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Actors Are Not Meat Puppets: 5 Versatile Roles Played by Ryan Gosling

All Hail The Goz

Ryan Gosling is a name that needs no introduction. He’s become an icon of versatility and talent in the world of Hollywood. From his heart-melting performances in romantic dramas to his intense portrayals of complex and even violent characters, Gosling has proved time and again that he can effortlessly slip into any role with ease.

When I’m working with screenwriters – and sometimes authors who want to adapt their books – it frequently becomes clear they think actors are meat puppets. But this is not even close: actors bring our words to life and have interpretations all their own. The fact is, a great actor can elevate a mediocre or even bad screenplay … and a terrible one can sink your carefully crafted words.

If we want to ensure our characters are played well, we need to understand and appreciate what actors do. Yes, even stars!

This is why I like to draw writers’ attentions to Ryan Gosling

Most writers have seen Gosling in two or three movies, or on social media. He’s a good-looking guy, but he doesn’t skate by on looks alone.

Gosling’s film catalogue is notable for its breadth, not only in genre and scope, but also the types of characters he plays. This is unusual for an A List actor, who may find himself typecasted to a particular type of role.

As a white male star, this also means Gosling has been able to take various risks, helping diversify some of the portrayals of masculinity we see on screen.

I was spoiled for choice in creating this list. Here’s 5 of B2W’s favourite Ryan Gosling roles … ready? Let’s go!

1) Ken in Barbie: The Dudeflake

Originally child star, Ryan Gosling has seemingly been in the spotlight forever … and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

I’ve been a fan for a long time, though I’ve noticed he’s often underrated because he’s ‘impossibly good-looking’!

Whilst that’s obviously true, his talent is undeniable … and it seems everyone en masse finally caught up to this fact this summer, when he played Ken in Greta Gerwig’s live-action version of Barbie (2023).

This was a part The Goz was destined to play. Gosling’s chiselled good looks make him a perfect match for the character of Ken. With his sharp jawline and perfectly styled hair, he could easily pass as a real-life version of the iconic doll.

But beyond just physical appearance, Gosling possesses the charm and charisma needed to bring the doll to life in a relatable way. We already knew he could sing thanks to La La Land … but the 80s-style rock ballad ‘I’m Just Ken’ was not only catchy AF, it makes an important point about masculinity in the 2020s.

Ken might well be a ‘Dudeflake’: he’s spoiled and self-important, but inside his heart is breaking. For all his talk of patriarchy and horses, Ken just wants to feel connected. No one likes to be forgotten.

KEY TAKEAWAY: The idealised male in the 2020s is frequently an antagonist or villain, but that doesn’t mean we have to hate this character.

2)  Willy Beacham in Fracture: The Truth Seeker

We have to travel waaaaaay back to 2007 for this one, Fracture, a legal thriller. I think it was the very first time I ever noticed Ryan Gosling. This film showcases Gosling’s impressive range and ability to deliver a powerful dramatic performance.

In this movie, Gosling plays a young and ambitious assistant district attorney named Willy Beacham. He is tasked with prosecuting an affluent engineer, Ted Crawford (played by Anthony Hopkins), who has shot his unfaithful wife.

Things take an unexpected turn when Crawford decides to represent himself in court and uses his privilege and intelligence to manipulate the legal system and outsmart Beacham.

What makes this role stand out for Gosling is his portrayal of a complex character torn between his ambition and moral compass. As the film progresses, we see Willy go through a transformation as he becomes obsessed with proving Crawford’s guilt while also struggling with his own personal demons.

Gosling’s delivery of intense emotional scenes in Fracture is nothing short of remarkable. From moments of rage and frustration to vulnerability and inner turmoil, he brings depth and authenticity to every scene. What makes his performance so remarkable is the fact he was only twenty-five, yet he was able to face down Anthony Hopkins, who was sixty-eight.

One scene that showcases Gosling’s acting skills in this role is his ability to convey subtle emotions. When another solicitor – who had been helping him go after Crawford – changes her mind and turns her back on him and the case, there’s a brilliant moment in an elevator. His face says so much, without saying a single word!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Intellectual or ambitious characters don’t have be old or middle-aged, plus shades of grey are important.

3) Driver in Drive: The Dark Angel

There is one role that everyone agrees stands out above the rest and solidifies Gosling’s star power: Driver in Drive.

Released in 2011, Drive was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and adapted from the novel of the same name by James Sallis. The film follows an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver (Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals.

His world is turned upside down when he becomes involved with his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos). This in turn leads him into a dangerous game of betrayal and violence as he tries to protect them.

What makes this role iconic for Gosling is not just the intensity and physicality required for the character, but also how he brought depth and emotion to an otherwise stoic character.

Driver’s lack of dialogue throughout the film allows Gosling’s facial expressions and body language to speak volumes. He effortlessly exudes both vulnerability and danger, making it impossible to take your eyes off him.

In fact, I love his performance so much, I made Drive a case study in B2W’s Thriller Screenplays book!

KEY TAKEAWAY: Classic ‘protector’ male characters don’t have to be good.

4) Dean in Blue Valentine: The Everyman

Another performance that stands out as a raw, emotional tour de force for me is Gosling’s role in the 2010 film Blue Valentine.

In this critically acclaimed drama, Gosling stars alongside Michelle Williams as his wife, Cindy. He plays Dean, a working-class husband and father struggling to keep his marriage together.

From the very first scene, Gosling captivates viewers with his portrayal of a man who is equal parts charming and troubled. Again, his ability to convey intense emotion without saying much. His facial expressions, body language, and subtle gestures speak volumes about Dean’s inner turmoil.

The film is non-linear, jumping back and forth between different timelines in Dean and Cindy’s relationship. Gosling seamlessly navigates through various stages of their romance … From their passionate early days filled with hope for the future … to their present-day struggles with communication and intimacy … Gosling portrays each moment with authenticity.

The chemistry between Gosling and Williams is palpable on screen, making their scenes together all the more powerful. They bring out both the best and worst in each other as their characters’ marriage unravels before our eyes. I also wrote about this movie in B2W’s Drama Screenplays book.

KEY TAKEAWAY:  Giving stars parts they can really sink their teeth into means they may take a pay cut.

5) K in Blade Runner 2049: The Tragic Hero

Blade Runner 2049 is a science fiction film released in 2017. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, it stars Gosling as the lead character, Officer K. It is set thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner film.

One of the most impressive aspects of Gosling’s portrayal is his physical transformation for the role. He underwent months of rigorous training to achieve a lean and muscular physique, fitting for a futuristic detective. This dedication to his craft highlights Gosling’s commitment to bringing authenticity to his characters.

In addition to his physicality, Gosling also delivers a nuanced performance through subtle facial expressions and body language. Officer K is not one for words but instead expresses himself through small gestures and movements. Gosling masterfully conveys complex emotions through these non-verbal cues, adding depth to the character.

Furthermore, Gosling’s chemistry with co-star Harrison Ford adds another layer to his performance. The dynamic between their characters creates tension and vulnerability on-screen, allowing both actors to showcase their talents. Their scenes together are some of the most memorable in the film and solidify Gosling as a formidable leading man.

What’s most striking for me however is how tragic K is … As he becomes more and more embroiled in the mystery, it becomes clear there can be no happy ending for him. He has been set up to fail, yet he will still do what’s right.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Heroic protagonists are still in fashion, but make sure they get there in unusual ways.

More on B2W About Male Characterisation

Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays: From TV Pilot to Feature Film 

What Writers Can Learn about 5 Unusual Male Characters

Top 10 Diverse Male Characters In Movies & TV 

5 Male Secondary Characters Who Teach The Protagonist

Why Bias Against Male Secondary Characters Is Super-Revealing

5 Simple Gender Flips To Freshen Up Your Story 

Rethinking Masculinity: How To Write A Memorable Male Character

3 Questions For Your Action Hero Male Characters

10 Things Every Great Character Needs 

Which is your favourite Ryan Gosling role and why? Share in the comments! 

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