Ryan Gosling talks musicals, ‘La La Land’ and Detroit

The actor shot his directorial debut ‘Lost River’ in the Detroit and is still captivated by the Motor City

Adam Graham

Toronto – Ryan Gosling is pouring himself some tea.

It’s September and the actor, heartthrob and living internet meme is inside a conference room inside Toronto’s Shangri La Hotel, wearing an immaculate navy blue suit that fits him with calibrated precision. Down on the street, traffic whirs by and pedestrians shuffle along, unaware that one of the world’s most famous actors is holding court three floors above their heads.

Gosling is here as part of the Toronto International Film Festival with “La La Land,” the delightful movie musical in which he stars alongside Emma Stone. The movie is just starting its buzz-building campaign; it will eventually become the frontrunner for the Academy Awards.

But before he gets to “La La Land,” for which he’s expected to pick up his second nomination for Best Actor (following “Half Nelson” a decade ago), Gosling talks about Detroit, which he calls “one of my favorite places where I’ve ever worked.”

He was first in Detroit in 2010 filming “The Ides of March,” and he returned to shoot “Lost River,” his directorial debut, a surrealistic fantasy in which the city was shot to look like a dystopian David Lynch wonderland.

“There’s an energy to that city,” says Gosling, who shot “Lost River” in fits and spurts over the course of a year in and around 2013. “I never understood why more movies weren’t made there. You could shoot 10 movies there and not ever know you were in Detroit.”

Gosling speaks in a calm, measured tone and doesn’t get too animated. He grew up 500 miles northeast in Cornwall, Ontario, “in the grand scheme of things not very far away at all,” he says, but far enough where he never made the trip until he filmed “Ides.” Once he got to Detroit, he was taken with the city’s architecture and its people, and he lists Café d’Mongo owner Larry Mongo and eccentric Detroit developer Joel Landy as friends.

“Do you know Joel?” Gosling asks of Landy, whose properties include the former Burton Theater, where Gosling would cue up dailies while shooting “Lost River.” “He’s one of your treasures. There should be a monument to him.”

Gosling came across Landy after he was arrested while filming scenes for “Lost River” inside an abandoned Detroit elementary school, “which I didn’t know you weren’t allowed to do,” he says. He was apprehended and cuffed but ultimately not charged with any crime, which is why there’s no record of the arrest.

“I felt regretful I had wasted (the officers’) time,” says Gosling, whose showbiz career began when he joined the cast of “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” in 1993, where he was castmates with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. “But it wasn’t something that I really knew how to go around getting permits for either. But they said if you want to shoot in schools, you should talk to Joel Landy, and when I met him he became like the fairy godfather for our movie. So I was regretful of the experience, but I was also really happy that it happened because I got to meet Joel.”

“Lost River,” with its dark, nightmarish look, is about as far from “La La Land” as you can get. “La La Land” looks and feels like a dizzying daydream, and Gosling met with director Damien Chazelle following the release of Chazelle’s directorial debut “Whiplash,” at the behest of “Lost River” producer Marc Platt.

“We met for a drink and it was a great meeting because he’s very passionate,” says Gosling, who turned 36 last month. “We talked a lot about not wanting to make films people could watch on their iPhones. He wanted to have the experience of people seeing (his films) with a lot of people.”

Gosling was raised in a household of musicals; his older sister Mandi loved musicals growing up and eventually moved to New York to study musical theater.

“I was always moved by musicals because of her love of them and how talented she is,” Gosling says.

He sees musicals as “experimental” because they bend the rules of cinema. “You can express an emotion or a feeling in a dance step or a song or a huge setpiece,” he says. “So I can see why they’re appealing to a filmmaker, especially someone like Damien, who has a very infectious love of movies.”

That love translated on set, where the music set a mood and put everybody inside the film’s headspace.

“I’ve seen films that I’ve done without the soundtrack, and I wanted to just move to another country and change my name,” says Gosling, who has two daughters with actress Eva Mendes. “But the music in this film is always strong. A lot of movies you can have a very different idea about what the tone is. But when you have the music as a reference, there’s no debating the tone of the movie, and it helps because everyone is working toward the same goal.”

Gosling sits still. He’s cordial and talkative, but he doesn’t give everything away, and spending several years as the internet’s boyfriend has taught him a thing or two about privacy.

He takes a sip from his tea and puts his mug down on the table in front of him, clutching it with both hands. But when asked what kind of tea he’s sipping, he keeps the answer to himself.

“It’s personal,” Gosling says, with only a hint of a smile. “I like to have a little mystery.”


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‘La La Land’

Rated PG-13: for some language

Running time: 128 minutes

Opens today