"Women are better, stronger than men"
As his new comedy hits the screen and he celebrates the birth of his second child, Ryan Gosling tells Stephanie Rafanelli why he hopes a woman will be US President and how he copes with female adulation.
By the time I meet Ryan Gosling I feel like I've already been beaten down through psychological warfare. Over the past few days my interview with him has been on, then off, then back on, then almost certainly off, then finally confirmed at midnight the night before our appointed date. I have been heavily cautioned that I should, under no circumstances, ask Ryan any personal questions. I am left to wait next to a plate of half-eaten omelette on the coffee table - perhaps as an anti-aphrodisiac - which is further taking the shine off things. I wonder if this is all part of the strategy.
In fairness, Gosling's week has been gruelling. He's just made an unscheduled detour to Los Angeles in the 48 hours between his departure from Cannes and the London premiere of The Nice Guys, the 1970s-set private-detective caper with Russell Crowe.
When he shuffles into the room fresh off the red-eye from LA in a stonewashed denim jacket, Doc Martens, hands in his jean pockets, he makes me think of a disaffected sixth-former attending detention.
I suspect he's just woken up and may not be a morning person. He searches for a coke in the empty minibar, shrugs and tries his best to be jovial.
"I always request to be close to a half-eaten omelette at all times," he deadpans.
He deliberates over which chair to take, joking about our interview feng shui. He's placid but also rather on edge - less giving an interview than tolerating one. Only a week after the birth of Amada, his second daughter with actress Eva Mendes, he's been hauled on to the juggernaut that is the global press tour for The Nice Guys, which involves such heavyweights as director Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) and producer Joel Silver (The Matrix) - one can feel the commercial pressure steaming off the cybersphere.
He's tweeted viral trailers about his "bromance" with Crowe and been the apotheosis of droll on TV slots all across America; laughing off flirtatious female hosts, squirming in the face of oestrogen-heavy audiences, batting away questions about the new Baby Goose (Gosling detests invasions of his privacy).
This bromance thing, I say, is clearly a ploy to draw attention away from his personal life. He sniggers: "Well, yes, the bromance is almost over, let's be honest." He seems a little on autopilot.
Gosling's favourite metaphor for his craft was once that he was like "a cat burglar" sneaking on and off screen; an illusion that required his anonymity as an actor.
His performances - often made up of suppressed emotion channelled through faded glances under a fringe of sandy hair - had the power to get small films (The Believer, Half Nelson, Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine) nominated for major awards (the Cannes Grand Jury Prize, a Best Actor Oscar, Golden Globes).
Gosling was a young actor who wasn't interested in macho leads: he played "beautiful losers", who he imbued with ambiguous charisma. He cried. He made romances, such as his breakout role as Noah in The Notebook, Nick Cassavetes's 2004 World War II tear-jerker.
Then, in the perfect PR storm of 2011, Gosling went mainstream. He out-acted George Clooney in The Ides of March, upped his cool cache in Nicolas Winding Refn's heavily stylised, Oscar-nominated Drive, and pumped-up for his role as the lothario with a heart in Crazy Stupid Love. The image of oestrogen-whisperer stuck, fuelled by his coupling with Mendes. Gozmania mushroomed, took on a life of its own and threatened to overshadow his work.
A few years ago, Gosling could do no wrong in the eyes of critics, but more recently he has, perhaps, been punished for his success. The proximity of the release dates of three restrained performances that dealt with the empty posturing of masculinity - Cianfrance's The Place Beyond the Pines, Drive, and Winding Refn's follow-up Electra-complex film Only God Forgives - didn't help.
Some felt he was now just 'doing a Gosling'. And when he returned at Cannes three years later, with his self-penned directorial debut, Lost River, a surreal neo-noir fantasy, it was eviscerated. If he'd been badly burned, it's understandable.
"This is fine," he reassures his publicist who later checks in on us for the third time. "I don't feel like you're trying to trap me. Yet."
The Nice Guys, in some respects, still bares the hallmarks of a Gosling choice: it is the anti-Dick Tracy, a portrait of inept masculinity as the two PIs blunder and drink their way through an investigation into a missing porn star. This is Gosling showcasing a talent for physical comedy, firing on all cylinders, delivering reams of dialogue. It's a smart anti-pigeonholing manoeuvre and a reminder of his range. It must be relief to do comedies after all of his erstwhile silent types.
"What's nice with comedy is that you know it's working if it's funny. With drama you can watch people in the wings [of a theatre] and you don't know if they are suffering [with you] through your movie or they are just deeply bored. But yeah the externalisation was a relief ..." He hesitates and blurts: "A long time ago I went to see a shrink and he wrote me a prescription that said 'do comedy'." He leaves this hanging.
Gosling, the contrarian, is not perturbed by silences; he seems to stifle himself from serving up sound bites. But then, I guess he has to be careful with women these days. Three waitresses traipse into the room we're occupying to bring a single pot of coffee.
"The cavalry has arrived," he chuckles. They fumble and faun until I am forced to shout: "Ladies! Please! Outta the room!"
I must say, the way women behave around him is remarkable. When he's in town, they take to the streets and hunt him down. Gay men are also obsessed. He has been fetishised perhaps like no other contemporary actor.
"It's our time as men to be on the receiving end of the stick. I grew up with women so I've always been aware of it. When my mother and I walked to the grocery store, men would circle the block in cars. It was very scary, especially as a young boy. Very predatory; a hunt."
Gosling grew up in a Mormon family in the Canadian town of Cornwall, Ontario, close to his mother Donna, then a secretary, and sister Mandi. His father, Thomas, was a travelling salesman for a paper mill. His parents' relationship broke down and they split when he was 13.
However, Gosling had behavioural problems that predated this. He hated being a child, was bullied and struggled with authority at school. After seeing Rambo: First Blood he took a Fisher Price Houdini Kit packed with steak knives in to school and proceeded to lob the knives at another child.
"I saw Rambo raging against the machine and I identified with that at six or whatever age I was."
The incident led to suspension and psychological assessment for ADHD, though he was never officially diagnosed, he says, and his mother refused to put him on Ritalin. Instead, she homeschooled him for a year, which was the turning point of his childhood.
The other "gamechanger" was the day his uncle announced that he was going to be an Elvis impersonator.
"I came in the living room and he was bedazzling in a white jumpsuit. He had a birthmark, a moustache and no hair. He looked nothing like Elvis. But, by God, he was Elvis when he performed. Women were throwing themselves at him."
Gosling saw the power of self-belief and commitment to transform and his ticket out of a factory job. He was already singing with his sister at weddings, during the garter ceremony. And he developed his own 'dance' aimed at female members of the audience. "I did what I had to do to get where I wanted to go. I had unearned confidence."
It won him talent shows, a Disney audition, aged 12, and a place on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside Justin Timberlake. Later, he landed the title role on the Canadian TV series Young Hercules, and, at 20, based on raw talent alone, the role of the self-loathing Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer, which won the Cannes Jury Prize. In the space of a year, the child star was reborn as the new electrifying indie anti-hero.
Gosling, now 35, still has a reputation for being in touch with his feminine side. What per cent woman is he?
"I'd say 49%, sometimes 47%, it depends on what day you catch me."
What day of his period? He laughs again, a brief eruption of sniggers and snorts.
"I think women are better than men. They are stronger. More evolved. You can tell when you have daughters [Esmeralda, 18 months and Amada], they are just leaps and bounds beyond boys immediately."
He hopes there will be a female president soon.
"I think it needs a woman's touch. I've always liked women more. I was brought up by my mother and older sister. I found my way into dance class. My home life now is mostly women. They are better than us. They make me better."
His next release is another feel-good work: La-La Land, by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, co-starring Emma Stone. Gosling is unleashing his all-singing, all-dancing 12-year-old self. He'll also star in the upcoming Terrence Malik-directed Weightless.
I wonder if he'll direct again. He says the reaction to Lost River has not deterred him.
"People don't step outside themselves and make the film they want to make because they're afraid of the reaction. But once you get that reaction, and have lived through it, there's nothing they can do to get you down."
Apart, perhaps, from put you on a punishing press schedule when your girlfriend has just given birth.
- The Nice Guys is in cinemas now