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Exclusive: Ryan Gosling plays the funniest role of his career in this throwback to Drive

“A thumbs up comes in handy when we're doing these campaigns,” says Ryan Gosling, giving it his best Fonzie impression. “You can only do so much pointing at things that aren't necessarily there, so the thumbs up solves a lot of problems. There’s also the thumbs down situation, too,” he adds, demonstrating the kind of versatility that’s got him to where he is today. “Either one works well for the watch.”

As TAG Heuer’s leading man, striking the right pose is clearly something Gosling takes seriously. We are catching up about his latest campaign with the watchmaking giants, one commemorating the 60th anniversary of the iconic Carrera. It’s taken a different turn to what you’d usually expect from standard advertising campaign. Like Daniel Craig and that viral Belvedere ad, TAG Heuer and The Gos have taken a bold approach.

Instead of just “using an image to put on a billboard campaign”, TAG Heuer CEO Frédéric Arnault wanted to go deeper with this campaign. “Ryan is an amazing actor, one of the best in Hollywood, but he's also a creator so he was very involved in the script and helped us choose the other actors, and the production team,” says Arnault.

That team consists of Nash Edgerton and David Leitch, who has worked on everything from John Wick and Deadpool to Bullet Train. Leitch is a seasoned pro, and also a big TAG Heuer fan so was happy to be involved. “I was directing The Fall Guy [in Sydney] starring Ryan and he’s like, TAG really wants to do this thing for the Carrera 60th anniversary but it’s happening right in the middle of our shoot. Can you help me with it?’ I was thinking how can we get this done while filming a big $200 million movie?”

So what’s the plot?

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The premise of the commercial is Ryan Gosling is doing his acting thing and while on set he falls in love with a watch being used as a prop he’s wearing for the film he’s shooting. But he likes it so much that he tries to steal it. Cue action-packed drama as the prop master – played by the masterful Vanessa Bayer who’s best known as a cast member of Saturday Night Live – tries to chase Gosling down to retrieve the watch. The idea was loosely based on an experience Gosling had with the prop team while filming The Gray Man.

“They were so diligent about getting the watch back, waiting for me right by the camera, to immediately get it back even if it was just a short break so it turned into a funny dynamic,” says Gosling. But has he ever actually tried to run off with a prop from set? “It always feels like it could lean this way,” he teases.

From a horological perspective

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Arnault’s main input was that he didn't want the project to be about heritage. “It should be about TAG Heuer today, and a vision for the future,” he tells GQ. “We're launching a new watch but it's not an homage, it's not a re-edition. It's a new Carrera. It's a new design that will inform the next 10 years,” he adds.

Being the Carrera though, an watch model steeped in 60 years of motorsports folklore and history, which also happens to share its name with the Porsche 911 Carrera – not to mention the fact Gosling is arguably best known for Drive – it made a lot of sense to revolve the commercial around a car chase. Running off with a precious watch provided the perfect answer to what Gosling was going to be racing for.

“We really wanted to do something that would stand out in the watch marketplace. What happens a lot is you get these really slick [ads] that are great but they've been done so we were trying to do something more subversive, more fun – maybe a satire on the action genre,” says Leitch.

Such sentiments are echoed by Arnault. “The film will no doubt appeal to TAG Heuer fans, Ryan Gosling fans, Porsche fans as well but the most important aim of this project is that it's seen outside of the watch world,” says Arnault. “But at the same time, it has to be credible and legitimate as a watchmaker talking to the people that are the most knowledgeable in this industry. Doing such things, it's not easy to find the right balance between good innovation, desirability and also a good level of humour and fun. But I think that's what we reach with this.”

Improv is the real star

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In true selfless Gosling form, he credits Bayer for all the best lines of the ad. “We've played everything from disturbed elves to disturbed Santa fans and now we're playing disturbed crew members,” he jokes. “She's amazing at improvisation so the best moments are all things that she wrote in the moment. I never quite knew what she was gonna do or say, and there's nothing more fun than that.”

Leitch, who makes a cameo in the commercial as himself – “We did a lot of improv in that scene, there's a lot on the cutting room floor” – agrees about Bayer. “When you work with someone like Vanessa, who is obviously incredibly talented at improv, and then Ryan, who's actually really adept at it, you start out with this sketch skeleton of what you want them to say but then you just have to let them go and see what magic comes?” says Leitch, who’s more than happy to double down on what it’s like working with Gosling, on this commercial, but primarily looking ahead to the release of The Fall Guy next year.

“In person he's really funny. He's very witty, and he's very sharp. So I think he really likes to flex that muscle. He's had a bunch of opportunities to do it and now we're seeing places where Ryan Gosling is a dramatic actor, Ryan Gosling has the love interest but in The Fall Guy maybe he's flexing all those muscles.”

Any Easter eggs in there for watch nerds?

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When it comes to hidden Easter eggs cropping up throughout the film, producer Leitch is “happy to leave that to the fans that love to scour” but Gosling can’t help but drop a few hints for everyone to look out for.

First of all, he’s wearing the latest version of the Carrera Chronograph. “I think it's beautiful. The 39 millimetre is just the perfect size, and could work for everybody, and the new glass box is a really nice touch and just very elegant,” he says before moving on to Easter egg no.2.

“They created this beautiful Art Deco hotel facade in the ad and called it Leonarda, which was Jack Heuer’s wife's name so there was a lot of love and care put into this from the TAG Heuer team and they had a lot of fun making it too. As an aside, it's been really great working with them,” Gosling says. “They're so agile creatively. They've found a way to make every campaign that we do match the tone and aesthetic in some way to whatever the film is that I'm making at the time.”


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