Why Ryan Gosling can still do no wrong – a decade after he became the internet’s first boyfriend

hollywood, california april 30 ryan gosling attends the los angeles premiere of universal pictures the fall guy at dolby theatre on april 30, 2024 in hollywood, california photo by axellebauer griffinfilmmagic
Why Ryan Gosling can still do no wrong Axelle/Bauer-Griffin

This year marks two decades since the release of The Notebook, the quintessential tearjerker of the early 2000s, which propelled a little-known former Mouseketeer called Ryan Gosling into the hearts of teenage girls around the world. In the 20 years since, the actor’s career has gone from strength to strength, cementing him as one of the most popular leading men of his generation. His two most recent – and surprising – roles in Barbie and The Fall Guy have confirmed what we always knew to be true: he can’t put a foot wrong. So, how has he done it?

“He has an inherent charming charisma,” shares the pop-culture journalist and author Emily Zemler. “It’s helped him not only become an A-list star, but to endear him to all of us. And that really dates back to his breakout role in The Notebook.” It was his off-screen romance with co-star Rachel McAdams that particularly made fans swoon: who could forget the couple reenacting their award-winning kiss on stage at the MTV Movie Awards in 2005, with Gosling lifting McAdams up in his arms? Or this quote from an interview after they broke-up, in which he said: “People do Rachel and me a disservice by assuming we were anything like the people in [The Notebook]. Rachel and my love story is a hell of a lot more romantic than that. The only thing I remember is we both went down swingin’ and we called it a draw.”

In the years following The Notebook, Gosling entered his “gritty” era, turning away from romantic leading roles and instead focusing on indie flicks and arthouse pictures, including Lars and the Real Girl and All Good Things, where he played a man in love with a blow-up doll and the murderer Robert Durst, respectively. These films confirmed Gosling as a talented and diverse actor, as did the comedies that came after it, such as The Nice Guys. Yet it was still surprising when his first role in four years, following the birth of his two daughters, was as Ken in Barbie.

“Since becoming a dad and a husband he’s been really selective about the jobs he’s taken,” explains Zemler. “If you look at the last decade of his career you can see he’s been really discerning with the types of role he’s played. You can really see that with Barbie and The Fall Guy. He’s having fun.”

ryan gosling
At the SXSW premiere of The Fall Guy this yearDaniel Boczarski - Getty Images

This refusal to take himself too seriously is particularly endearing to audiences. And it’s not because he isn’t a good actor: one only needs to look at his standout performances in productions like The Place Beyond The Pines, Drive or Blue Valentine to know that. But taking on the role of Ken turned out to be a genius move on Gosling’s part, who, like it or not, stole the show. Controversially, he was the only actor in the film nominated at the Oscars, and it was his performance of “I’m Just Ken” that became the biggest talking point of the night.

While the majority of actors seem to sniff at doing the endless interviews to promote their movies, or even resent it, Gosling seems to relish it – something else which endears him to audiences. We don’t like feeling like a chore, after all. No where has this been clearer than with his most recent campaign trails. In years to come, marketing students will no doubt study the ingenious ways in which the Barbie and The Fall Guy comms teams managed to generate so much excitement around their movies before they were released.

As Jimmy Kimmel joked in his recent interview with Gosling, in many ways, you don’t even need to see The Fall Guy – the lead-up has been just as thrilling (Gosling’s entrance to the show is case in point, featuring a five-minute stunt scene). And he’s willing to lean in to the joke: whether that’s gags about his penchant for “fashion” or his movie-star good looks, or even the sheer over-saturation of the Barbie film. He played this up hilariously in his opening monologue for Saturday Night Live recently, saying he wasn’t going to talk about Ken anymore – before launching into a Taylor Swift-inspired break-up song dedicated to him. More often than not, in public, he’s laughing.

“I think he’s really conscious of his public image,” says Zemler. “He really thinks about how he’s presenting himself and how he is speaking to the press, what he’s doing that’s funny, charming or engaging. He’s a born performer, so he’s good at this aspect of Hollywood just as much as the acting.”

The origins of Gosling’s ability to capture the attention of the internet date back to 2011. That year saw him have three films out in quick succession, each of which did something different. Drive positioned him as a serious, steely character actor. The Ides of March saw him sparring in a political thriller opposite George Clooney. Crazy, Stupid, Love cast him as the “it's like you're photoshopped” reformed womaniser. It was the height of Tumblr and the start of meme culture, and Gosling spawned one of the most famous: the “Hey Girl” memes popularised by the Feminist Ryan Gosling blog. Back in 2014 he read several out for MTV, seemingly willing to poke fun at the internet’s big crush on him.

“Ryan Gosling himself has proven to be a very memetic celebrity in general,” explains Don Caldwell of the Know Your Meme website. “We have numerous entries associated with him, and over 85 entries that mention him in some form. He's one of the actors that is in the upper echelon of memeable celebs. He definitely fits the bill of a typical ‘heartthrob’ actor, which makes him perfect for the sort of meme that paints him as somewhat of a romantic interest.”

The final ingredient in his continued popularity? He’s somehow managed to retain a degree of mystery. His private life really is private: he and Eva Mendes never do red carpets together, and he doesn’t discuss his family if he can help it. So much of what irritates people about celebrities he just doesn’t do. He isn’t particularly politically active or worthy or woke. He’s not on social media. He hasn’t spoken about his exes, and they haven’t spoken about him. No one has ever accused him of any wrongdoing, either big or small. He simply gets on with the job at hand, and then, he goes home to his family. This lends him an era of authenticity and classiness, something that harks back to the movie stars of yesteryear. He’s completely unproblematic and – touch wood – uncancellable. We are truly in the Gosling Golden Era, and long may it continue.

96th annual academy awards show
Performing at the 2024 OscarsKevin Winter - Getty Images

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