Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

Actor Ryan Gosling received the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film on Jan. 13.. The award ceremony was held at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara, and was presented at a black-tie benefit dinner for Santa Barbara International Film Festival educational programs. 

Named after the famed 1950s American actor and filmmaker, the Kirk Douglas Award honors individuals who are lifelong contributors to cinema. Gosling was the 16th recipient of the award, with previous winners including stars such as Michelle Yeoh, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. 

In the summer of 2023, Gosling starred as Ken in the “Barbie” movie, a critically acclaimed box-office hit that captivated audiences across the globe. Currently the top-runner for multiple award nominations, “Barbie” has cemented itself as one of the most influential films of the 21st century. 

Gosling’s performance of Ken is widely regarded as the funniest of his career, receiving widespread recognition and garnering multiple award nominations. With bleach-blonde hair and a career in “just beach,” his surprisingly complex portrayal as Barbie’s gullible boyfriend/sidekick is characterized by hilarious delivery, over-the-top outfits and an extensively choreographed dance routine to “I’m Just Ken” (sung by Gosling himself).

Prior to “Barbie,” Gosling acted in a wide variety of films with a career spanning 30 years. His filmography ranges from romantic comedies to independent projects, and his ability to perfectly capture the multitude of genres in the industry has made him one of the most respected and well-known actors today. 

Despite the biting evening weather, Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) attendees gathered in the outside courtyard for pre-reception drinks and hor d’oeuvres. The crowd was speckled with pink (in true Barbie fashion), and guests discussed their favorite roles of Gosling as they awaited his red carpet appearance.

Gosling was accompanied on the carpet by “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig.  After the pair were photographed together, attendees made their way inside for the black-tie dinner and award ceremony. Speakers included SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling, Gerwig and a surprise appearance by comedian and actor Steve Carell.

Director Greta Gerwig joined Gosling on the carpet. She spoke at the Black-Tie dinner later that evening. (Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus)

Durling was the first to speak. “In 2023, Ryan becomes the biggest special effect in the cultural phenomenon that is ‘Barbie,’ directed by the magician that is Greta Gerwig,” Durling said.

Despite this fundraiser black-tie dinner being the first in SBIFF history, Durling revealed that it was a smashing success during his speech: “It has raised the most amount of money ever.”

He also thanked the Kirk Douglas Award recipient for the popularity of the event. “Kudos to the Ken-ergy and Ryan Gosling,” Durling said. “No current American actor has made more first-class films in so many genres.”

Carell spoke next. Gosling and Carell are frequent collaborators, having shared the screen in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (2011) and “The Big Short” (2015). Lighthearted and humorous, Carell commended Gosling’s character through anecdotes that exemplified his kindness. He also spoke to Gosling’s humility. “Did you know that the only reason we know that he did any of these things is because someone saw him? Ryan Gosling doesn’t advertise his good deeds.”

Carell continued to comment on the honoree’s extensive career. “Time after time, he makes interesting, creative choices. He’s not driven by money, or fame or status.” He ended his speech by acknowledging the award being presented and the recipient. “Santa Barbara, you got this one right.”

After Carell received a standing ovation, Gerwig took to the podium. She spoke of Gosling’s imperative performance in the film. “From the moment we started talking, he just understood … There would be no Barbie if he hadn’t come to be our Ken.”

“He doesn’t create a distance between himself and his characters. He never winks at the audience to tell them that he, Ryan Gosling, is apart from them,” Gerwig said. “He allows it all to exist within him, and he never hedges.”

Gerwig went on to commend his approach to filming. “As time went on, I realized I didn’t need to caveat anything. He knew it was important.”

“With his total commitment to ‘Barbie’, he’s saying this is important. He’s co-signing this importance by his commitment and his presence and his art,” she continued. 

She then spoke of the award being presented, drawing comparisons between Gosling and Douglas. “They commit to characters in all their beauty and their ugliness — because they are actors and people who believe that redemption is possible. It is a philosophical position illustrated through acting,” Gerwig said. “I could not think of a more perfect person to present to Ryan than Kirk Douglas — genius to genius.”

Gosling being interviewed by the SBIFF house crew. (Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus)

After Gerwig spoke, Gosling was honored with the Kirk Douglas Award.. He began his acceptance speech by thanking and praising the presenters. 

“If I knew that Steve and Greta were going to be this great — charming, smart, gracious, funny — I would have suggested that I open and they close so we can end on a high note.”

In true humility, he acknowledged the educational programs the event served as a fundraiser for. 

“It’s hard to feel deserving of all this, but I remind myself that the proceeds go to a wonderful cause, so it doesn’t really matter if I deserve it or not.”

Gosling then spoke of Douglas’ legacy, humorously alluding to his iconic quote from “Barbie.” “He is completely and utterly in a class of his own … and I’m just Ken?” This was met with laughs from the attendees. 

Before ending his speech, he spoke of the impact cinema has had on himself. “Most importantly, I got to meet the girl of my dreams, Eva Mendes, and have two dream children. I dreamed of making movies and now movies have made my life a dream.”

“No way I have contributed half as much to cinema as cinema has given to me,” Gosling said. 

One thing’s for sure: dinner attendees left The Ritz-Carlton event absolutely buzzing with Ken-ergy.

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the January 25, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.