Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and director Derek Cianfrance discuss The Place Beyond the Pines

Creating an authentic world, one character at a time

Mar 28, 2013 Web Exclusive
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Some years ago, film star Ryan Gosling confided with director Derek Cianfrance about a plan he had to pull off the perfect bank robbery. The two turned that discussion into the first part of a three-section film about fathers and the legacies they pass on to their sons. The Place Beyond the Pines, in theaters this week, also stars Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Dane Dehaan, and Emory Cohen. In the film, Gosling plays a tattooed motorcyclist who resorts to robbing banks to provide for his newborn child.

"When Derek and I were making Blue Valentine, I told him that I thought I figured out a way to rob a bank," says Gosling, who stars in the film as a bank-robbing motorcyclist. "If I wasn't so afraid of jail, I would do it. I was that sure of it. Which I guess means I'm not too confident in my plan. He said, 'That's crazy, I just wrote a script about that.'"

"I asked [Ryan], 'Man, you've done so many things in your life, what haven't you done? What do you want to do?' And he said, 'I've always wanted to rob a bank,'" Cianfrance recalls. "He said, 'I'd do it on a motorcycle. I could go in with a helmet, and no one would know who I was. Then I'd leave on the motorcycle, because they're agile and fast, they can get out of tight spots.' He'd have a U-Haul truck parked about four blocks away, and he'd drive into it. People would be looking for a motorcycle, not a U-Haul. I said, 'That's crazy. That's exactly what we've written into the script.' It was one of those times that I knew we were destined to work together. I told him I'd make his dreams come true, that I'd make that movie, and he wouldn't have to go to jail."

The Place Beyond the Pines was shot on location in Schenectady, New York, and the rundown, former manufacturing town is as much a character in the film as its actors. (The title derives itself from the city's name, which roughly translates in the Mohawk language to "place beyond the pine.") The director asked his actors to take in their local surroundings, so they would better understand what it would be like to call such a place their home. 

"I think part of the beauty of the way Derek works is that he creates an environment for you that's so natural," says Gosling. "If you're in that world long enough, you just sort of acclimate to it. For example, in the bank, those were the real tellers who work in that bank and the people who go to that bank. He tries to surround you with as many people from that environment as possible."

For all of the authenticity the non-actors brought to the set, they also came with a share of the difficulty you might expect when working with nonprofessionals. The film's local extras were often starstruck by the actor, who until recent years was known for taking on more gentle roles.

"When we first started filming the bank scene, I looked down and people were smiling and filming me with their cell phones," Gosling recalled with a smile. "They were just having a great time being robbed! Derek came up to me and was very angry, he blamed me for not being scary enough. He said, 'Look at these people! They're having a good time!' So he made me do 22 takes of trying to scare them."

Besides coming up with the method of bank robbery, Gosling was allowed to contribute to his role's development in other ways. One of the first things you notice about the character is his numerous tattoos; this includes a dagger inked into his cheek, just below his eye. That particular tattoo had been Gosling's idea. 

"With the face tattoo, I regretted it instantly," says Gosling. "I said, 'This looks ridiculous. I can't do this to me, or your movie. I regret it.' [Derek] said, 'That's what people do with face tattoos, they regret them. This movie's about consequences, so now you're stuck with it.' I was upset at the time, but I was glad that he held my feet to the fire that time, because it did give me this sense of shame that I don't think I could have acted in the film. I felt this sense where I didn't want to be photographed, or even look at myself in the mirror." 

Those feelings of shame could easily be read in Gosling's performance. 

"I felt ridiculous, and I started to feel exactly how this character probably felt," he continues. "This character was a melting pot of every masculine cliché: tattoos, muscles, guns, it's overkill. When he's presented with this child that he didn't know he had, it's like a mirror is held up to him. He realizes that he's not a man at all, that all of those things don't make you a man. At the heart of it, he's an empty person."

Gosling wasn't the only actor asked to contribute ideas to their role. Eva Mendes, who plays Gosling's love interest and the mother of his character's child, found Cianfrance's style of direction to be a refreshing change of pace. 

"I really feel like I'm kind of angry with Derek, because I don't know how I'll be able to work on another film," says Mendes. "In the film, there's this woman who plays my mother. It's a small role, but an important role. Every role's an important role. Derek told me, 'You're going to go cast your mom tomorrow.' I go, 'What? What do you mean? We're casting her tomorrow?' He says, 'No, no, you. You're going to the city, and you're going to pick your mom.' Who does that? This level of working...the freedom that you have, it's so beautiful."

"It's a much more rich experience, because you're invested in a way you just can't be unless you're involved that way," Gosling agrees. 

For a film in which armed robbery plays a central plot element, The Place Beyond the Pines isn't as bloody as you'd imagine. 

"I've never really dealt with violence in my movies before, and I've got a bit of an allergy towards violence, mostly gun violence in movies," says Cianfrance. "I'm kind of sick of it. I have kids. I can't watch a football game with them on a Sunday afternoon without having to turn off the commercials, because, what are they seeing? I don't know when violence became the thing that was deemed so cinematic.... Now there's this fetishized violence. I have to say, if I have to see another slow-motion bullet come from a gun and pierce somebody's cheek and make their brains splatter on the wall, I'm gonna puke in my mouth."

"This [film] is all about consequences and the ramifications of your actions," Gosling explains. "In Drive, I smashed a guy's head in on an elevator and you never heard about it again. In this, there's only two shots fired, and they resonate throughout the entire movie." 

"I wanted the violence in this movie to be narrative. If a gun came into my movie, I wanted to tell the story of it," Cianfrance continues. "All of the events and the adrenaline that lead up to that violent encounter and the aftermath. If violence happens to you in your life, it doesn't go away. You don't have the sanctity of a flashback, going back to a happier time. There's no going back from it."

Gosling's role as a criminal with a penchant for high-speed chases will no doubt remind viewers of 2011's critically acclaimed Drive, in which he played an equally unbalanced and unpredictable character. Gosling, however, doesn't see any similarity between the films. 

"They're very different movies. Drive was a surreal film, more of a dream," he says. "The Driver was not so much a real person, and this character is a mess, a disaster of a person. To me, [these movies are as similar as]The Notebook and Blue Valentine."

The Place Beyond the Pines opens nationwide this Friday, March 29th. 



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