Ryan Gosling would like to apologize to Borat. ''I was disappointed he didn't get recognized,'' he says of Sacha Baron Cohen, who was shut out of this year's Best Actor Oscar race while Gosling was rewarded for his subtler work as a crack-addicted teacher in Half Nelson. ''I mean, he did, obviously he got recognized all the way to the bank! But that was a really brave performance.''
And what are you, Ryan, chopped liver? Gosling's nod, at age 26, makes him the youngest Best Actor nominee of the last three decades (John Travolta was 25 when he was nominated for Saturday Night Fever in 1978). But on the eve of his follow-up film, Fracture a thriller that pits his DA character against murderer Anthony Hopkins that honor doesn't seem to have helped his confidence. ''I don't feel like I did a very good job, because I was so busy watching Anthony,'' Gosling says. ''I'd have to remind myself, 'You have a character to play. Stop watching him.' I was trying to take apart how Anthony does it, trying to dismantle his talent and understand it. And I never could.''
Whomever he's learned from, it's worked: With idiosyncratic performances that bring to mind William Hurt and Sean Penn, Gosling has made a distinct impression with only a handful of films, from his breakout performance as a Jewish neo-Nazi in 2001's The Believer to his MTV Movie Award-winning turn as a lovesick country boy in 2004's The Notebook. ''In one take there may be eight things that are really interesting that he's doing and two where you're just going, 'What the hell is that all about?''' reports Fracture director Gregory Hoblit. ''Then you do another take and there's eight more things that are interesting and the two other things went away. There's just never a boring moment when the camera lands on him.''
At first, Hopkins was wary of Gosling's perfectionist approach. ''He wanted to become involved in the analysis of the plot and all that. I was concerned we were going to talk it into oblivion,'' says the veteran actor. ''I get so bored: 'For God's sake, shoot it!''' But when they reconvened in January to shoot a new ending, Hopkins had an epiphany. ''I apologized to him at the reshoot,'' he says. ''I said I misunderstood this, and I could see now what he was fighting for.''
Gosling wasn't always the conscientious student he is today. A belligerent child in Cornwall, Ontario, he had to be homeschooled by his mother at age 10 after clashing with classmates and teachers. ''I was a schmuck,'' he explains over chicken and brown rice at L.A. industry lunch spot Ammo. ''I didn't feel very smart. They kept passing me in school even though I didn't know how to do things I should have known how to do. Like, I couldn't read. When you're in class and you can't read and everyone else can, it's pretty frustrating. I couldn't absorb any of the information, so I caused trouble.''
An aspiring dancer, Gosling attended an open call in Montreal and landed a two-year stint on The Mickey Mouse Club when he was 12, which meant moving to Orlando and sharing a Disney World soundstage with Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. ''Those kids were prodigies,'' he recalls. ''Christina had the same voice then as she does now. Nothing I was doing was on that level.'' As a result, Gosling was relegated to the background. ''But I had the greatest two years ever,'' he says. ''I walked around eating those big turkey legs and riding Space Mountain and puking my brains out. It was awesome.''
For the past few years, Gosling has been half of a young-Hollywood power couple with Notebook costar Rachel McAdams, 30 (they're said to have split, and bringing up her name is a surefire way to get the usually chatty actor to clam up). With his newfound clout, Gosling hopes to direct a script he's co-written with pal Noaz Deshe called The Lord's Resistance Army, about child soldiers in Uganda who are exploited by guerrilla leader Joseph Kony. ''He cut off their lips and their ears and their noses and their breasts. And he turned little girls into sex slaves,'' says Gosling, who learned of the crisis while in Chad filming a documentary on Darfur refugee camps in 2005. ''I want to tell a story about them, with them, starring them.'' The challenge has been finding funding. ''A movie with children and violence that's true is very difficult to get made,'' he says. ''If it was a bogeyman in the bush that was trapping all these kids, I could get $100 million to make it.''
In the meantime, he's still basking in the glow of Oscar night though not for the reason you might think. ''It meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to the people that I love,'' he says before hopping into his black hybrid. ''Especially my mother, who fought with every teacher, every principal, every kid's mother she's been fighting since I was born. So I was really thankful that the Academy made my mom happy.''
Ryan Gosling's Must List
'Hold That Ghost' 1941
''Abbott and Costello inherit a haunted house and wackiness ensues. But it's really beautiful.''
''I don't know what I like about them,'' he says of the electronica duo from Sweden. ''I just do.''
'Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,' Haruki Murakami 1991
''You can't put it down. All these movie studios are trying to buy his books and he won't sell them.''
''You feel like another person when you're listening to him,'' Gosling says about the late folksinger. ''Like you're in another time.''
''There are few legitimate geniuses. [Falsetto-voiced ukelele player] Tiny Tim is hands- down one of them. Get one of his live records.''