The Reel Breakdown

‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ Director Derek Cianfrance Reveals That Ryan Gosling Fantasizes About Robbing Banks

The Reel Breakdown

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Focus Features

Ryan Gosling is having a fame hiccup. The 32-year-old Canadian native recently told reporter Jake Coyle, "I've been doing too much."

While Gosling may plan to take a break from the burdens of celebrity, he still has three upcoming films in the pipeline: "Only God Forgives," with his "Drive" director, Nicolas Winding Refn; that little "Untitled Terrence Malick Project" with Christian Bale; and "The Place Beyond the Pines," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September to screaming crowds of Canadian fans and opens Friday.

"Pines" reunites Gosling with his "Blue Valentine" director, Derek Cianfrance. This time around, Gosling gets his Steve McQueen on as a motorcycle-riding bank bandit. His character, Luke, tries to make crime pay and then collides with a policeman named Avery (Bradley Cooper). But that's only the adrenaline-rush setup of an upstate New York family drama that dwells on the conflicts between fathers and sons and also stars Eva Mendes as Luke's baby mama.

Yahoo! Movies sat down with Cianfrance in Toronto and asked him about his second movie with Gosling:

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Director Derek Cianfrance (ImageWire)

Derek Cianfrance: Back in 2007, I was having dinner with Ryan and he was telling me that he had always had this fantasy of robbing banks. He had figured out how he would do it. He would go in with a motorcycle helmet so no one could see his face and drive away on a motorcycle. Then he would go five blocks to a U-Haul, drive into the back of the U-Haul, and drive off in the other direction. I said to Ryan, 'You've got to be kidding me! I just wrote that in the script for 'The Place Beyond the Pines.'" It was one of those times early on that I realized we were destined to make moves together. We even talked about "Pines" before "Valentine."

Yahoo! Movies: This movie covers a broader canvas than the intensely intimate "Blue Valentine," with Michelle Williams -- but there are similarities.

D.C.: I'm drawn to making films about family. My first film, "Brother Tide," was about brothers. "Blue Valentine" was about husbands and wives. "Pines" is about fathers and sons. Families are the place where there are great secrets. The relationships are so intimate, you really know the other people.

Y!: You see them without the public mask?

D.C.: Yes. I never understood when I was a kid when you saw those smiling family portraits. What a lie! Because when I was over at my friends' houses, there was fighting. The love was difficult. There was a deep tension. At 6 years old I stopped smiling for pictures. The first roll of film I ever shot, I took a picture of my brother in his underwear screaming at my mother. He was coming out of the bathroom in tears. My mother was in curlers, in her robe with one breast slipping out. Both stopped like deer in the headlights.

Y!: In the movie, the camera lingers on a wall of photos by a staircase, including a photo of star Bradley Cooper as a policeman. There's a lot going on in "Pines," from little details to stories that cross many generations.

D.C.: With the larger scope, I wanted to make a movie that was about legacy. To me, it feels more of a personal film than "Blue Valentine," even though that was two people under a microscope. This film has 60 actors and three linking stories. When my wife was pregnant with our second son, Cody, I was thinking of what I was passing down. This fire that I had always felt inside me, that both helped me and destroyed things. My father and grandfather had that fire: How far back in the generations did it go, and where did it start? I was thinking about this newborn baby, and I didn't want him to have this fire.

Y!: Why, when it's obviously such a creative force for you?

D.C.: Because it's destructive. It's pain. Cody should make his own path. He shouldn't have to be born into a world that I've given him. And if he does, I hope he should burst out of it and free himself. At the time, I was reading Jack London, calling back to the ancestors, what must have happened, what happened three generations ago that has affected me deeply. Any of us that are here now are here because of the sheer brutality that our ancestors did to survive and to not fall out of that tree and to get eaten by the lions. Reading "The Call of the Wild," the descriptions that London had of the domesticated wolf finding that howl inside of him that was starving. He could feel the hunger for all those generations that connected him, helped him survive that pain.

Y!: I guess what you're saying is that Gosling's character, Luke, is that wolf with the fire in his belly. And that he passes this flame on to his son.

D.C.: The end of the movie is a bit of a rebirth, in that moment when Luke's son Jason goes offscreen driving a motorcycle. I'm not a cynical person. I'm optimistic. I believe that my children will be better than me. My kids will carry that fire, and they will ignite beautiful things with it, stay warm.

Y!: While this movie begins with Gosling's Luke, one of the revelations of the movie is Eva Mendes as Romina, a one-night stand turned baby mama. Didn't Gosling recommend casting Mendes?

D.C.: Ryan and I were talking about this movie for years. Who's going to play Romina? Ryan suggested Eva. I had known her a bit, too. I had seen her at parties. She came to audition one afternoon at 4 p.m. in a raggedy T-shirt and no-waist jeans from the '90s. She was trying her hardest to look ugly. No makeup. She looked beautiful. I said, 'I'm not going to make you audition. Just take me on a drive around L.A.' She grew up in L.A., and I asked if she would take me on a tour to the houses where she grew up, her spots. I got to know her story because of who she was as a person and who she could be as an actor. The fact that she wanted to go onscreen and not be glamorous was a gift.

Y!: What is the essential element you seek when casting actors?

D.C.: What I require from my actors is that they show their vulnerability. The thing that makes us human is not our perfection. Human perfection is perpetuated onscreen -- that's the image of God. God is perfect and humans are flawed. Like the family photos we talked about before, life is not in the smiles. The messiness of life is so much better. My dad used to organize his sock drawer. It was too much for me.

See the trailer for 'The Place Beyond the Pines':

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