AP Entertainment Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- What's Ryan Gosling's secret to his on-screen poise, his ability to disarm and provoke merely by his laconic presence?
"Just try not to blink," he says with a self-deprecating smile.
But Gosling's uncanny, communicative stillness -- along with his sensitive vulnerability, his serious dedication to his work and, well, the guy ain't bad looking -- has made him one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, a widely beloved, new-generation idol. It might be the only role he's uncomfortable playing.
Rather than exude preternatural cool, in a recent interview Gosling spoke more with the uncertain, self-critical grasping of a still-developing actor trying to find his foothold in an illusory profession. Soon to direct his first film, he's looking forward to taking a step back just when moviegoers can't get enough.
"I've been doing it too much," he says of acting. "I've lost perspective on what I'm doing. I think it's good for me to take a break and reassess why I'm doing it and how I'm doing it. And I think this is probably a good way to learn about that. I need a break from myself as much as I imagine the audience does."
But first, this spring will bring two new films from Gosling, starting with "The Place Beyond the Pines," his second collaboration with director Derek Cianfrance, whose gritty portrait of decaying love in "Blue Valentine" was one of the first showcases of Gosling's talent for immersing himself in a character.
In "The Place Beyond the Pines," which opens in limited release March 29, Gosling plays a tattooed motorbike rider in a traveling circus who, visiting an old fling (played by Gosling's real-life girlfriend, Eva Mendes), finds out he's the father of her toddler -- a discovery that prompts an awakening in him, along with a desperate urge to support the child. With a more experienced friend (Ben Mendelsohn), he takes to robbing banks in Schenectady, N.Y. His story composes the first section of a triptych connected by a violent incident that reverberates across generations.
"One thing that kind of handed me the key to the character was that I totally overdid it with the tattoos," says Gosling, who has a teardrop inked beneath his left eye in the film. "I said to Derek, 'I got to lose this face tattoo. It's the worst. It's so distracting and it's going to ruin everything.' And he said, 'Well, I'm sure that's how people with face tattoos feel. So now you have to pay the consequences of your actions.' So I had to do the whole film with it and now see it on posters. It gave me a sense of shame that I feel was inherent to the character."
In conversation, Gosling is thoughtful, even eloquent about his acting but less intense and lighter -- that calm poise again -- than his words make him out to be.
Having started performing as an 8-year-old (coming from an Ontario, Canada, home of divorced, working-class Mormons), the 32-year-old Gosling has now been in entertainment for more than two decades. He was famously part of the "Mickey Mouse Club," along with child cast members Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Often performing in secondary roles to them conditioned Gosling, he says, to consider himself an ensemble player and character actor.
"There's a lot of pressure to be the lead of a film," he says. "I have done it. It's not my favorite way to work."
Gosling's break came in 2001's "The Believer," in which he played a neo-Nazi teenager. A new level of fame came with "The Notebook," the 2004 romance co-starring Rachel McAdams that made Gosling a bona fide heartthrob.
"By virtue of being in a movie like that, it just changes people's perception of you," he says. "But it doesn't make it true."
Since then, he's largely eschewed the conventional movie star path many in Hollywood would love for him to pursue. Instead, he's worked in naturalistic indies like "Half Nelson" (Oscar-nominated for his performance as a wayward but decent inner-city teacher) and the offbeat comedy "Lars and the Real Girl" (as a delusional introvert with a life-size doll for a girlfriend).
He was atypically active in 2011, with three varied roles: an idealistic press secretary in George Clooney's "Ides of March"; a suave ladies' man in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" (a rare glimpse of a polished, buoyant Gosling); and a quiet, proficient getaway driver in "Drive."
"Ryan was able to convey everything vocal-less," says "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also directs Gosling in "Only God Forgives," due out in May. "He was beyond talking. His movement, his posture, his eyes, his thoughts would tell a story."