'I think like a girl and I do ballet...'

Ryan Gosling is Hollywood's man of the moment. It's all down to his feminine side, the Canadian actor tells Lesley O'Toole
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Of late, Hollywood has been pondering the question: "Is Ryan Gosling the new George Clooney?" Clooney directs the 30-year-old and also stars 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 into each other. The poster is causing confusion in Hollywood – and for 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 to the esteemed Clooney intended, Gosling is streets and years ahead of his perceived career mentor's standing at the same age. At 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 that made him famous – television's ER – until he was 33, and he was 44 before he was nominated for (and won) the Best Supporting Actor award for 2006's Syriana.

The Ides of March is already garnering its own Oscars buzz and Gosling a buzz all of his own as Hollywood's newly anointed leading-man-under-40 du jour. 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, if somewhat conflicted about it.

"I'm just so sick of myself. I can't imagine how everyone else feels. And there's nowhere to go but down 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 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" at the moment.

Fortunately, the frequency of his appearance in films of late 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-wracking 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. "Who the, what the?" he says, looking genuinely perplexed. "I don't even know what to think about that. Let me get back to you."

Long-ago-proved acting chops aside, Gosling 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 because of his early television 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."

Although he insists that he has no free time, when he does, he can often be found at a Los Angeles ballet studio. "I practise whenever I can," he says, without a modicum of embarrassment. 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 politics since working on 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 learnt 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 have to be careful what you say."

I mention a recent interview in which he apparently claimed he would retire from acting within the next decade. He sighs deeply. "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 children's television show 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 television, although he says he felt all along "that there would be a place for me somewhere in the film biz".

Gosling can sometimes be spotted at Disneyland, as he was last month in the company of his girlfriend, actress Eva 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. 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