PHILADELPHIA — “It got a little out of control,” Ryan Gosling says about the abundant tattooage he’s sporting in “The Place Beyond the Pines.” A top hat, a Bible, an owl, twin boxers, a snake, a three-masted schooner, letters on his knuckles: H-A-N-D on one hand, S-O-M-E on the other.
And on his face, just beneath his left eye, a dagger with a drop of blood.
“The idea was to create this portrait of someone that was basically like a melting pot of masculine clichés,” says the actor, whose character, Luke, is a stunt motorcyclist in a traveling carnival. He rolls into Schenectady and discovers that he’s fathered a child with a diner waitress (Eva Mendes) he’d met the previous year, and then decides he’s going to be a real dad, settle down, raise the kid.
Which requires money.
Which requires robbing banks.
“Tattoos, motorcycles, muscles, knives, guns — he’s this surface idea of what a man is,” says the 32-year-old Gosling. “And then, when he’s presented with his child, it’s like a mirror is held up to him, and he realizes that he’s not a man at all.”
“The Place Beyond the Pines,” an epic undertaking in three parts — Bradley Cooper takes the baton from Gosling for the middle section — is directed by Derek Cianfrance, who guided Gosling and Michelle Williams through the romantic crash-up “Blue Valentine.“ In “Pines,” which was mainly shot on location in Schenectady, Gosling, his hair peroxide blond, rides a motorcycle like a demon. He trained with Rick Miller, the Hollywood stunt cyclist.
“He’s the best motorcycle man in the business,” the actor says. “You know, when Batman rides a motorcycle, it’s Rick Miller in the suit.”
But when Luke rides a motorcycle in “Pines,” it’s Gosling in the torn T-shirt and jeans. One drive-up/stick-up/getaway sequence was filmed 22 times, with Gosling revving his custom machine down main streets and back alleys, weaving between trucks and cars.
“Derek has very unrealistic expectations of what is humanly possible,” Gosling says with a laugh. “He thought, ‘Oh, we’ll shoot these bank robberies in one take.’ Which I guess sounds easy, but then you realize that that means that someone is going to have to ride a motorcycle for four blocks, pull up in front of the bank, get off, run inside, rob the bank, come out, and then have an effective getaway with all these elaborately choreographed near-misses with oncoming traffic — all in one seven-minute take.
“It’s amazing, because when you watch the film, it just feels like you’re watching ‘Cops.’ . . . And yet, the work that Derek had to put in in order to make it feel that effortless was just so extreme . . .
“To me, this film is like the directorial equivalent of robbing a bank.”
Gosling has been performing for the better part of his life — Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club” when he was 12, “Goosebumps” and “Young Hercules” when he was a teen, and then, in his early 20s, a complete 180: a jolting turn as an Orthodox Jew turned neo-Nazi in “True Believer.”
The megahit, mega-mush romance “The Notebook” followed — Gosling and fellow Canadian Rachel McAdams tapping the sap like maple trees. And then “Half Nelson,” in which he played a blazing-smart and blazingly messed-up junior high history teacher and crackhead. That one got him a best actor Oscar nomination.
In “Lars and the Real Girl,” he’s got the title role — a guy who falls in love with a life-size sex doll.
Since making “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Gosling has reteamed with his “Driver” director, Nicolas Winding Refn, for a Thai boxing crime pic, “Only God Forgives.”
There’s also an untitled Terrence Malick project that Gosling shot with the suddenly prolific Texas auteur. Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara also star.
“His process is pretty private,” Gosling says of Malick, who made “The Tree of Life” with Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, and has the even more nuttily impressionistic “To the Wonder,” with Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko and McAdams, coming out soon. “I’m not sure that I even completely understand it. I just know that it was unlike any experience I’m sure I’ll ever have again. . . .
“I don’t know how it will be at the end of the day. I know when I was shooting, I was just overwhelmed by how extreme it was. . . . We were doing things that I’ve never seen in a Terrence Malick movie.
“He is in an incredibly prolific place; he is working on five films at once, one of which is about the creation of the universe — which he’s been working on for the last 15 years. . . .
“It’s not a surprise to me that weather plays such an important part in his films, because he feels to me as powerful as the weather at times. It’s like working with a hurricane, or a tornado, in a baseball cap.”