Range is one of a performer’s most valuable assets.
A Jewish neo-Nazi; a drug-addicted teacher; a lonely man attached to a doll. A high-school pariah; a Southern progressive thinker; the cynical daughter of a washed-up movie star. Audiences have witnessed the ascent of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone from their varied roles in independent cinema into true stardom.
The actors, who have both been previously nominated for an Academy Award, recently received their second nominations together for their work in Damien Chazelle’s acclaimed box-office hit La La Land (the film that famously made Oscar history by joining a very small group of titles with 14 nominations). Channeling beloved classic and legendary Hollywood icons to imbue their performances with movie magic, Gosling and Stone surrendered themselves to the arduous process that this ambitious project required. During the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the stars received a joint Outstanding Performers of the Year Award, and talked extensively about the roles that got them where they are now. Here are some highlights.
Emma Stone on Returning to Musicals Professionally
“I did musicals growing up, but I stopped doing musicals because I was not a singer, so it’s pretty insane. I’ve taken more voice lessons now than I had then, and it’s something that I always wanted to do as a kid, but never really thought I could do.”
Ryan Gosling on His Connection to Chazelle Through Musicals
“I had been working on a film about Busby Berkley for a few years beforehand, so I was really in deep in the musical world when I met Damien. I didn’t meet with him about this film; we met about another film, but I heard he was making a musical, so I was really curious, and we ended up just talking about musicals all night, and not talking about the film we were supposed to be meeting about. He had a love of those Busby Berkley films too, but we both had a mutual love for the Gene Kelly musicals of the ’50s.”
Gosling on His Favorite Gene Kelly Musical
“It’s a toss up between Singin’ in the Rain and An American In Paris. Singin’ in the Rain is just perfect. They’re so wonderful, and it’s kind of sad that that’s a thing of the past. It’s such a wonderful medium, with no rules. You can express the character’s emotions through dance and song. It’s kind of experimental, even though it has a kind of populist façade, so I was excited that Damien was interested in not just paying homage to that, but making it feel relevant again. So it was very ambitions, but very exciting, and he has a very infectious passion for film, and really wanted to make a film that you wanted to see on the big screen, you’d want to see in the theater with people. [He wanted to] create a communal experience that you wouldn’t want to watch on your iPhone. I watch movies on my iPhone, so I’m not hating on that, but I did understand the idea of wanting to go back to the theater and creating that experience.
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dancer, and I liked that there was a masculinity about [Kelly], in the way that he danced. It felt like he could dance and kick your ass. It was tough and graceful, and it was a beautiful balance of things. I didn’t know at the time, but he was one of the major driving forces behind what he made, because he wasn’t just an actor, he was a choreographer and co-director. You can feel that in his performances, that it’s more than just a performance, it’s part of a greater vision that he had. We were very lucky to get to go to his widow’s home before we started shooting [La La Land], and she let us look through his archives, and she gave us her blessing.”
Gosling on Being Lucky in Filmmaking
“[Making La La Land] didn’t feel crazy; it just felt hard. It required luck at the end of the day. As hard as you work, at the end of the day you have to have luck on your side, because so many things have to come together for it to work. Not only did we have to be in sync for our dance routines, but the light had to be right, the weather had to be right, the camera had to be exactly right, everyone involved in the shot, like the crane operator, had to be exactly on. At the end of the day, you can work as hard as you can, but you need to have luck on your side as well, and we just had that on this film.”
Stone on the Necessity of Rehearsal Time
“I think that the challenge of it was that, for both of us, we were begging for as much rehearsal time as possible, and we got three months to dive into this experience, which I had never had on anything before—that much time to focus on a project. I learned to tap and ballroom dance and sing, and Ryan learned to play jazz piano, and that experience, bonding as a whole cast and crew before we even started shooting, was a really rare and exciting opportunity, that Damien was very passionate about creating for us. I think we were both very drawn to that experience.”
Gosling on the First Time He Met Stone
“The first time that we worked together was the audition for Crazy, Stupid, Love. We read the lines, and we did the scene a few times, but we were kind of improvising before and after the actual scene, and the directors were like, ‘Why don’t you improvise this scene?’ I don’t know if you’ve ever improvised before, but it can be a nightmare. There’s something uncomfortable about it, and it’s a scary thing to do, especially in an audition, because you don’t know your characters, you don’t know each other, you don’t have any frame of reference of what you’re going to talk about it. You have to create a scene in that moment… and we just couldn’t shut up. There was a lot to talk about it, and it was very easy. Improvisation just creates a connection, because you’re creating it together. You really have to listen to each other, and you have to really be there, so that just set a foundation for our work. In Crazy, Stupid, Love, there were whole sequences where they just had us improvise.”
“[Emma] can drink at work, and the beauty is that she seems drunk when she’s sober, and when she’s drunk you can’t tell [laughs]. What Emma does that I love is that she’s always looking for a way to be funny, because she has such a great love of comedy, and because her heroes are comedians. When she’s in a dramatic scene, she’s looking for the funny. I’m similar, and I feel that’s it’s a fun way to look, and it’s a fun game to play, and that’s unique, to be able to take something that’s dramatic and find a way to find what’s funny about it as well, without making it a comedy.”
Stone on Gosling
“Maybe it was because of the improvisation, but it just instantly felt like a team. It was very easy form the beginning. Working with Ryan is infuriating, but it’s also incredibly easy. He refuses to drink at work! [Laughs]. It’s just an indescribable thing. I respect him so much as an actor, and admire him so much. He’s very brave, and he has very good taste. He doesn’t let something slip by; he’s always looking for a way to make a scene better, or a connection between characters better. He cares a lot, and he puts in a lot of work, and he asks everyone around him to rise to that level, which is the greatest gift you can ask for.”
Gosling on the Importance of Improvisation in the Film
“[Improvisation] was a big part in the beginning, just in the creation of the characters. We had a developed a kind of ‘shtick,’ if you will, and Damien was really excited to incorporate that. We had made two movies together before, so why not pick up on that? So we would spend this time with Damien, and we would improvise these scenes, and the characters were different than when we came on, but Damien was so interested in that, and open to finding out what he could mine from that. The idea was to do all the improvising before we started shooting, so that when we were shooting we could really lock it down and plan the camera movements. So many things depended on everything being the same, to really capture the element of how they wanted to film it. So it has the element of feeling improvised, because it is, but at the same time, it doesn’t have the chaos of actual improvisation.”