Ryan Gosling does much of his best work when he’s not saying anything at all. He is famously the kind of actor who can communicate whole scripts with an entire stare. In theory, this quality should make him a natural fit as the poster boy for every must-have thingamajig. Can’t you picture him using his signature smolder to hawk fancy water or sell you a cologne? Despite his obvious talent for it, though, the 40-year-old actor has never signed on as a pitchman—almost unheard of in today’s influencer-heavy Hollywood. “I never really felt a connection to a brand before,” Gosling tells me. All that changes this week, with Gosling signing on to be the new face of Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer.
To celebrate the news, Tag Heuer threw a party at a palatial mansion deep in Beverly Hills. (Playwright and event emcee Jeremy O. Harris noted, “The last time I was here was for Zendaya’s birthday party.”) I met Gosling, wearing a lemon-yellow suit, on one of the house’s innumerable balconies. On his wrist was a piece from the newly unveiled Tag Heuer Carrera Three Hands line—a collection of 13 racing-inspired watches announced alongside Gosling.
Tag Heuer’s driving heritage is what drew the company’s decision makers to Gosling in the first place. “A star since his early days, he has grown to become an icon—one both enigmatic and inscrutable,” Tag Heuer CEO Frédéric Arnault said in a statement. “The movie Drive represents the strongest link with who we are today, and we are excited about the creative projects we have together.” A press release from the brand describes Gosling as “the heir apparent to the legendary Steve McQueen,” and the only thing more shocking than anointing a new Steve McQueen is that Gosling seems to fit the bill. Gosling spoke with GQ about this apparent lineage, his first-ever partnership, and the new watch on his wrist.
GQ: That’s the new watch?
Ryan Gosling: That’s it.
Did you get it today, or have you had it for a while?
I got it yesterday.
So just a little early.
I actually got one for my friend. It’s his 50th birthday and so he got it before I did.
You’re the guy. You’re supposed to get it first.
It’s okay. I was happy to give it to him. It was a good commemorative present. He was online all day trying to make sure he had the warranty, though.
So this is big day for you. You’ve never had a brand partner before. What about Tag Heuer made you want to take that leap?
It was a pretty easy decision, really. Tag is such an iconic brand. I’ve been a fan for a while. On that technical level, they’ve been innovating and leaders for over 160 years. So that made it easier, too. And then on a personal level, I think about time more than I used to. I have two kids and they’re growing up fast. So I keep my eye on the clock more than I used to.
I bet. My partner’s expecting, so I sort of get what you’re saying—just these nine months, you experience them very differently.
Yeah. For my first Father’s Day, Eva gave me a watch.
Oh, really? Which one?
The brand doesn’t matter. [Laughs] The symbol was what mattered. It meant, you’re on the clock now.
I was going to ask, why a watch partnership? Because it’s not a first watch partnership. It’s first partnership, period. You could have done food or fashion or…water parks. I wonder why watches?
[Snaps his fingers] Ah, I never thought of water parks. Why watches? I’ve always been a fan. It’s one of the first things I bought when I was a kid. I guess I thought they sort of symbolized having important things to do and people to see. Just generally having a life, which I wanted to have. I wanted to have one of those. So I bought a Hulk Hogan Casio.
Which, nothing says you have important things to do like the Hulk Hogan Casio. And since then I’ve used them as a way to communicate things about characters that I’ve played. In some cases, they’ve kind of become characters of their own in the films. But it wasn’t until I did this film, First Man, where I started to see them differently, because when I would visit NASA, the term “built like a Swiss watch” was used often in relation to their spacecrafts. It felt like that was the gold standard for design and of mechanical artistry. And I just started to appreciate them in a way that I never did before.
You were eventually like, “What the hell does that mean?”
Yeah, and then I think even I found out that John Glenn brought a Tag stopwatch on one of the Mercury missions because he didn’t trust any other brand. It was there just in case everything else failed.So it just started to make me look at them beyond the surface level.
Did that get you down the rabbit hole of different complications and stuff like that?
I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m interested, though, so if there’s anything you want to steer me towards, I’m open.
Just keep it simple.
I generally respond to the simple.
What sort of watches have you gravitated towards from Tag, and why?
I mean, the Monaco’s kind of hard to, uh, miss. It’s so unique. I remember seeing it in Le Mans and just feeling like it’s obviously very special. But I think the Carrera, for me, is just what I respond to.
And you really like vintage watches, too. What is it about vintage that you’re really drawn to?
I feel like what’s cool is you could put this in any situation and any time period over the last century and it probably still would’ve been cool. So, for myself anyway, I’d rather have something that I could just wear in any situation and not have to think too much about it.
You mentioned that sometimes watches can define or say something about a character in a movie. In this movie The Gray Man you have coming out, all the characters wear Tag Heuer. So what about those watches was right for those characters?
Well, the character has to be able to kind of go into many different kinds of situations and assume different personas and blend in and also is involved in so many extreme action moments. So the watch had to be able to work in all those different scenarios and also be able to be resilient enough to believably take all of the extreme situations it was in. I mean, we really beat the hell out of it and it just kept going.
That’s cool. And Tag Heuer has a nice history of representing different characters. Steve McQueen chose the Monaco in Le Mans because that’s the brand a real-life driver would have worn.
Yeah, and in Drive, I had this thought that the character wouldn’t trust the timepiece in whatever burner car he was using. So he would fix his watch to the steering wheel. And I wanted it to be really simple and legible so that it was not only clear for the camera, but clear for the character exactly how much time he had.
And partly because of Drive, Tag is referring to you as the heir apparent to Steve McQueen. What do you think when you hear that?
I don’t know much about Steve McQueen. I mean, I know a little of his work. And obviously I know of his connection to racing, so I see why he was a perfect fit. I also think there’s something about watches that are… whatever history they come with, they’re always present. They’re always just in the moment. And I think that’s something McQueen possessed as an actor. He was a very in-the-moment kind of actor.
Well, let’s pivot from watches for one second. You fly very under the radar. I wonder how has the past year and a half been for you in the pandemic? Picked up any hobbies? Are you making sourdough or anything?
No, no sourdough. Our kids are young, so it was a tough time for them to be separated from other kids and not being able to see family and whatnot. So, we did our best to entertain them. I think Eva and I did more acting in quarantine than we have in our whole careers.
Really dramatic bedtime stories with the voices and all that?
Yeah, we spent a lot of our time just doing that.