Courtesy of Focus Features
While filming “The Place Beyond the Pines,” Ryan Gosling said he couldn’t even look at himself in the mirror.
“I had this face tattoo that I regretted immediately and I said to (director) Derek (Cianfrance), ‘I can’t do this, I look ridiculous, I’m going to ruin your movie,'” Gosling said. “He said, ‘You know that’s what happens when people get face tattoos, they regret them.’ He said, ‘This movie is about consequences, and now you have to pay for what you’ve done.'”
Gosling said he was so ashamed, feeling like he had taken the fake face tattoo too far, that he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror, in magazines or on the movie’s poster. But at the same time, he said it connected him to his character, Luke, who finds out in the beginning of the movie that he has a son.
“I felt like when I was in the movie I had this shame that I don’t think I could have acted, you know? I just felt like I was embarrassed, it felt like it gave me a connection to the character, you know?” Gosling said. “Because when I was like holding this kid (his son in the movie), named Tony Pizza, that is his real name, I felt ashamed, you know? That I was his father and that this was the person I had chosen to be.”
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is set to open Friday in most theaters, including in Columbus.
Focus Features, the film’s production company, hosted a press junket for “The Place Beyond the Pines” in New York City with access for college media March 9-10. Travel and hotel accommodations were paid for by Focus Features.
The film also stars Eva Mendes as Romina, the mother of Luke’s child, Bradley Cooper as police officer Avery Cross, Emory Cohen as Avery’s son AJ and Dane DeHaan as Luke and Romina’s son Jason. All but Cooper attended the junket. Pizza played a baby version of Jason.
Other than its actors, the film has another main focus, something director Cianfrance called a crucial part of the movie – its setting in Schenectady, N.Y., which derives from an American Indian word meaning “the place beyond the pines.”
“For the last 10 years I’ve been visiting (my wife) and her family (in Schenectady) and I felt like every time I went up there I was doing a location scout, felt like such an interesting place,” Cianfrance said.
In the movie, Luke quits his job as a motorcycle rider in a traveling circus upon learning he has a 1-year-old son. For his new day job, Luke chooses to rob banks, which Cianfrance said the film’s location helped facilitate.
“Every time I drove by that bank on Brandywine and State Street, I always thought that it would be a cool place for a bank robbery,” Cianfrance said. “Then I met this writer, Ben Coccio, who was going to write the script with me, he was from (Schenectady) too, and we talked about this place, this kind of American town that had seen a brighter day … The movie is all about legacy and one thing about Schenectady is that is has a real past, a real history.”
To add to the honesty of the film and the characters’ behaviors, Mendes did some of her character research by taking on Romina’s job as a waitress in a local diner.
“Derek had the idea of, ‘Why don’t you work in the diner on your days off and go be a waitress,'” Mendes said. “So I went and I got to know the women that worked there and I heard some amazing stories and they were born and raised in Schenectady. And you know, it was great ’cause a lot of people didn’t recognize me, so it wasn’t ‘actress trying to be normal’ or whatever … it really helped me get into my role and know the people.”
Mendes added that playing Romina, a woman who is stuck in a small town struggling to get by and raise her child, wasn’t too much of a stretch for her, based on her life growing up.
“I was raised in a very lower middle-class family and my mother was always struggling for the bare necessities, and I could have easily ended up like Romina, and taken that path,” Mendes said.
She said because of this, the film drew her closer to her mom.
“My mother … was very strict with me, and now I realize it was to keep me from going that way (like Romina), so there was a lot of what-ifs,” Mendes said. “I was very connected to my mom in the film, throughout the film I was very connected. I called my mom all the time and cried with her, and we got a lot closer.”
DeHaan said spending extra time in Schenectady prior to filming helped him get to know his character.
“I didn’t have to pretend at all,” DeHaan said. “Just like going around the town and seeing all the kids around the town, I think one thing I really noticed is that it’s a dangerous place. If there’s one thing every single youth in Schenectady does is find some way to protect themselves, whether that be how they dress or how they act or how they walk or whatever it’s protection. Protection is key.”
Cohen also spent time familiarizing himself with the city.
“I think particularly when you’re improvising, it’s helpful to be in the environment cause you can talk about it with a sense of veracity,” he said. “I’d walk down State Street and stuff and you throw something like that in the movie and you’ve actually done it.”
Along with securing reality in the film by having the actors get comfortable with the town, Cianfrance said while filming he encouraged them to be their best by not being afraid to fail.
“The thing that’s most important for me with actors is I want them to surprise me and I want them to fail,” Cianfrance said. “I feel like if they can surprise me I feel like as an audience member I like being surprised, and if I’m on set and I see something that I didn’t expect it’s like the greatest gift.”
He likened his method to a lesson he learned from American auto racing driver Danica Patrick.
“I had interviewed Danica Patrick some years back when I was doing documentaries and I asked her, ‘How did you go so fast, how did you get to go so fast?’ And she said her whole life she had always known how fast she could drive, and she would always go that fast, and then she said she would drive a couple miles per hour over the speed in which she felt in control, and that meant oftentimes she would crash, but by crashing she would push her own boundaries and get better. I ask my actors to crash for me,” he said. “If they can do that, there’s no more judgment and they can succeed greatly because it’s OK to fail.”
Another aspect Cianfrance took immediate control over was the way the audience would watch the film. He said he didn’t want the audience to feel as though they could just sit back and watch, but instead he “wanted the audience in this movie to be alert and be active and (he) wanted their imaginations to peak.”
Part of this was brought on by the opening scene, which follows Luke through a circus setup, eventually getting on a motorcycle and riding in “the globe of death,” a trick which involves motorcyclists riding simultaneously inside a large mesh cage, with two other cyclists.
“We came up with this idea with Ryan starting i
n this trailer and you don’t know what he’s doing with the knife (that he’s playing with), you don’t know what this guy who’s all like jacked-up covered in tattoos is doing with this knife and he goes out and he’s in this carnival, and all of a sudden there’s people taking pictures of him and all of a sudden he’s a performer,” Cianfrance said. “Just constantly reveal something new about him; you’re going to learn something as this shot unfolds.”
The film is told in three parts – focusing individually on Luke’s story, then Avery’s and ending with the focus on AJ and Jason.
“I guess it was pretty compartmentalized,” Gosling said. “You have to admire Derek, he’s the most stubborn man of all time and everybody told him to cut it and to change (the three-part formula) and not to do it that way, and I think everybody assumed that he would eventually cave in the edit, but he didn’t.”
Regardless, Gosling said the movie delivers everything a viewer would want in a film.
“What (Cianfrance has) done is I think you have all the conventions of why you go to the movies,” Gosling said. “You’ve got the conventions of the heist film or the crime drama, family drama, thriller. You have all these things that you love, but he constructed them in a way so you can experience them in a slightly different way which I think, as somebody who loves those kind of movies it’s nice to be able to still get those things but get them in a different way and experience them in a different way.”
The actors agreed that Cianfrance’s style and keen eye with directing made them excited to work on the project.
“I just love what he does,” Mendes said. “He’s obviously an incredible filmmaker and a real risk-taker and I think that word along with genius gets thrown around a lot these days. But I think he’s just such a risk-taker and when I read the script I was just like, ‘Derek’s doing this and it’s so unconventional and it was like he’s defying like structure and all that kinda stuff.’ So I think that was it (for me).”
One aspect of the film – the weather – was something no one could control, but Cianfrance said it’s unpredictability was something to embrace.
“Dogs and babies are the best two things to put in a movie because they’re so chaotic and they just ruin the scene in a great way, you know? And weather is the same way,” Cianfrance said. “I guess like the biggest weather thing that happened (during filming) was the hurricane came through and shut us down for a day, but I was also like so thankful because I was so exhausted, you know what I mean? (And) we got a day off.
“It did bury our trucks under water and our assistant cameraperson, Ludovic Littee, he’s a true hero, he rowed out to the truck in a rowboat and saved our film.”