After taking a month off to gain some weight, pick some fights and prepare to tear down the happy relationship they'd spent more than four years creating for "Blue Valentine," Gosling and Williams showed up for work at the Radisson in King of Prussia, Pa. They'd finished shooting their film couple's courtship, a loose, spontaneous experience full of song, dance and lovemaking, now all fully sanctioned by the MPAA.
But now it was time to shoot the uglier half of the film, which opened last week, the half in which the relationship is mired in tension and resentment. "Blue Valentine" director Derek Cianfrance had taken one of the Radisson's fantasy suites and heightened it to create the Future Room, the dark nightmare in chrome where the movie's weary lovers go to take one last stab at romance. Neither actor had seen the room before the cameras rolled, and they opened the door, soaking in a decorating scheme that Gosling likens to the "inside of a robot's vagina."
"We had a four-hour conversation about why we couldn't shoot in that room," Williams, 30, says.
"But we were just trying to stave off the inevitable," Gosling, 30, adds. "More than anything, we were afraid of what we had to do."
What they had to do was begin the disintegaration of the couple's marriage.
Together, Williams, sporting a short haircut she calls a "Ryan" in honor or her costar, and Gosling talk about what it took to create one of the year's most memorable couplings.
After being with this movie for so many years, what was it like on the first day of shooting?
Williams: It was this exhilarating combination of dread and anticipation.
Gosling: With so much buildup, you put a lot of pressure on yourself.
Williams: And I always wanted to make the movie because I loved the script so much. Then I show up for work and Derek says, "I wrote that script 12 years ago. It's dead to me. If you say the words, I'm going to be bored. You better surprise me." And I was floored. But that didn't bother you at all, right?
Gosling: I can't remember my lines. So when someone says they're throwing out the script, I'm loving life.
Williams: I was literally on the edge of my seat every day, wondering what was going to happen and if I was going to be quick enough.
Gosling: Really? You said that, but I never really believed it.
Williams: No. [Laughs self-consciously] That's true.
Gosling: Even after a couple of days when you realized that what you were doing was working?
Williams: No. I mean, it's exciting when you catch yourself in the moment and realize you're not thinking and words are coming out of your mouth and you've never done that before. And I feel like I grew so much. But it never stopped being terrifying.
Gosling: Remember that girl at the ice cream shop?
Williams: Wasn't she great?
Gosling: We had this night where we were supposed to do whatever we want. There's an ice cream parlor open late, so we go in and order ice cream and they're filming us. So imagine this: You're 16, working at an ice cream parlor …
Williams: In the middle of Pennsylvania …
Gosling: And two actors …
Williams: Both of whom you recognize …
Gosling: One of whom you recognize and the other you're not sure if it's Ryan Reynolds or not, walk in and order ice cream. And Michelle, in character, says, "I used to work here." And the girl doesn't miss a beat. She says, "Oh, really? Was this machine broken back then? Because I can never get this thing to work."
Williams: I've been back to that ice cream parlor since.
How was the ice cream?
Williams: Good as when I worked there. [Laughs]
Have you found people taking sides with one character or the other after seeing the movie?
Williams: I get both. Do you?
Gosling: People are passionate about it either way. A lot of guys are like, "I can't believe she left you." Others tell me, "Your character was the worst. He never gave her a second to even breathe." What's great about the film is you see your own experience in it. And then you start to personalize it.
Williams: When I first agreed to do the film, I asked Derek, "How am I going to leave him? Because I'm going to have a whole army of women at my door." It's hard to have sympathy for the one who leaves.
Gosling: But they were stuck in this cycle. Something had to change.
Williams: Derek always told me that Cindy's the hero of the story because she's the one brave enough to make a change. Because I said to him, in my experience, by and large, women don't leave men who are essentially excellent fathers. So I didn't know how to make it real.
Gosling: But you did.
Williams: Basically, the crux of the movie is that when you're a teenager or a young adult, you say, "When I grow up, I'm not going to be anything like my parents. I'm going to get the hell out of here and I'm going to reinvent myself, and you won't be able to see their shadow anywhere inside of me."
And then you wake up in your relationship and you think, "I am my mom and I married my dad. How did that happen, when all I wanted to do was get away and be my own person? They're there. One's living inside of me and I'm sleeping with the other."
And Cindy realizes she's in the middle of playing this out. And she knows how the story's going to end. So if she doesn't make a change, she may as well go on autopilot for the rest of her life.
Gosling: And there's hope because there's a change. It's a happy ending in the sense that they were able to break out of the pattern. Only good can come from that.
Williams: The future's going to look better.
Gosling: It's going to look better than the future in that hotel room, I can tell you that.