What makes Ryan Gosling tick?
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a movie star in possession of a bankable reputation must be in want of an endorsement deal. And when it comes to reputations there are few more bankable than Ryan Gosling’s, who has just finished filming The Gray Man, reportedly the most expensive film ever made by Netflix.
Gosling’s great gift is his ability to depict the chiaroscuro of character. Like actual human beings, the roles he plays are neither good nor evil but amalgams of the two. At their most extreme they are violent and vulnerable, tender and terrifying. He can imbue a wagging cigarette seemingly genetically attached to the lower lip, or a half-eaten slice of pizza, with an air of ineluctable desirability. This is a man who could make toilet Duck aspirational. This is the power of the movie star, a power that Gosling has been reluctant to harness… until now.
The announcement that Gosling has been signed by TAG Heuer is a considerable coup for the brand’s CEO Frédéric Arnault. Not since Steve McQueen wore a Monaco and a racing suit with a Heuer patch has the brand had an ambassador who smoulders with such an abundance of laconic cool, if that is not too much of an oxymoron.
“I never really felt a connection with the brands I had the opportunity to work with before,” says Gosling of the partnership, his familiar, low, thoughtful voice softened by a slight Canadian burr. “But working with TAG Heuer was the easy decision. They’re an iconic brand. They’ve been quietly and consistently a pillar of excellence in their field for over 160 years. And, you know, time, in general, is just something I think more about now. I have two young kids, and they’re growing up fast. So, I keep an eye on the clock in a way I never used to.”
“Of course, I cannot speak for him, but as far as I can tell, it’s not about the money,” adds Arnault. “Other brands offered him more than we did. But compared to perfume and fashion, watches have more appeal to him. He said, ‘If I work with you, I want to do a watch for design and artistic reasons.’” When he was shot for the pictures to the accompany the announcement, he presented the brand with a moodboard of his own.
“I guess my interest in watches has developed over time,” adds Gosling. “When I was a kid, I thought they symbolised having important things to do and people to see; I would see people check their watches, and it would make me wonder what exciting things they had going on. I wanted to have a life like that as well.”
Given its talismanic power as a portal to the adult world, a watch was one of the first things he bought with his own money. “It was a digital Casio with Hulk Hogan on it. Because nothing says I’m a grown man with important things to do like a watch like that,” he deadpans.
Working in film found him appreciating the watch as a signifier. “Before you start production, a prop person comes up to an actor and asks them if they think their character wears a watch? And if so, what kind? It really wasn’t until the prop department approached me with that idea that it even occurred to me that a watch could indicate something about a character.”
He has since come to see the watch as a co-star with which he shares the scene. “With Drive, I wanted the most readable and clean watch that the prop department had,” he says of the fake Patek Philippe worn by the nameless character. “I had this idea that the character would fix his watch to the steering wheel because he wouldn’t necessarily trust the readability or reliability of the clock in the car. It’s funny now: working with TAG Heuer I realised that Jack Heuer had a fixation with readability and legibility as a result of a race in which he went from first to third because he couldn’t read the clock in the car.”
Like McQueen before him, Gosling’s fondness for cars and motorcycles brings him closer to the brand. “Ever since I was riding my BMX around my neighbourhood as a kid, I’ve had a connection to vehicles, the sort of freedom they can provide and sense of autonomy. I imagine that a lot of people have some kind of emotional connection to a car from some time in their life, whether it’s the first car you had with your family, or the first car you ever bought, or,” summoning the opening scene of La-La Land, “the car you commute in to work, and hate. They become characters in our lives. I also think, in films, they make great characters as well. I have a connection to them in my life and also in my work.” He still has motorcycles from A Place Beyond the Pines and his car from Drive.
It remains to be seen what souvenirs he will take home from The Gray Man, in which his character is “part of this CIA programme where they pull convicts out of jail and use them for jobs where an ex-con might be more useful than a more polished agent. I like the character a lot because he’s sort of an analogue character in a digital world.” An analogue character who wears a three-hand TAG Heuer Carrera.
Hype surrounding The Gray Man describes it having a Bond-like franchise potential. So I ask whether, in the best traditions of gadgetry, the watch transforms into a spaceship or deflects speeding bullets. “It does get put through the wringer over the course of the movie, but it does not turn into a spaceship.” There follows a classic Gosling pause so pregnant it could be carrying triplets. “At least not yet… But that’s an interesting idea.”