Ryan Gosling says onscreen intimacy in 'Blue Valentine' 'just happened'
TORONTO - In the marital drama "Blue Valentine," which opens in Toronto on Friday, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams bring an astoundingly authentic feel to their characters as they fall in and out of love.
Their on-screen chemistry is so raw that — even though their sex scenes aren't that explicit — the Motion Picture Association of America initially put an NC-17 rating on the film. It recently downgraded that to an R rating on appeal (in Ontario the rating is 18A, in B.C. and Saskatchewan it's 14A and in Quebec it's 13+).
Gosling, who was born in London, Ont., says he and Williams studied pictures of real couples to help build their characters' bond, but they didn't overthink their physical intimacy going in to filming.
"The physical stuff, it just happened, it just was something that happened, I don't really know how," he explained in an interview at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where "Blue Valentine" screened to much acclaim.
"It's a love story, you know, and physical intimacy is a part of that and we were trying to capture that in a way that was not gratuitous or trying too hard to be sexy or something.
"We collected a lot of photographs, actually, photographs that we thought were snapshots of people's lives, of couples that were together that weren't staged, that were just private photographs of people that were trying to get that kind of an intimacy."
Gosling and Williams recently landed Golden Globe nominations and many are also predicting Oscar nods for their roles in the film, which opens in Vancouver and Montreal on Jan. 14.
Gosling plays Dean, the sweet, sensitive and unambitious house-painter husband to Cindy (Williams), a stressed-out nurse who wants more out of life. Faith Wladyka plays their young daughter, Frankie.
Through flashbacks and flashforwards, we see the couple in two stages: during a charming courtship and then several years later when they're frustrated, fighting parents.
"What I like about the film is that it leaves it open; there's no way of really knowing what went wrong in this case and in a lot of cases," said Gosling, 30.
Writer-director Derek Cianfrance spent 12 years working on the film, which was inspired by his longing to understand how time can change relationships.
"I feel like it was always the film that I was born to make," said Cianfrance, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"My first inspiration for the film was when I was a kid and I had two nightmares: one was nuclear war and the other was that my parents would get a divorce. When I was 20 they split up and so I was confused and bewildered and I was trying to find something to relate to in art."
Cianfrance had many actors read the script over the years. When Williams saw it in 2003, she was moved by its content and sent Cianfrance a CD and a book of poetry, he said.
Gosling came onboard in 2005 after he'd finished filming "Half Nelson," for which he was nominated for a best-actor Oscar.
Cianfrance said the two stars were almost like co-writers on the film.
"They had so much to do, so much to say in it," he said.
"I would spend like, nine hours eating dinner with Ryan and be so inspired that I'd go home and re-write the script based on what we had talked about, and the same thing with Michelle."
Before cameras started rolling, Cianfrance didn't hold rehearsals so that when the characters were first meeting, the actors were as well.
He also made Gosling find a love song for a sweet scene in which Dean plays it for Cindy. Williams didn't know what the song was before cameras started rolling so her onscreen reaction was genuine.
"Once we started shooting those scenes where they are together, I felt like I was making a documentary of these two people falling in love because it was Ryan as Dean, getting to know Michelle as Cindy," said Cianfrance.
"Those moments are moments you can't necessarily reproduce. They're moments that happen one time."
Later, to portray Cindy and Dean as they started to fall out of love, Cianfrance and the stars all moved into the house in which the characters lived for a month before they started shooting.
The director gave them a video camera to make their own home movies and develop memories there. He even had them live like their characters, doing chores and buying groceries with the exact budget Cindy and Dean would've had based on their income levels.
"It was just Michelle and I baking birthday cakes and having fake birthdays and Christmas and wrapping presents and cleaning the house and fighting, just living in this house with our daughter, Faith," said Gosling.
"Michelle would go home at night but we spent a lot of our days there and I thought it was really smart of him (Cianfrance) to do that because even though you don't see it in the film — they're not scenes in the movie — I think you can feel it."
Creating those warm memories was also a hindrance, though, as the stars found themselves struggling to fight on camera when their characters started to fall out of love.
As Cianfrance put it, "shooting the past was so beautiful" that none of them wanted to make the second part of the film.
"We were like, 'Maybe we could just call this movie "Valentine." Let's not shoot "Blue."'" he said. "But we knew we had to do it. It was hard."
To get over that hurdle, Cianfrance had the two burn a wedding picture depicting Cindy and Dean.
But even that was difficult as "the picture wouldn't melt all the way," said the director.
"Their faces wouldn't melt ... where their lips were kissing wouldn't melt and the frame melted into like, a black-shaped heart around their mouths."