“Is it too early for a milkshake?” asks actor Ryan Gosling as he slides onto a counter stool at his favorite greasy spoon in Manhattan. It's just 10 a.m. on an overcast Saturday—for most New Yorkers, too early for anything but a cup of coffee—but Gosling, the next great hope of the movie industry, doesn't care: He orders a grilled cheese (bacon, please) and a chocolate milkshake. After all, Gosling is something of a renegade, and if his characters, ranging from a Jewish neo-Nazi in The Believer and a latently homosexual teenage killer in Murder by Numbers to a crack-addicted teacher in this summer's Half Nelson, are any indication, this is a guy who plays by his own rules.
“You want half?” Gosling offers after his first sip of the shake. “It's delicious.” Gosling's high-carb, high-fat breakfast is a rather manly choice, and it matches his out-of-style combat jacket, Dr. Martens and paint-splattered black Dickies. (He's been helping his sister, Mandi, an aspiring musical-theater actress, paint her Hell's Kitchen apartment.) But it also feels like a holdover from his days on the Mickey Mouse Club, long left in the dust. That's where he got his start as a teenager, alongside Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, with whom he bunked in Orlando, Florida. It's an astonishingly successful crew, and Gosling credits that to the work ethic they learned at an early age.
Still, Gosling was never on a path to selling out stadium concerts. Even then, he knew he wasn't like the other showboating Mouseketeers, and his colleagues were confused about how he fit in among them. “There were meetings about it. My mother had to fly out [from Canada] and have a meeting with Disney,” Gosling says, scratching his shaved head. He has a gravelly rasp with a tinge of tough-guy New Yawk and a little Brando. “There was one episode where they tried to get me to sing and dance with those guys. They quickly framed me out, you know? I just kind of became background.”
Gosling is no longer blending in with the scenery. With a self-awareness beyond his 25 years and a willingness to defy the conventions of a typical manufactured dreamboat, he has become one of the most admired young actors working today. It's easy to see why filmmakers respond to him. Many of his peers talk in preprocessed sound bites; Gosling speaks in spontaneous yet well-formed paragraphs, with surprising warmth and a subversive sense of humor. He mentions that he can't stand the scent of Motorola phones, even though he uses one. He worships Anthony Hopkins, with whom he worked on the upcoming cat-and-mouse thriller Fracture (“I'm the mouse,” says Gosling), because he's “great at everything he does,” including barking like a dog. “It sounded exactly like a dog,” Gosling says, still dumbfounded. “You could almost tell the breed.”