Movie News & Reviews

When Ryan Gosling made a serial killer thriller in SLO

Ryan Gosling stars as Agent K in “Blade Runner 2049.” The actor plays a teenage killer in 2002’s “Murder by Numbers,” shot at various locations in San Luis Obispo County.
Ryan Gosling stars as Agent K in “Blade Runner 2049.” The actor plays a teenage killer in 2002’s “Murder by Numbers,” shot at various locations in San Luis Obispo County. Warner Bros. Pictures

Before he drove in “Drive,” danced in “La La Land” and hunted androids in “Blade Runner 2049,” Ryan Gosling played a creepy teenage killer in a movie shot in San Luis Obispo County.

Plenty of local landmarks made it into 2002’s “Murder by Numbers,” including San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza.

The movie stars “Miss Congeniality” herself — Sandra Bullock — as a detective on the trail of two homicidal high school students obsessed with pulling off the perfect crime.

Playing a charismatic murderer is Gosling, just two years away from his breakout role as a lovelorn hunk in 2004’s “The Notebook.” Michael Pitt, whose credits include HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” co-stars as Gosling’s nerdy partner in crime.

When “Murder by Numbers” opened in theaters on April 19, 2002, Tribune reporter Jennifer England tracked down the many Central Coast spots that appear in the movie:

Eagle-eyed viewers will spot plenty of local landmarks in ‘Murder by Numbers’

Somewhere in the first 10 minutes of “Murder by Numbers,” Sandra Bullock’s police detective character, Cassie Mayweather, enters her houseboat. In the background, three Duke Energy smokestacks loom over a narrow beach partially shrouded in fog.

Sound familiar?

It’s just one of the San Luis Obispo County scenes captured in the movie, which opens today but was filmed last May.

According to the film’s director Barbet Schroeder, “There’s a tremendous amount of beauty in the coastal region of Central California. And water was an important part of the story.”

In the Castle Rock Films thriller, Mayweather is out to solve the “perfect murder” cooked up by two high school students. The action is set in the fictional California coastal town of San Benito (inspired by San Luis Obispo, according to Castle Rock Films). Even if you haven’t lived here long, you’ll recognize many of the backdrops: San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Montaña de Oro.

San Luis Obispo gets plenty of screen time as Bullock and co-stars Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt meet and walk through Mission Plaza and along the creek next to the San Luis Obispo Art Center. (Editor’s note: It’s now called the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.)

The County Courthouse lawn becomes the outside of the San Benito police station, though the filmmakers used a set for the station’s interior. In one scene from the lawn, the Fremont Theatre’s art deco marquee fills the background.

And at one point, Pitt walks down the 900 block of Chorro Street across from the mission. He heads for the doorway of one of the apartments there, though once he’s inside, sharp-eyed moviegoers will see he’s actually in the upstairs apartments at the corner of Garden and Marsh streets.

Morro Bay’s time on film is limited to its harbor area, where Bullock’s character is supposed to live. She talks briefly with Chaplin’s character in the bar at the Great American Fish Co. restaurant — where the filmmakers hung nautical nets to style the wood interior. But they quickly decamp for her houseboat, which is moored at the Morro Bay Yacht Club.

Don’t expect, however, for most of the night scenes here to be more than vaguely familiar. It’s often hard to tell where the boat, the boxy sort more often associated with lakes than open ocean, is located.

For those interested in identifying every scrap of local imagery, it’s also worth noting that the teens’ secret clubhouse, actually a set based on the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite, was meshed onto footage of beachfront cliffs that appear to be near Montaña de Oro. The crew spent time filming there while in town, according to Tribune reports last year.

Those who attended Templeton High School might recognize the North County school’s gym in a scene where Mayweather and her partner question one of the teens.

Producers wanted to film at San Luis Obispo High School to take advantage of its mountaintop views. But in a column last year, Tribune education reporter Jeff Ballinger explained that Steven Ladd, the San Luis Coastal School District superintendent, nixed the idea.

According to Castle Rock, the crew wanted to shoot locally to emphasize that the teen killers were from a seemingly innocent, middle-class background. The Templeton district approved the deal to shoot there only after assurances from the filmmakers concerning a plot issue.

And for those who stick around for the final credits — yes, the filmmakers do give special thanks to the county, city and residents of San Luis Obispo, the city and residents of Morro Bay and, lastly, the Morro Bay Yacht Club.

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