At the apple-cheeked age of 13, the Canadian actor started out as a cohort of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilara on The All New Mickey Mouse Club. While his fellow Mouseketeers were continuing on to pop stardom, Gosling was making one-off appearances on kid-oriented television series such as Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark before ending up as the lead on the short-lived fantasy series Young Hercules.
In 2000, he played a small role in the Disney's period football drama Remember the Titans, followed by a lead role in the Sandra Bullock thriller Murder By Numbers. Between those two studio pictures, however, he starred in the intense independent drama The Believer, in which he played a blazingly hateful Neo-Nazi who was, in fact, Jewish. That role began to define him as a unique and intense quantity amongst actors in his generation.
It was with 2004's The Notebook, however, that Gosling became a figure not simply of lust to women everywhere, but something more formidable and potentially hobbling than that. Playing the charming and unfailingly loyal boy from the wrong side of the tracks in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation, he embodied an elemental romantic ideal. The dude could very well have ridden that wave for the rest of his career, playing variations on the idealized lead in romance after romance. Or he could been unwittingly stranded on typecast island for all time.
But here's what makes Gosling cool: he then zigged just when you'd expect him to zag. In his next lead role, he played Mr. Dunne, a crippingly drug-addicted middle school history teacher. It's a flat-out terrific performance that never falters and supports the film, directed with subtlety and attention to detail by Ryan Fleck. He justifiably earned an Oscar nomination for the film (Forest Whitaker won for his turn The Last King of Scotland).
After going to head-to-head with no less a thespian than Anthony Hopkins in the legal thriller Fracture, Gosling starred as Lars in Lars and the Real Girl, which follows a painfully introverted small-town guy infatuated with an inanimate sex doll who he believes is a Brazilian dancer named Bianca. Over the course of the film, Lars' friends and family come to treat Bianca as a real person, and his relationship to her is ultimately very touching, which is a testament to Gosling's work.
The actor also has a band, Dead Man's Bones, that is way different from your average musical endeavor from a popular actor. It's not Bruce Willis's Bruno or Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, but is instead a strange, phantasmagoric trip incorporating no end of spooky affectations and even a children's choir.
In 2010, Gosling starred in two films, both of which felt almost designed to distance him from the dream-boat status with which he'd been saddled since The Notebook. All Good Things featured the actor as a possible sociopath who likely murdered his wife, played by Kirsten Dunst. Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, released last year, is centered around a couple, played by Gosling and Michelle Williams, at both the beginning of their relationship and its horrible, gut-punch dissolution. Both leads are exceptional, expressing the differences between their younger selves and those who have seemingly become lost within their marriage in myriad ways, making us believe utterly in their early infatuation and inevitable disillusionment.
After the intensity of Blue Valentine, Gosling committed to play a supporting role in the ensemble romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. That this is his most mainstream feature to date brings us to why the actor could be considered roguish. For years now, he's been courted by studios to play the lead in any number of action franchises and mentioned as a potential candidate to play at least one major superhero, but has instead pursued roles that are often completely counter to those of an ascendant leading man.
With Drive, it feels as though Ryan Gosling has arrived as an lead actor, carrying an action-oriented role in a film by Nicolas Winding Refn that is peerlessly entertaining. As a character with no name, Gosling fits into a tradition of credible tough guys who communicate a huge amount without saying much, but who are also intimidating and occasionally downright horrifying. It's another fascinating performance, and is wholly different from what he's done before. Rather than starring in any number of reboots or comic adaptations, Gosling seems to arrived as a viable action lead utterly on his own terms, with a film that isn't a disposable vehicle for visual effects and mayhem.
The Age of Gosling may very well be beginning as you read; later this Fall he stars in The Ides of March for director and co-star George Clooney. Right now, he's set to appear in the sprawling crime drama Gangster Squad alongside Emma Stone, Sean Penn, and Josh Brolin. He's also reunited with his Blue Valentine director on The Place Beyond the Pines and reteaming with Refn for Only God Forgives. He and Refn are currently developing a Logan's Run remake for Warner Bros.
Basically, this all brings us to one crucially important point: see Drive this weekend.