“You can just take a nap through the interview if you want. I won’t judge you,” Ryan Gosling deadpans.
It’s 8:30 on a Friday night after a long week when the actor calls from Los Angeles. We're supposed to talk “The Nice Guys,” a comedic thriller by Shane Black: the architect of the action comedy, who wrote “Lethal Weapon,” “The Last Boy Scout” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” It’s a chance for Gosling, a serious actor with a strange sense of humor, to cut loose, even do slapstick.
Quickly his goofy side is activated. “Just turn on your recorder and I’ll do a version of 'End of the Road' by Boyz II Men, all four parts at the same time.” And so begins our chat.
Can you talk about your history with Shane Black, who wrote a lot of seminal action movies?
I grew up on his movies, dating back to “Monster Squad.” Him and [producer] Joel Silver are in my cinematic DNA. When I read this it felt familiar yet totally new at the same time. It was like coming home.
You also get to do a lot of physical comedy here. You’ve done it before but most of your back catalog is comprised of serious dramas.
I dabbled in it in kids television. I did a show called “Breaker High” where they could have cared less what we did. So we tried to squeeze in a lot of physical comedy. I grew up on that stuff. Slapstick and broad comedies have always been some of my favorite films. But it just didn’t seem like [comedies] were in the cards for me.When this came up, I read it as a huge opportunity for physical comedy.
One scene has you repeatedly kicking a bathroom door while you’re on the can and fumbling with a gun and a lit cigarette. That was semi-improvised?
Yeah, and I didn’t know how Russell was going to react to it. As far as I knew he thought this was a relatively straight noir with some funny twists and turns. I was working on the stall gag and I thought I was alone. Then I smelled smoke, and I saw Russell was watching me. It was terrifying, but then he said, “If you kick with the other foot it will bounce back further.” Immediately we started having the most serious conversation about the dumbest thing ever. Then I knew things were going to be OK.
Was the part where you do your best Lou Costello gasp after seeing a dead body something you came up with?
That was more, 'It’s 4 in the morning and it’s 10 below zero and you’re trying to figure out how to handle seeing a dead body for the first time.' I grew up on Abbott and Costello, and it’s rare to get an opportunity to nod to that. That, and I was just really trying to keep myself awake. And they kept it in.
Some of your dramas have you doing funny bits. The American flag band-aid you wear on your lip in "Half-Nelson" is pretty funny.
Even in dramas I always try and sneak in jokes. I don’t know why, but most people don’t want to allow chances for humor. It’s not realistic for things to always be completely serious. Sometimes humor can make things more impactful in a dramatic way. It can distract you and disarm you so you can feel more deeply about what’s happening dramatically. Most of that stuff gets cut out because it doesn’t feel like it’s serious. With this I was surprised, when I saw the final cut, that Shane had left so much of that stuff in.
In a drama, comedy helps to humanize the scenes.
But here it’s also funny. It goes back to Shane Black’s [script for] “Monster Squad,” where they kick Wolfman in the nards. It’s just funny. It shouldn’t be, but it’s funny.
One last question: How long did it take for you to ditch your facial hair here?
I kept trying to shave it but it kept growing back. It was relentless. Facial hair, it just won’t relent.
Facial hair is terrible. Being a man is the worst.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge