Ryan Gosling hated being a kid. He just didn’t like the way it felt, and he wanted it to be over.
“I just felt this sense of: I have a limited amount of time and, you know, I’ve got to get started. I also didn’t like the arbitrariness of control that people seemed to have over me.”
I think most kids don’t know to question that. They just accept it.
“I think my mother encouraged that. I had one teacher, because I was dancing, he thought that was funny and he would make jokes about it in class, and my mother said, ‘You know, if ever you feel like he’s being disrespectful, you can just leave.’ And I did one day. I called her and said, ‘Hey, I left.’ Also, when I was homeschooled for a year, I saw my curriculum come in the mail, and I saw that it was just this tangible stack of books—I guess I realized that there were other ways to do it. The fact that I could stay home and watch Planet of the Apes in the morning and then go downstairs and draw while I learned about some historical battle—draw these maps and scenarios and connect to it in a way that was personal to me—I just felt like: Oh well, then there must be another way to do everything.”
One evening when he was in first grade—he was raised in Cornwall, Ontario, where his father and most of his male relatives worked for the local paper mill—young Ryan Gosling saw Sylvester Stallone’s primal and brutal revenge drama First Blood, the original Rambo film, on videocassette. The next day, he packed his Fisher-Price magic kit with the Gosling family steak knives. Suitably armed, he headed to school, ready to put into action the new lessons he had just learned.
“I think I saw it too young,” he says. “I wasn’t able to separate those realities. I don’t blame it on the film. Part of being a kid in the ’80s was that these movies, we didn’t have the experience necessarily of going to the theater, of this thing outside your life. You would watch it while you were falling asleep on the couch, or you could re-watch it, and they were tangible things, these VHS tapes, and they were like friends of mine. And so I connected with them in a very, you know, personal way.”
Even so, you might assume that taking a set of knives to school was just some inappropriate, but ultimately harmless, playacting. But when I ask Gosling about what was going through his mind that morning, his reply makes clear that the boundaries between reality and fiction were still precarious, even dangerously shaky, at that point in his life.
“I just remember there being, like, some injustices on the playground, you know. That there was bullying going on, or something. And I felt like”—he laughs—“that’s the feeling I remember. There was something unjust going on.”
So you weren’t just going to school and playing Rambo—you were going to sort shit out?
“I didn’t think it through, you know. I just thought, in my mind: This is not right, what is happening, and something has to be done. Thank God, you know, I was suspended.* I should have been. My mother was mortified. And it was like reality came in. I had to get control of my imagination.”
Did that feel like a good lesson learned? Or like you’d had your imagination reined in?
“No, it felt like a lesson learned. I think I felt pretty guilty about that. I think. Although, I don’t know. I was so young, I don’t know what the fuck was going through my head.”
In all these things, did you feel as though you were different from most of the kids you were around?
“Not in a good way. I was doing very badly in school, and I just couldn’t remember what the teachers were talking about. I felt like it looked easier for everyone else and it was harder for me. It affected my self-worth.”
Did people tell you that you weren’t smart?
“I mean, they started feathering me into some special-education classes and things like that. I mean, I remember playing chess with a kid who was eating his queen, you know.”
Gosling has been in Hungary for most of the past four months, filming the Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. “It’s like three movies that I usually make in one,” he says. “Just in terms of the length and just the whole scope and experience.” I ask how it’s going, and he quotes something his co-star Harrison Ford said the other day: “cautiously optimistic.” But he knows that people have high expectations, and how treacherous those can be. “The snipers,” he says, “are in the bell tower, waiting.” But, that aside, he says that he can’t tell me much: “I’ve never done something so shrouded in secrecy or where there’s so much anticipation.”
Did I hear that Harrison Ford punched you in the face?
He looks surprised. “How did you hear that?”
I’ve got people on every corner, too.
“Yeah, he did. It was kind of, you know, a rite of passage.”
How did it happen?
“We were just doing a fight scene and, you know, it just happened. But what was funny was, when it was over, they brought ice for my face, and Harrison pushed me out of the way and stuck his fist in the ice.” He laughs. “I asked him the other day where he got his sense of humor from—was it from his mother or his father? He said, ‘Sears.’ And he didn’t have much time to shop around so he just had to grab one and get out.”
So did it hurt when he hit you?
“You know…he’s tough. He’s been an inspiration to everyone—everyone is doing push-ups now and taking an interest in their fitness. As soon as it happened, the director came up to me and said, ‘Look at it this way—you just got hit by Indiana Jones.’ ”
Was he suitably apologetic?
“He came by afterward with this bottle of scotch, and I thought, ‘Oh, I knew this was coming.’ And he pulled out a glass from his pocket, poured me a glass, and walked away with the rest of the bottle. So I guess he felt like he didn’t connect enough to earn a whole bottle.” He smiles. “You know, they say don’t meet your heroes, but I would say the addendum to that is ‘…unless they’re Harrison Ford.’ ‘Cause he’s a cool motherfucker.”