Q&A with Blue Valentine director: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ latest “like a documentary of two people falling in love”

Q&A with Blue Valentine director: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ latest “like a documentary of two people falling in love”

From left to right: producer Alex Orlovsky, producer Lynette Howell, actor Faith Wladyka, actor Ryan Gosling, director Derek Cianfrance, and producer Jamie Patricof attend the Blue Valentine premiere at Ryerson Theatre on September 15, 2010 (Image: Jeff Vespa/WireImage)  

Did you know Ryan Gosling had a brother? Neither did he. But the producers of Half-Nelson were on to something when they insisted Gosling meet “his brother,” Derek Cianfrance—the man who would eventually become the director of Gosling’s new flick Blue Valentine. Derek not only shares a passing physical resemblance to the Cornwall, Ontario, superstar (blue eyes, sandy hair), but they’re also the kind of guys who can spend nine-hour dinners talking about love. The film screened on Wednesday as part of TIFF, and we got to sit down with the director for a one-on-one.

In Blue Valentine, opening December 31, Gosling and Michelle Williams play a broken couple gasping the last breaths of their relationship, interlaced with touchingly romantic scenes from their courtship. Williams, who narrowly missed TIFF between wrapping the Toronto-shot, Sarah Polley-directed Take This Waltz and starting rehearsals in London for My Week With Marilyn (she plays Monroe), has been attached to this project for eight years, stretching back to when she was playing Jen Lindley on Dawson’s Creek.

By the time all the Hollywood awfulness was out of the way, 12 years after Cianfrance started writing the script, Williams was in the middle of a self-imposed break from acting following the death of Heath Ledger, her former partner and father of her daughter. Just when everything looked like it was coming together, she had to turn the role down.

“I’ve committed to my daughter to be home and take her to school every day,” she told Cianfrance. “I can’t break that promise to her.” The director understood. So well, in fact, that he became even more convinced that Williams was the only actress who could play the part of a young mom drowning under life’s obligations. He called her back and suggested shooting the film not on the ocean, as originally written, but close enough to her place in Brooklyn that she would be home in the morning to take her daughter to school. “That’s the most gracious thing that anyone’s ever offered to me,” she told him.

The complex relationship between the characters—he’s painting houses, a job he notes has the perk of being able to drink at 8 a.m.; she’s an overworked nurse who can barely make her daughter’s school assembly—has left audiences arguing long after Williams and Gosling’s final fight. “I’ve had many screenings where it kind of turns into the Jerry Springer Show,” Cianfrance says today.

The fact that such interpersonal complexity made it to the screen is something Cianfrance knew would shine through the second he started filming. “It felt like I was making a documentary of these two people falling in love,” he says. “I was just so relieved when I saw it. I realized I wasn’t going to have to resort to any cinematic tricks to create this chemistry between them. It was real. It was happening.”