad, Gosling seems to be an essentially good man trapped in a situation not of his choosing. His celebrity, which he seems so uncomfortable with, is unlikely to wane soon. After a decade of near-faultless choices of films, he's pairing up again with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn for the thriller Only God Forgives. He's attached to an untitled Terrence Malick project, and expects to make his directing debut with his own, self-penned film noir, How to Catch a Monster.
Yet when visualising Gosling's future, you can't help but picture him and George, strolling off into the sunset. Just one man and his dog.
'Gangster Squad' is on release now
This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine