Despite his confident good looks and his role as the son of Zeus on television's popular Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Ryan Gosling ironically used to get chuckles by donning a Speedo and flexing like a professional weightlifter as a scrawny six-year-old. Born in London, Ontario, Canada, in November 1980, and raised in nearby Cornwall, Gosling was withdrawn for private schooling early on due to harassment by his classmates. Quickly learning the value of confidence, the bright youngster focused his energy into acting and landed a two-year role on The Mickey Mouse Club at age 12. Soon moving on to television commercials and roles in such films as Disney's Frankenstein and Me (1996), Gosling returned to television in 1997 for the short-lived Breaker High before finding more sturdy television ground in his Hercules role the following year. Since then, the actor has tackled increasingly challenging roles such as his turn as a conflicted Jewish student in The Believer (2001) and as a teen who commits murder in the name of mercy in The United States of Leland (2002). That same year, the increasingly busy Gosling starred in both The Slaughter Rule, and alongside Sandra Bullock in the crime thriller Murder by Numbers.
Though he was racking up credibility as a serious young actor in indie features, Gosling became an unlikely box-office heartthrob with the 2004 summer-season romance The Notebook. Starring opposite another young break-out Canadian actor, Rachel McAdams, Gosling added some depth to the otherwise treacly adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' popular tome of enduring love before and after World War II. Rather than parlay his newfound fame into leading-man action roles, Gosling chose a route not unlike Edward Norton before him, alternating between indie features and challenging, bigger-budget Hollywood productions. This strategy didn't yield great dividends with the spooky 2005 misfire Stay, but it did bring Gosling high praise for the 2006 Sundance Festival favorite Half Nelson. A slice-of-life drama focusing on a young, cocaine-addicted, inner-city middle-school teacher and the student with whom he forms a bond, the film offered Gosling the opportunity to play another intense, conflicted young man in a natural, effortless style, a performance aided in large part by his bracing young co-star Shareeka Epps. Helped by glowing reviews, the micro-budgeted Half Nelson became an arthouse success through awards season, when Gosling's name was mentioned by numerous critics' organizations in year-end honors. Though ignored by the Golden Globes, the dark-horse Gosling was recognized among a formidable group of Best Actors when Oscar nominations were announced.