Ryan Gosling — going ga ga for La La Land
Ryan Gosling took up the role in La La Land after hearing the theme song, seizing the chance to embrace his musical side
Canadian actor Ryan Gosling knew of the theme song for the film La La Land - called City Of Stars - from the director before he received the script, and he fell in love with it.
"He e-mailed it to me, and I thought it was beautiful. I thought, that is something I do not mind spending three months learning to play on the piano. I played it more times than I could count, and I never got sick of it," Gosling said.
La La Land tells the story of two dreamers who go on a romantic song and dance journey in Los Angeles as their dreams bring them together.
Gosling plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist struggling to make ends meet. Gosling makes a surprisingly good matinee idol, reminiscent of the ones in the old MGM musicals, which this film has the vibes of.
Emma Stone is Mia, the young actress with whom he falls in love. Damien Chazelle, of Whiplash fame, is the director. La La Land is already one of this year's successes, a sure contender in the awards season.
We are at the Fairmont Royal York hotel in Toronto to talk about it.
Gosling, 36, is his usual self, never fully comfortable with interviews and always making the interviewer drag answers out of him. We talk about what appealed to him about the role, aside from the music.
"One of the strengths of this film is that although it is a musical, it is really about these two people and their relationship.
"I felt that it is very accessible in that way because even if you don't like musicals, you can still connect to this film through that relationship, so that made it special to me," he said.
My only experience with dance was 90s hip hop, so that was a little different from traditional tap. We had very patient tutors
Preparation for the role was rather personal for Gosling.
He said: "In the early stages, we had to recount audition horror stories. There is actually a scene in the film where Emma is in an audition, and it is an emotional scene she has to do - but someone walks in, and the casting director takes a phone call. That was something that had happened to me, and Damien put in the film."
Music has always been an important part of Gosling's life.
"My father was a musician, my uncle an Elvis impersonator, and my sister pursued musical theatre. So through osmosis, I gained an appreciation for it. And I play a few instruments," he said.
He dabbled with playing the piano before doing the film but never learnt it formally.
"I never had a piano, so I would try and learn when I was around one.
"Certainly, jazz piano was not something I ever thought I could play, so I really embraced this opportunity because it was a chance to just focus for three months and work with a great tutor and play beautiful music," said the Oscar nominee.
"I have seen some films that I have done without the soundtrack, and I wanted to change my name and move to another country.
"And then you see it with the score and suddenly, it is so powerful you have to be careful because you can use it as a crutch.
"We felt the power (the music) has on this film. At the end of every take when the song ended, the crew applauded because the music takes you somewhere. It makes you feel in a way that nothing else can. It was fun in this film to try and channel the power of music and cinema into a cohesive experience."
On the dance training, Gosling said: "My only experience with dance was 90s hip hop, so that was a little different from traditional tap. We had very patient tutors.
"Our wonderful choreographer Mandy Moore works on the TV show Dancing With The Stars, so she is used to trying to find the diamond in the rough. I don't know how we would have done it without them, honestly."
The father of two young girls, whom he shares with partner and actress Eva Mendes, considers himself fortunate that fame has not exacted a price from him, unlike his character.
"This character is different from me in the sense that he is much more of a zealot. He is a purist. He feels that it is his job to save jazz, so that is a lot more pressure he has on himself than I put on myself," he said.