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'Believer' Ryan Gosling
PARK CITY, Utah (CNN) -- When Director Henry Bean was casting the lead role in "The Believer," he saw more than 150 hopefuls before he came across unknown actor Ryan Gosling, 19 at the time.
It was a difficult role to cast, because the character called for someone to realistically portray a Jewish teenager who becomes a Nazi. But Bean thought Gosling had the ability to capture the complexities of the tortured main character.
Bean had to fight to cast Gosling, but the struggle bore fruit. The film took home the grand jury prize when it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, and Gosling is about to start production in "Foolproof," starring opposite Sandra Bullock.
CNN met up with Gosling, now 20, at Sundance in Park City to discuss the challenges he faced in "The Believer."
CNN: This role had to be a difficult one to tackle. Did you hesitate for taking it on?
Ryan Gosling: I had such faith in the film as it was -- just that it would be special. But I had never done anything like it before. It was a huge challenge to me and I was worried whether I could pull it off or not.
CNN: The role was the first in which you've played the lead character, and you were only 19 when you did it. Was that overwhelming for you?
Gosling: It was terrifying. I read this script, and it was the best thing that I ever read, and I didn't know if I could do it or not. I had not really done much to prove whether I could do it or not, but for some reason I just felt that I was the only one that could do this role -- not because I could do it better, but because I think I loved it more than anyone.
I was ready to fight for it. I just have such respect for religion and faith, and it is just so beautifully articulated in this movie.
CNN: What about when you got the role? One day the phone rang and they said, "Ryan, the role is yours"?
Gosling: Yeah, and I was terrified. I wanted to get it so badly and then I was like, "No, don't give it to me, I don't want it. What have I done?" I was really scared, .. because (I) was faced with this challenge of actually trying to pull this thing off.
CNN: Director Henry Bean said he had auditioned 150 people for this role before you walked in the door.
Gosling: I think that they were tired and they just wanted to cast somebody, and I was the last guy and they were like, "Just give it to him." I wanted to audition so badly; I went in, really, as an acting exercise more than anything else. ... I really just called and begged, "Please, I know I am not going in to get this part, but just let me come in and say the words for five minutes because it would be really good to just do that, and tell me what you think."
CNN: Now, here at Sundance, your performance is what everyone is talking about. You've got "the buzz."
Gosling: Yeah, people are saying, "Oh there is so much buzz," but I have never personally heard any of this "buzz."
CNN: What was it like for you to watch the first public screening of this film at Sundance?
Gosling: Really indescribable. I came here prepared for the worst. I had heard stories about Sundance, how people just get up and really critique your performance, and I wasn't confident enough to hear that. I was like, "Oh don't tell me I suck because I will quit."
I was worried how people were going to receive the film because I know what we tried to make, but I didn't know how people were going to take it. But we couldn't have asked for a better screening. It was amazing.
CNN: Do you consider your character, Danny, a sympathetic one?
Gosling: One thing I realized in doing this film, and one thing I really wanted to (portray) was that I don't think anyone really feels that they are wrong -- that they are bad people. Everyone believes in what they are doing. People struggle with their self-esteem issues. ... They are misled and so misguided, in my opinion.
... I think Danny is so full of faith he is choking on it. I think he loves something so much that it is killing him. He doesn't want to feel weak and he feels that Judaism is weak, for whatever reason. He thinks, "Well, what can I be that is not Jewish? I'll be a Nazi. Because they kill Jews, they can't be weak."
CNN: Did playing this character take its toll on you personally?
Gosling: Yeah. It was one of those things where you can look at a specific experience and say "Yeah, that changed my life."
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