From writer/director Shane Black, the 1970s-set action comedy The Nice Guys follows down-on-his-luck private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) who unexpectedly finds himself teamed up with hired enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to find a missing girl. With a handful of colorful characters also interested in her whereabouts, March and Healy begin to uncover a shocking conspiracy that just might end up getting them both killed.
At the film’s press day, actor Ryan Gosling spoke at a roundtable interview about how the script for The Nice Guys came his way, how easy the chemistry with Russell Crowe was, why he did a lot of his own stunt work, and how much freedom they had to improvise. He also talked about singing and dancing for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and doing long takes so that there aren’t many cuts in the musical numbers, as well as the experience of working with Terrence Malick on Weightless and whether he’d like to direct again, himself.
Question: How did this script come to you?
RYAN GOSLING: I had had a bit of a relationship with Joel [Silver], over the course of a couple of years. I read it the same day I got it, and I really just loved the script. I grew up on Shane Black movies, and I grew up on Joel Silver movies. My first exposure to what Hollywood was like, behind the scenes, was when Joel Silver started screaming at Roger Rabbit, at the beginning of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. And Shane Black wrote The Monster Squad and all of these other films that I grew up on. So, for me, it was a no-brainer. And then, to know that Russell [Crowe] was playing the other role, it was just something I had to do.
You didn’t grow up in the ‘70s.
GOSLING: That’s very nice of you to say. I put a lot of moisturizer on the Crow’s feet.
Was that part of the appeal of this?
GOSLING: No. The ‘70s just seemed dirty, honestly, and not in an interesting way. It’s not the ‘80s. In fact, it’s 10 less. I grew up in the ‘80s, so that’s more of an interesting time to me. So, the ‘70s wasn’t the draw, but it was fun to do.
Are you comfortable with doing comedy?
GOSLING: That was pretty easy. Everybody reads a script differently, and I read it as an opportunity to really do a lot of physical comedy and take it to a broad place, but I don’t know if that’s how everyone saw it.
Did the chemistry you had with Russell Crowe come pretty easily?
GOSLING: Russell was really great. One of our first scenes together was that bathroom stall scene. I went early to work out the door gag, and I smelled smoke. I looked and Russell was there smoking, and he was very seriously telling me how he thought the door could bounce better. We were very seriously having a conversation, while I had my pants around my ankles in a bathroom stall, and I knew it was going to work and that we were going to have fun.
Were you worried that you might not be able to find that chemistry between you?
GOSLING: Russell is whatever he says he is, in any role. If Russell Crowe says that he’s Noah, he’s Noah. You never doubt it. If he says that he’s the Gladiator, he’s the Gladiator. He’s every character that he says he is. I’ve never doubted anything that he’s done. So, I knew he would be Jackson Healy. It’s a bonus that we had fun together, but part of what’s so great about Shane is that he knows what he’s doing. I think he cast us, not because he thought we were funny, but because he thought it would be funny to have two guys that are so serious be in something so silly. Even if Russell and I didn’t have the rapport that we have, I think it still would have worked on that level.
Did you and Russell spend any time hanging out together?
GOSLING: I went out with Russell right before we started shooting, and I think I was drunk the entire film, just from that night. It was a pretty physical film with lots of big days, and we were in Atlanta, pretending that it was summer, but it was winter and minus 10 degrees. Most of the time we went home, but we did have a big night. Russell was very generous and rented out this bar for the whole crew and cast to watch a game for his rugby team. We were all hurting for the next two days.
How much of the stunt work did you do yourself?
GOSLING: I did a lot of it because there was a certain comedic element to it. My stunt guy played The Scarecrow in a The Wizard of Oz play, so we talked a lot about that and incorporated some of that physicality into March. It was amazing because he had just come from Fury and did this scene with all of these bodies laying in the field. One of his friends, who was another stunt guy, was going around and bayoneting dummies through the chest. His friend mistook him for a dummy and stuck a bayonet through his chest and impaled him. And then, two weeks later, he was on our set, ready to get down. So, I had to do a lot of those stunts, just because, what kind of person would I be, if I had asked him to do those things? But, we had a great partnership. I really liked working with him.
How much freedom did you guys have to improvise?
GOSLING: I think Shane Black gets bored easy, so we always shot the script as it was written, but then he just wanted us to see where we could go. And he came up with a lot of new ideas on the day, as well. It was just that kind of a process.
Does being a dad help you play a dad?
GOSLING: He’s the worst father of all time, so yeah, it did help me a lot, actually. It helps to have done something before you do it on screen, sure.
What was it like to have a young girl in the middle of this crazy world and everything going on?
GOSLING: Well, Angourie [Rice] is such a pro and she’s so talented. I guess they had seen a lot of kids, and I read with five or ten of them. Angourie was the last one, and it was one of those great moments where you don’t know how you’re going to play certain aspects of your character, but just by the nature of who they are and how they’re playing their character, suddenly you know how to play yours. We got along great, right off the bat. There’s some touchy stuff in the movie. It certainly walks, if not crosses, the line in certain respects. We were just very careful with that. Those scenes are almost like a fight scene, where you make sure that the jokes land, but that nobody gets hurt.
Are you signed on for a sequel?
GOSLING: No. We’ll see if people want one. We had a good time making it.
Are you signing and dancing in La La Land (due out in theaters in December)?
How was that?
GOSLING: I don’t know. That’s up to you.
Have we seen you do anything like that in a film before?
GOSLING: I don’t think so, and you probably won’t want to again, honestly. But, I gave it a shot and I had a great time. I really had a special experience on that movie. Damien [Chazelle] is an incredible filmmaker. It was a big undertaking for him. For his second film, to take something like that on, I’m really excited for people to see the film.
Were the musical numbers on location, or were they on a stage, in a controlled environment?
GOSLING: Most of them were at practical locations. There’s one where we had a whole freeway overpass for a day and people were dancing on cars. It was pretty amazing. And he shot the film in long takes, so there’s not a lot of cuts in the musical numbers.
Did that put more pressure on you, as a performer?
GOSLING: Yeah, Emma [Stone] and I practiced for a month and a half, just for one scene, because we had to do it at magic hour and would only have four or five takes, and we had to get it in one of them.
What was it like to work with Terrence Malick on Weightless?
GOSLING: It’s unlike anything else. I’m sure I’ll never have another experience like it. I’d certainly never had one like it before. There’s no hierarchy in his films. You’re there to help Terry explore his instincts. You’re a part of the crew. You’re just there to help. It’s not a traditional set. In our case, especially, there was no script. Every day is an adventure.
Did you love that kind of challenge?
GOSLING: With Terry, it’s amazing to watch him work. He really is a master.
Have you seen the film?
GOSLING: I think he’s still editing. The beauty of the way he works is that he works in his own time and makes films his own way. It’s very rare, these days. I feel very lucky to have been a part of that.
Are you looking to direct again, and is it something you feel more confident about, after having done it?
GOSLING: Yeah. It’s not as overwhelming as it was the first time ‘cause I had never made a film before and I didn’t know. It just takes a long time. It’s different from acting. With acting, you can do it in a few months. It took three years to make [Lost River]. But, I have a few things that I’m about to get ready to do.
The Nice Guys opens in theaters on May 20th.