Ryan Gosling covers the new issue of Variety, just as SAG voting is underway and, of course, ahead of the Oscar voting period, to finally talk about his preparation for playing Ken because as the magazine points out, even though there was obviously extensive marketing for the Barbie movie ahead of the strike, there wasn’t a lot of long form opportunity for Ryan to get into the process. The marketing strategy for Barbie, and by extension Ken, was more about the fun of it, the spectacle, the joke of Ken, which is what Ken is on the surface – but as we should all know by now, a joke only works when there’s some serious work behind it.
This Variety piece, then, is meant to really expose just how much work went into Ken and I appreciate that Ryan is, after leaning all the way into the humour last summer while he was promoting the movie, is speaking about the character – a character that he built from scratch, because there’s no template for a live-action Ken, a doll that nobody cared about – with such respect and reverence.
He straight up says in this interview that this has been the most challenging role of his career and remember, it’s not like Ryan Gosling hasn’t been previously Oscar-nominated, it’s not like Ryan Gosling already doesn’t have a certain reputation in Hollywood for his performances. He’s thrown down several acclaimed performances before Ken, but the best part about that is that he’s now saying that all of his previous performances, all those dark and twisty and “serious” parts that he’s taken on led him to this moment. Basically – that Ken becoming Ken was such a high degree of difficulty that it wouldn’t have been possible to truly give what he gave without having been through those previous training experiences. Ryan, then, is giving Ken gravitas. And that, in and of itself, is hilarious because, well, Ken.
Will this matter on Oscar night seeing as Robert Downey Jr might already have Best Supporting Actor in Oppenheimer all locked up? I’m not sure it matters. That might just be the smaller goal – and I feel like Ryan’s aiming bigger, bigger than Oscar. Which is … future Oscars, not just for him, if he has the opportunity, but for others. And that means change, a change in perspective and attitude in Hollywood, within the industry, to finally appreciate that comedy requires just as much skill and research and dedication and commitment as drama. Maybe more? There are some of us who think it’s actually harder to make people laugh than it is to make them cry. The problem, of course, is that even the people who make these stories, who are part of this community of talents, can’t get over themselves long enough to reflect that truth in how they consider and judge art. Ryan is challenging that norm – and interestingly enough he may have been in the past part of that collective that refuses to elevate comedy at events at the Oscars. In the past, he himself may have been one of those voters who went with the dramatic performance over the comedic one. Now that he’s had his own experience with just how hard he had to work to figure out Ken, he’s not only converted but he’s trying to convert others, his peers.
Back to how he figured it out though, like the key to unlocking Ken? It might be my favourite part of this interview – the advice that Eva Mendes gave him:
“…so many times, I would come home and say, ‘What am I doing?’” Gosling recalls. “And I would overthink it.” His wife would tell him, “Just make it about Barbie,” he says. “And so every take became an opportunity to get Barbie to notice me.”
Actors often ask, “What’s my motivation?” Well it was as simple as that: make it about Barbie. This also relates to what Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie saw in him, to the point where they entertained no other option for Ken. He was their only choice, Greta wrote the part with him in mind. As Margot explains:
“We couldn’t imagine anyone else being able to do all the things he needed to and also have the humility to be Ken in a Barbie movie. I don’t know if a lot of big male movie stars would do a film with a female director where their character isn’t the title of the film. We both sensed he’s not that kind of guy.”
This reminds me of Patti Jenkins and Chris Pine and how she made him the Best Chris when she directed him in Wonder Woman. That insight also came from a joint Variety interview between Patty and Chris during which he admitted that she basically showed him how to get over himself. Chris candidly revealed that he was operating initially on that movie with leading man energy and Patty had to be the one to confirm for him that, well, this wasn’t his story, but he could make it a really good story by being a supporting actor to a woman in the leading role. He followed that direction, and audiences fell in love with him, hard, in that movie. It was a turning point in his career.
Ryan Gosling didn’t necessarily need that turning point when he eventually agreed to play Ken, at least not in terms of his career – but as he tells Variety, and as he previously told GQ, his takeaways from Ken are more personal. Ken brought him back to a certain joy that was missing, and it revealed to him the value of his early acting experiences, the roles he played as a teenager and a young adult, how essential it is to honour that work.
Supporting Barbie led him to that revelation, which I why Ken and Barbie are so profoundly important to him. And it’s also why he’s out here caping for the movie and for the women who made it. This is his Hollywood version of highlighting the message that gender equality benefits everyone.
Click here to read to full feature in Variety.