You’re sick of me saying this but that doesn’t make it any less true: it’s award season, and some people might be shrugging off the slog of the new year but for the celebrities who are in contention, there’s no time to slack, not when the races are this tight. Like I don’t think there’s a true runaway frontrunner in any of the acting categories and certainly not in the Best Picture category. In fact, the nomination process itself is a slugfest because there so many strong contenders.
So with that in mind, W Magazine just released its annual Best Performances feature. I’m still making my way through the profiles but off the top, everyone’s crush, Greta Lee, is on the list, along with all three leads from May December, Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and Charles Melton; also Colman Domingo; and Robert Downey Jr among others. We’ll get to these over the next few days but let’s start with how I started, which is Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. And Barbie wasn’t the draw here, so this is meta on many levels, since of course the whole conceit behind the Ken character in Barbie is that he’s “just Ken”, and nobody really cared about Ken. Until Ryan Gosling came along and delivered what I consider to be the best performance of his career playing him. And he is still playing. He is playing as hard as he’s ever played on this Oscar campaign. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ryan put this much effort into any one of his previous Oscar nominations. But that’s what makes his whole Ken era that much more interesting – because back when he was taking himself so seriously in all his “serious” movies, the campaigning, or the need to campaign, felt like a chore for Ryan Gosling.
Now we find him, all these years later, revelling in unseriousness which does not at all take away from the seriousness of his work. Ryan is giving both drama and comedy with Ken. It’s a comedically dramatic performance. It requires the finest, most delicate balance of both. Tipping it too far in one direction makes it slapstick. Tipping it too far in the other direction kills the mood. So the precision with which he approached this part was perfect. He deserves his flowers, he deserves this nomination. And if he gets that nomination, what will make it extra satisfying is that he’ll have done it on the campaign trail without being nauseatingly, exhaustingly pretentious about Ken while still respecting that Ken was his most difficult role!
That’s one of his first answers in the joint W interview with Margot Robbie. He says he knew right away that playing Ken would be the highest degree of difficulty because there’s simply no template for it – and he’s right. There’s no research he could do, there are no existing references, there was nothing he could build on. He was becoming the living embodiment of a doll that isn’t even a sidekick. If Barbie was a video game, Ken is basically an NPC. Actually, no, NPCs probably have more personality than Ken did before Ryan actually shaped him.
This is where Ryan’s cultural contribution cannot be understated. He is now the architect of the Ken identity. For generations to come, from now on, Ryan Gosling and Ken are now indistinguishable. And this isn’t true of Margot and Barbie… because there was already so much history and memory that came with Barbie that pre-dated Margot, she’s just one of many. For Ryan and Ken though, it’s one and only. In other words, his performance is, actually, iconic. It’s LEGACY. It’s the doll version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas … Is You”, the song that will make her immortal.
By playing Ken, Ryan Gosling may have achieved cultural immortality, no exaggeration. And he may have been the only actor in the business to have recognised this potential.
Here he is, continuing this light and fun and Kenergetic vibe with Margot and Lynn Hirschberg.
Click here to read Ryan's full interview in W.