Ryan Gosling | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Ryan Gosling

Ryan Thomas Gosling, actor, musician, producer, director (born 12 November 1980 in London, ON). Ryan Gosling started out as a child actor before giving a breakthrough performance in the Sundance-winning indie drama The Believer in 2001. He has since created, in the words of the New York Times’ Dennis Lim, “a whole gallery of sensitive, intelligent, anguished young men, often with hipster tendencies or dark sides.” An A-list Hollywood star, he has proven equally adept at comedy ( Lars and the Real Girl, Crazy, Stupid, Love., The Nice Guys, The Big Short), drama ­(The Notebook, Half Nelson, Blue Valentine, The Ides of March, First Man) and science fiction (Blade Runner 2049). He has received two Oscar nominations and won a Golden Globe in 2017 for his lead role in the musical La La Land.

Ryan Gosling speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con International, for 'blade runner 2049'

Education and Child Acting Career

Ryan Gosling was raised in a strict Mormon family in Cornwall, Ontario, where his father and uncle worked in a local paper mill. He “hated being a kid” and “didn’t like being told what to do.” He had difficulty in school due to a case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He told Entertainment Weekly in 2007, “I couldn’t absorb any of the information, so I caused trouble.” An incident where he threw steak knives at classmates after seeing Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood (1982) led to a suspension. He was home-schooled by his mother starting at age ten.

At the age of 12, Gosling attended an open casting call in Montreal for The All New Mickey Mouse Club. After being cast in the TV show, he moved to Orlando, Florida. He performed from 1993 to 1994 alongside fellow Mouseketeers Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.

Gosling then returned to Canada and attended Lester B. Pearson High School in Burlington, Ontario. While living with his mother and older sister (his parents divorced when he was 13), he appeared in Canadian television programs such as Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1995), Psi Factor (1996), The Adventures of Shirley Holmes (1996), Goosebumps (1996), Avonlea (1996) and the CBC TV movie Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy (1998). After dropping out of high school, he won a recurring role in the teen sitcom Breaker High (1997–98). It ran for one season on YTV in Canada and MTV in the United States and became a cult hit. Gosling then landed the lead in the syndicated series Young Hercules (1998–99), which was filmed in New Zealand.

Early Film Career

At 19, Gosling decided to pursue “serious films.” The transition initially proved difficult, as he told the New York Times in 2011: “It’s very hard coming from kids’ television to break the stigma. All you have is a VHS tape of you humping stuff on ‘The Mickey Mouse Club’ and wearing fake tanner and fighting imaginary sphinxes.” His agents subsequently dropped him. But Gosling soon made his feature film debut with a small role in the football drama Remember the Titans (2000), starring Denzel Washington.

In 2001, Gosling established himself as a serious actor and a hot emerging talent with his striking performance as a Jewish, neo-Nazi thug in The Believer. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. It received a limited theatrical release due to its controversial subject matter. But Gosling’s performance earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Male Lead and wide critical praise. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called Gosling’s work in the film “a great, dare-anything performance that will be talked of for ages.”

Gosling also impressed critics in the role of a teenaged murderer in Murder by Numbers (2002), with Sandra Bullock. He played another young killer in the thoughtful indie drama The United States of Leland (2003), with Don Cheadle, Kevin Spacey and Michelle Williams. By the end of 2003, he was named Male Star of Tomorrow at the ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas.

The Notebook and Hollywood Breakthrough

Gosling broke through as a Hollywood leading man with his performance opposite fellow Canadian Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004). An unabashed tearjerker based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, the romantic melodrama earned Gosling more solid reviews. It went on to become highly popular after enjoying modest success at the box-office.

The Notebook made Gosling a household name and brought him many adoring fans. But he avoided typecasting as a heartthrob by taking dark roles in more challenging films. These included the psychological thriller Stay (2005) and the independent drama Half Nelson (2006), in which he plays a dedicated but drug-addicted inner-city schoolteacher. Gosling shadowed a Brooklyn teacher as research and taught himself the Civil Rights lessons that his character shares in the film. Half Nelson brought Gosling his first Oscar nomination. He was also nominated for a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award and won an Independent Spirit Award.

Gosling then played a smart, hotshot district attorney who matches wits with a powerful man played by Anthony Hopkins in the slick crime drama Fracture (2007). He also had a sleeper hit with Lars and the Real Girl (2007), a sweet-natured black comedy about an awkward misfit who finds love with a life-sized plastic sex doll. The film demonstrated Gosling’s versatility following several dark dramas. It earned him Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations.

As Dennis Lim of the New York Times wrote, Gosling “cultivated a definite type, creating a whole gallery of sensitive, intelligent, anguished young men, often with hipster tendencies or dark sides, in films that ranged from the blockbuster weepie… to underdog indies.”

Hiatus, Memes and Dead Man’s Bones

Despite his stardom and success, Gosling expressed discomfort with the demands of big budget filmmaking and disillusionment with the Hollywood system. He began declining offers for major projects and took a hiatus from acting altogether to focus on his band, Dead Man’s Bones, in which he sings and plays piano, guitar and bass guitar. Formed in Los Angeles with his friend Zach Shields, the band released its self-titled debut album — a Halloween concept album recorded with a children’s choir — in 2009. It was met with largely positive reviews, with Pitchfork calling it ”a unique, catchy and lovably weird record, with highlights… that could hold their own with the best indie singles of the year.” Rolling Stone described it as “Arcade Fire, Tom Waits and the cast of Sesame Street performing a Kurt Weill musical,” while Entertainment Weekly offered a dissenting opinion, calling it “cloying, gothic preciousness.” The band played a 13-city North American tour in 2009, performing with a different children’s choir in each city.

Despite his extended absence from the big screen, Gosling’s star power continued to grow within pop culture. His quiet, smoldering charisma inspired a popular meme featuring his likeness captioned with the words “Hey girl,” followed by various irreverent statements. The meme, which was started by a fan in 2008 on the micro-blogging site Tumblr, became a viral hit. It eventually generated merchandise, a video response featuring Gosling and Russell Crowe, and spinoff memes such as Feminist Ryan Gosling and Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal.

Ryan Gosling

Return to Acting

Gosling returned to acting with Blue Valentine (2010), a raw, heartbreaking indie drama. Gosling stars as a husband struggling to navigate the changes that have occurred in his marriage. His uncompromising performance opposite Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams brought another Golden Globe nomination. The film went on to become a critical darling and a cult hit. Less successful was All Good Things (2010), a crime drama based on an unsolved mystery surrounding the infamous Robert Durst ( The Jinx), which co-starred Kirsten Dunst and Frank Langella.

However, in 2011 Gosling had three major films in release, all of which became critical and box office hits: the violent, arthouse action-thriller Drive; the ensemble romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. with Steve Carrell, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone; and the political thriller The Ides of March, where he shared top billing with George Clooney. Drive proved that Gosling could carry a film on his own. Crazy, Stupid, Love. and The Ides of March both capitalized on and fed his charismatic screen persona while demonstrating his facility for both comedy and drama. The latter two films also made him a double nominee at the Golden Globes.

Gosling reunited with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance for the drama The Place Beyond the Pines (2013), co-starring Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper. He reteamed with Emma Stone in the period action drama Gangster Squad (2013), with Sean Penn and Josh Brolin. He also collaborated with Drive director Winding Refn on the widely panned Only God Forgives (2013). These three films struggled to meet the expectations set by Gosling’s previous work but solidified his screen persona as a sensitive bad boy.

Ryan Gosling and Donna Gosling
Ryan Gosling and his mother, Donna, at the Los Angeles premiere of'Gangster Squad' held at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, 7 January 2013.

Directorial Debut

Gosling made his directorial debut with Lost River (2015), a dark fable which he also wrote. It was inspired by the abandonment of Detroit and by Gosling’s mother’s experiences of raising him after his parents’ divorce. The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard competition at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and was met with generally negative reviews. Critics called it “style over substance,” “ridiculous” and “derivative.” Some appreciated Gosling’s “poetic sensibility” and his ability to draw strong performances from his actors, including Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan and Eva Mendes.

The Big Short and La La Land

Gosling rebounded with a scene-stealing performance as a charismatic sleazeball in the Oscar-nominated dramedy The Big Short (2015), about the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007. Gosling earned multiple nominations, including a SAG nomination as part of the ensemble. He followed with the crime comedy The Nice Guys (2016) and drew positive reviews for his easygoing chemistry with co-star Russell Crowe.

Gosling had his biggest hit to date in 2016 when he reunited with Emma Stone for the Los Angeles-set musical La La Land. It features the most soulful and charming performance of his career. To prepare for his role as a struggling jazz pianist, Gosling practiced piano three hours a day for three months while also training in dance and singing. La La Land was a hit with critics and audiences. It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, received a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations and won a record-setting seven Golden Globes, including one for Gosling’s performance. La La Land also won five BAFTAs and earned Gosling his second Oscar nomination, first BAFTA nomination and fourth SAG nomination.

Other Projects

Gosling scored the starring role in Québécois director Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (2017). He appeared opposite Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman in Terence Malick’s Song to Song (2017), about a love triangle set in the music scene in Austin, Texas. Gosling also played American astronaut Neil Armstrong in La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s biopic about Armstrong, First Man.

In 2014, Gosling agreed to a deal with Warner Bros. to produce and possibly star in a biopic of musical director Busby Berkley, based on the 2010 biography Buzz: the Life and Art of Busby Berkeley. In May 2020, it was announced that Gosling had pitched Universal Pictures on a new take on its classic horror franchise the Wolfman. The film was reported to be in development with a script by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo of Orange is the New Black. It was also announced that Gosling would be producing and starring in the science-fiction film Project Hail Mary, based on a book by The Martian author Andy Weir.

Personal Life

In 2004, Gosling opened the Moroccan restaurant Tangine in Beverly Hills with two friends. He has had romantic relationships with his Murder by Numbers co-star Sandra Bullock, whom he dated from 2002 to 2003, and, perhaps most famously, with his Notebook co-star Rachel McAdams. Despite his onscreen chemistry with McAdams, Gosling later acknowledged that they “inspired the worst in each other” during filming. The two dated from 2005 to 2007, and briefly in 2008. Gosling was linked romantically to other actors, including Blake Lively and Olivia Wilde, before he began dating his Place Beyond the Pines co-star Eva Mendes in September 2011. The couple has two daughters, born in September 2014 and April 2016.

Philanthropy and Charity Work

Gosling has devoted himself to several causes, including the refugee crisis in Darfur, Sudan. He wore a “Darfur” T-shirt at the 2005 MTV Movie Awards to raise awareness and was the Hollywood representative at the 2008 Campus Progress National Conference. He travelled to Uganda and Congo to advocate against genocide, violence and crimes against humanity with the Enough Project. He has also worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to advocate for the humane treatment of factory poultry and livestock.


  • Male Star of Tomorrow Award, ShoWest Convention (2003)
  • Choice Movie Actor, Drama (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
  • Choice Movie Breakout, Male (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
  • Choice Movie Chemistry (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
  • Choice Movie Liplock (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
  • Choice Movie Love Scene (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
  • Best Kiss (The Notebook), MTV Movie Awards (2005)
  • Breakthrough Performance – Male (Half Nelson), National Board of Review Awards (2006)
  • Best Actor (Half Nelson), Golden Space Needle Awards (2006)
  • Best Actor (Half Nelson), Stockholm International Film Festival (2006)
  • Comedy or Musical: Actor (Lars and the Real Girl), Satellite Awards (2007)
  • Best Male Lead (Half Nelson), Independent Spirit Awards (2007)
  • Best Actor (Half Nelson), Las Palmas Film Festival (2007)
  • Cinema Vanguard Award, Santa Barbara International Film Festival (2008)
  • Actor in a Motion Picture (Drive), Satellite Awards (2011)
  • Best Actor (Blue Valentine), Chlotrudis Awards (2011)
  • New Hollywood Award, Deauville American Film Festival (2011)
  • International Actor (Drive), Irish Film and Television Awards (2012)
  • Ensemble Performance Award (The Big Short), Palm Springs International Film Festival (2015)
  • Vanguard Award (La La Land), Palm Springs International Film Festival (2016)
  • Best Original Song (“City of Stars” – La La Land), Hollywood Music in Media Awards (2016)
  • Best Comedic Performance (The Nice Guys), San Diego Film Critics Society Awards (2016)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (La La Land), Golden Globe Awards (2017)
  • Outstanding Performer of the Year Award (La La Land), Santa Barbara International Film Festival (2017)

View // Ryan Gosling

Twitter // Ryan Gosling

Further Reading