While on a press tour promoting his starring role in the new drama The Place Beyond The Pines, Ryan Gosling departed from the customary canned interviews and insipid soundbites to say something really surprising: He plans to take an indefinite hiatus from acting. "I've lost perspective on what I'm doing," Gosling told the Associated Press. "I think it's good for me to take a break and reassess why I'm doing it and how I'm doing it... I need a break from myself as much as I imagine the audience does."
It would be easy to argue that he was wrong on that last count. The Internet instantly went into total meltdown, with Gos-Fans losing their minds over the indeterminate stretch of Gosling-less months looming ahead. It got so bad that a 24-hour helpline was set up to console crushed fans by playing audio clips from Gosling's 2004 smash The Notebook. "It's not going to be easy. It's going to be really hard," the recording promises, a sentiment to which Gosling's legions of fans can undoubtedly relate.
But amid the hysteria, it's easy to overlook a simple truth: This is probably the best career move Ryan Gosling has ever made.
Recent history is littered with stars who burned bright but fizzled out thanks to overexposure. Consider Jude Law. In 2004, Law's stock was at an all-time high due to a series of acclaimed performances in films like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Road to Perdition. Law starred in no fewer than six major movies in just 12 months. But Law's omnipresence in theaters that year meant that the Jude Law bubble quickly burst. Audience fatigue torpedoed his leading-man status, and he had to settle for supporting roles in films like Sherlock Holmes and Hugo.
Jude Law isn't the only cautionary tale. In the years following his Oscar-winning performance in Jerry Maguire, Cuba Gooding Jr. burst onto the scene with a rapid series of ill-considered starring turns in films like Chill Factor, Instinct, and A Murder of Crows — and watched his career slide into Razzie award nominations and appearances on the straight-to-DVD circuit. It's a complaint that some commentators have started to level against Jeremy Renner, who followed up his acclaimed performance in 2008's Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker by joining every franchise in Hollywood, including the Mission: Impossible series, the rebooted Bourne series, and the big-screen superhero team-up The Avengers, not to mention a considerably less impressive turn in January's Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Of course, actors are responsible for their own careers, and they deserve blame for accepting too many roles. But they're also victims of an industry in which studios seek to capitalize on the latest and brightest talents by shoehorning the most marketable names into all kinds of movies — a trend to which Ryan Gosling was fast becoming the latest victim, with starring roles in everything from political drama The Ides of March to rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love.
And it's not just films: From interviews to endorsements to the wide range of daily gossip websites, we don't just see our favorite stars on the big screen any more (and for Gosling, you can add the "Hey, Girl" meme to the list), which means that exposure can become overexposure even faster.
That's why Gosling should be applauded for spotting the possibility that audiences might get exhausted of him, and for being proactive enough to do something about it. Sure, we're not bored of him right now, but what about in three or four movies' time? Film fans are fickle creatures, and those who will currently watch the 32-year-old in anything could just as easily become those who get sick of seeing him in everything.
Gosling's self-imposed exile also demonstrates a quality that many of his predecessors lacked: Modesty, and a willingness to accept his own limitations as an actor. "The more opportunities I'm given, the more I learn about how easy it is to f--- it up," Gosling told the Associated Press. "You fight for freedom and then you get it, and then you have enough rope to hang yourself." It's advice he could have given Seth Rogen, who unsuccessfully tried to swap the frat-boy comedy of Knocked Up for the superheroism of The Green Hornet, or George Clooney, who had a brief and unconvincing stint as Batman before retreating to the comforts of the indie drama circuit.
The truth is that even on Hollywood's A-List, not all actors are created equal. Some only work in specific roles, or with certain directors. Some simply can't bring the same intensity to every project. But as an actor's star rises and studio yes-men start to surround him, it's something that's easy to lose sight of. By taking a break, Gosling is taking himself out of the mad rush to capitalize on "Ryan Gosling," and aspiring for a place among top-tier actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio, famously picky actors whose successful careers are as much a result of the time they've spent away from the screen as the time they've spent on it.
Yes, we'll all miss Ryan Gosling's hunky visage on the silver screen — but when it comes to Hollywood, absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Alien conspiracy theorists think the government is on the verge of spilling big secrets
- How to develop a photographic memory in 4 easy steps
- 12 holiday gifts for the hardest-to-shop-for people on your list
Subscribe to the Week