Its premise might seem a little dubious, but after it unspooled at the Toronto Film Festival this week, Lars and the Real Girl (opening Oct. 12) quickly started winning people over. The Notebook‘s Ryan Gosling — recently nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Half Nelson — plays a shrinking wallflower of a guy, living in his brother’s garage, who one day starts introducing people to his new girlfriend, Bianca. And it just so happens that Bianca is a life-sized plastic doll that he ordered off the Internet.
Even Gosling concedes that you might have your doubts about such a plotline. He did too, until he read the script, which quickly (and sweetly) up-ends expectations. The actor, in fact, compares it to Harvey, the wonderful 1950 comedy starring James Stewart as a man whose constant sidekick is an invisible, six-foot-three-and-a-half-inch rabbit. Maybe you can Netflix it as soon you’re done reading this interview, which EW.com conducted with Gosling in Toronto earlier this week.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Lars and the Real Girl was a lot different than I expected. You hear the plot and you think it could be a Farrelly Brothers gross-out movie, or an edgy, dark, Sundance kind of movie. But it’s really a fairy tale.
RYAN GOSLING: Yeah, it’s a storybook, it’s a kid’s book, like The Velveteen Rabbit. I think, like everybody else, I hear about it and I go, Well, conceptually, it sounds like a funny idea, it’s a funny concept, but it can’t hold up for a whole film. But, reading the script, I’d never seen a movie like this. And now the only other thing I can compare it to is Harvey.
Really? Harvey‘s one of my favorite movies.
Me too! I love that movie so much. There’s nothing like it.
I always thought Jimmy Stewart gave his best performance in that one. Very underrated.
Absolutely. Because he’s acting for him and for Harvey. He makes Harvey real to you. And I always thought that movie was so, so special.
Stewart’s character, Elwood P. Dowd, is a lot like Lars.
Yeah, he’s got an imaginary friend. It doesn’t matter [that she’s not real], because she’s real to him. I thought, This is a wacky concept, but not really. It’s true. There’re a lot of guys out there who have these dolls. And that’s a very complicated relationship. They’re not just physical. They have emotional connections and they have lives with them and they go on dates. And they talk to them, they keep them company. And it sounds crazy because they’re adults and you think, You shouldn’t be doing that. But I think we all kind of do that. When you’re a kid and you have a teddy bear, and you love that teddy bear. A friend of mine had a teddy bear and he lost it, and he was really broken-hearted about it.
Just recently he lost his teddy bear, or this was back when he was a kid?
When he was a kid. He put an ad out in the paper, and people in his town had an eye out for it. It’s not that hokey. People are like that. In this town, people rally around Lars and support him. Because they get something out of it too. They want to be part of something special.
NEXT PAGE: ”When I was a kid, it was a big deal to go to the movies, and when the movie was no good, I was really disappointed — for the whole week.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The movie also reminded me of Edward Scissorhands. Did you think of that movie at all?
RYAN GOSLING: I did. I thought of Edward Scissorhands. But I think there’s an inherent difference between them. I love that film, everything about it. But I think in a way [Edward] has a kind of pessimistic and not unrealistic opinion that people will kind of taint anything that’s pure. That they have to get their hands on it and try to control it, and they’ll eventually ravage it and it’ll lose its specialness. And I think this film believes that people want to be a part of something special and want to nurture it and shelter it and be part of it.
Did you meet anybody who has one of these dolls?
I didn’t. Because for me, Lars doesn’t know that he has one. For me, he wasn’t that crazy. I totally related to him. And I think a lot of people can. I hope people don’t write the movie off when they hear about it, because I think there’s just something about the character. There’s a Lars in all of us — it’s amplified in the movie, but we’re all kind of nuts.
What was your co-star like, the doll? She has an eerie presence in the movie — you get the sense that she kind of could be a real person.
Yeah, absolutely. When they called action! it was just her and me. That bonded me to her. It was a real connection. And people will laugh when they hear it, but she has a really calming and peaceful quality when you’re around her. And you would have moments where you thought she looked at you, or said something to you, or moved.
The movie’s setting is cold, it’s icy — was that really important to the film?
Yeah. I think about another of my favorite movies, [the 1966 French film] A Man and a Woman. The director [Claude Lelouch] said something about that film. He said it’s very important when you do a love story, it always has to be cold. Because you want things to warm up.
So, next you’re going to do The Lovely Bones for Peter Jackson, right?
We start in October. Then I’m going to do my own film next year — direct it, I mean. It’s called The Lord’s Resistance, based on the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda — the army of child soldiers.
Is it as big a movie it sounds?
I’ll never get the money to make it as big as it should be. We’ll take whatever we can get.
How has getting nominated for an Oscar this year changed things for you?
It didn’t really open up opportunities for movies like Lars or Half Nelson. … But, you know, it helps a lot with things that aren’t small.
You’re getting bigger offers?
Yeah, more than I did before. Certainly, there are more opportunities available to me.
Anything good, or is it a lot of bad stuff?
I get a lot of stuff that I’d never go see. It’s weird for me to read a script that I would never see. Because when I was a kid, it was a big deal to go to the movies, and when the movie was no good, I was really disappointed — for the whole week. And so I wanna give people their money’s worth. And I feel with a movie like Lars, we’ve done that. I can guarantee it: You’ve never seen anything like it.