Ryan Gosling Dishes on 'The Haunted Mansion' and Goes Deep on His Directorial Debut

Ryan Gosling at SXSW (ET Online)

Will Ryan Gosling be taking a tour of The Haunted Mansion? The highly meme-able actor, who hasn’t appeared onscreen since 2013′s Gangster Squad and Only God Forgives, re-emerged last week with his directorial debut, the new drama Lost River. Accompanying that was a report that Gosling was in talks to star in director Guillermo del Toro’s movie adaptation of the classic Disneyland ride The Haunted Mansion.

The news immediately made sense: Gosling and del Toro had been spotted palling around Disneyland in February. In a conversation with Yahoo Movies on Friday, Gosling shed some light on the potential project. “We’re talking about it,” said Gosling, a former Mouseketeer who’s still a big fan of Disneyland. “That’s my favorite ride. Haunted Mansion is a whole world, it’s not just a ride, so I feel like in Guillermo’s hands it could be amazing.”

The Pan’s Labyrinth director was actually instrumental in the development of Lost River, a dystopian fantasy about a family clinging to life in a dying town. Gosling had been traveling back and forth to Detroit for about a year, taking footage of the struggling city, before deciding that he needed to turn it into a film. Del Toro was the first person that he showed the footage to. “He said that if I didn’t direct it, he would,” Gosling said. “It was like the wizard handing you your sword and your shield and saying ‘go find your mission.’”

Lost River debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last year to a very hostile group of critics. But the movie — which stars Christina Hendricks along with Matt Smith, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes and Saoirse Ronan in supporting roles — has found a measure of redemption in several positive reviews, including a five-star write-up in the New York Times

Gosling spoke about the film, which just debuted in limited theaters and on VOD, and his journey as a filmmaker with Yahoo Movies.

You’ve mentioned Goonies as an influence for this movie. What movies were you watching as a kid?
I think all those sort of early Amblin movies, Goonies, The Secret of NIMHGremlins, Batteries Not Included, Howard the Duck.

Howard the Duck?
I’m still haunted by that. Remember that scene where you saw that girl’s duck breasts? I mean, my God. It was like a kid’s movie, but it was for adults. It was very disturbing.

They brought him back in Guardians of the Galaxy.
They did?

Yep. They showed him at the end, in a glass box.
It all comes back to Howard the Duck. He is the Rosetta Stone. Let’s only talk about Howard the Duck. But really, The Secret of NIMH was a big influence as well. Especially on [Lost River], as was Goonies: That idea of a family in their house under threat and some element of magical realism that makes it possible to save it. As a side note, I storyboarded the film with one of the animators from The Secret of NIMH.

You’ve worked in TV and movies since The Mickey Mouse Club, but the stuff you’ve made, and certainly this film, isn’t quite as mainstream. What movies made you want to be a filmmaker?
I didn’t start to get exposed to film history until later on in my life. So in a way, it happened in an age-appropriate way. There were things I was watching as a kid that weren’t just like these ‘80s films. I loved that movie Samson and Delilah, Hold That Ghost, Abbott and Costello stuff. But really, because I come from the VHS generation, I wasn’t going to the cinema to see a lot of these films. I was just renting them and watching them on my own. They were very personal. They were things that felt like they were just yours. 

Were there filmmakers who influenced visually?
I love the film Germany Year Zero, by Roberto Rosselini. That made an impression, the idea of taking a kid into the ruins just after the war and sort of following him through that. I thought that was an interesting way to meld fiction and non-fiction. 

I’m wondering about the timing: You had Drive and a lot of hit movies when you decided to take a step back and direct this movie two years ago.
Both the scripts that I wrote came out of experiences that I had that I wanted to share or explore more. The child soldier film [he wrote nearly a decade ago but was never produced] came because I had the opportunity to go to Uganda. I had met some child soldiers and heard about the Lord’s Resistance Army and felt like I wanted to make a film about it. But I just wasn’t at a place in my career and my life where I could make a film of that magnitude happen. There weren’t any white people in my script, and I was getting encouraged to add that in and it wasn’t something I wanted to do. So I put it on the back burner. 

Lost River was something I could make: I could go to Detroit, I could get a RED camera, I could go on my own, and I could just get started. I didn’t need to get permission or money to do so.

Violence against women is a big theme in Lost River, from the way Christina Hendricks’ character is treated to the simulated violence against Eva Mendes.
In a way the film is a visual representation of what it feels like to be in a broken home. There’s no father figure present in this family or in this town. There is no positive male energy. There is an imbalance there, a sense of impending doom and a threat, until Reda Kateb, the cab driver, starts to make his presence in the movie and he sort of listens and brings a balance and harmony to Billy and her family.

Did people advise you act in this one?
Sure, but I was more excited by these actors than myself. I would rather see Matt Smith in this film, I’d rather see Reda Kateb and I’d rather see Ben Mendelsohn. And I really admire actors that can direct and act in their own films. Directing took everything I had — I can’t imagine also starring in it.

Did any directors influence the way you made this film?
No, I felt like I had a good feeling of how I wanted to make this film. I felt like, as an actor, there are a lot of things I wanted to experiment with, things I wished directors would try, and wanted to be in a position so I could try those things.

Like what things?
To work very small and work with people that I had worked with before, to try and incorporate the documentary aspect into a fantasy. To allow people from the location and the city to be in the scenes and mix their reality with the surreality of the film.  

Do you have the acting bug again?
I have it. I just finished acting in a film called The Nice Guys with Russell Crowe and, it was a lot of fun to be acting again. I’m doing a film called The Big Short starting next week with [director] Adam McKay and Steve Carell. I’ll be doing something on the other end of the financial crisis.

At the end of The Other Guys, McKay put all these infographics about financial scandals, which shows his interest in the topic.
I think that was where it was kind of born. He was doing all this research when he was shooting The Other Guys and I think that piqued his interest. 

The reception for Lost River was difficult at Cannes. Do you think it’s because, at least in part, it was made by Ryan Gosling?
Maybe. I guess every film has its critics and its champions. It seemed like people didn’t expect me to make this film. I didn’t expect to be making this film. But I’m very proud of it, you know? And a lot of films that I love had a hard time, weren’t completely well received in the beginning and over time, they find their audience. And I’m just excited about that. You make something and people are chomping at the bit to immediately tear it down. But over time, it’ll find its audience and I’m excited to find out who that is.

Watch the trailer for ‘Lost River’ below:

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