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Only In Hollywood

Damien Chazelle directs Ryan Gosling again

By: - Columnist
/ 12:20 AM September 07, 2018

Director Damien Chazelle PHOTO BY RUBEN V. NEPALES

LOS ANGELES—Just last year, Ryan Gosling and director Damien Chazelle made a splash in the awards season with their musical, “La La Land.” Based on early reviews of their new collaboration, “First Man”—about Neil Armstrong’s historic journey to become the first man to set foot on the moon—the two appear poised to dominate the awards scene again.

In January this year, we visited Damien and Ryan on the “First Man” set in Atlanta, Georgia. We watched the filmmaker direct his favorite actor and Corey Stoll (as Buzz Aldrin) as they are about to land on the moon.

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Aboard the heavily shaking lunar module Eagle, the two actors playing the pioneering astronauts watch the moon landscape unfolding right before their eyes, thanks to a gigantic screen showing craters, mountains and lava plains.

During a break from filming, Damien, who won best director prizes from the Oscars and the Golden Globes for “La La Land,” talked to us.

Excerpts from our interview:

Why did you decide to work with Ryan Gosling again? I love working with Ryan. There’s something about Ryan that just fits Neil Armstrong like a glove. Part of what I find beautiful about Neil as a character is that for someone who’s so famous and iconic, he was this introverted person who shunned the public spotlight and lived his life just to do the job that was given to him.

As a result, he’s enigmatic. For someone so famous, we know little about him, about what he was feeling deep inside as he took this trip.

So, one of the great challenges and pleasures of working with Ryan in this movie has been how to tap into what Neil might have been feeling at every step of the journey. And how to put an audience into the point of view of a person who is a mystery to a lot of us, yet still preserve a bit of that mystery.

Ryan has this mystery about him. He lets you in, but he also has Gary Cooper’s old-Hollywood star quality that maintains a mystique.

That feeds into what we’re trying to do here. So it’s a balance that has been fun trying to perfect with Ryan. And like Neil, Ryan is also an excessively hard worker, so that’s been helpful, as well.

How did you decide on how to shoot the important moon landing scene? What’s interesting about the first moon landing is how limited the footage we have of it is. It was just that one television feed that is so grainy, black and white and low resolution, obviously.

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So, to use that as our reference to build out what it might have felt to actually be there, that’s been the challenge—trying to make it feel like you yourself are on the moon. This is almost a virtual reality experience of being in Neil’s shoes, making those first footsteps yourself.

We just did a lot of our moon shooting last week and the week before.

Like many kids, you probably dreamed about being an astronaut. What did you realize when you researched about this historic trip to the moon for this film? Every kid wants to be an astronaut for a certain phase of his life when he grows up. I might have been like that for a bit of a period in my life. Then I decided that it seemed way too terrifying to go into space, so I stopped being interested in becoming an astronaut.

What made this story feel both timely and fascinating to me was not just what it does take as a human being to not just go into space, but to go as far into space as these individuals did—and to do it before modern computers. To do it in tin cans that were fueled by less than what fuels our cell phones in our pockets. To do it in such an analog and handmade way. To me, these things look like science fair projects you’d see at a high school.

They are so handmade and they’re beautiful, but they don’t look like they could withstand a trip down the highway, let alone a trip to the moon. A lot of problem solving and risk taking went into the mission. And yeah, the sacrifices.

But thankfully, I’ve had an amazing cast and crew. The studio has been supportive and let us tell the story the way we want. It’s been hard work.

Can you talk about the visual style of the movie? The biggest inspiration I got in trying to put this movie together and how it should look and feel has been going back to the original documentary footage of these missions. It’s from the imagery that you got from these astronauts who weren’t professional photographers. They brought either Hasselblad still cameras or little 16mm film cameras and captured these incredible images that to me are very different from what we think of as space today.

We think of space today as very clean, sleek, spare and high tech. Those machines looked more like World War II-era or garage-made machines.

So, I wanted everything in the movie to have that feeling of analog, handmade, gritty, dirt under the fingernails, sweat under the brow, lo-fi kind of feeling.

That’s what we’ve been trying to do. We want to remind you as an audience member about how crazy and dangerous these missions were back when space flights were not as routine as now. It was an insane risk at every given instance. That lived in, scary, tactile feeling has been the goal.

How helpful has Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) been? Nasa has been wonderful and very helpful in providing us with information, but also in opening their doors. We sent the whole cast to a Nasa-supervised boot camp for two weeks.

For several years, Josh Singer, the writer, our producers and I routinely went to Nasa in Houston or Cape Canaveral in Florida and tried to get a feel of the place and talked to the people.

A lot of them are still there—from mission control, obviously many of the former astronauts, people in this movie like the families of Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

There are so many people to get insights and information from. So, apart from reading the literature and working with Jim Hansen, who wrote the book that this [film] is based on, it was a lot of trying to hit the ground, talking to people and seeing stuff ourselves.

E-mail rvnepales_5585@yahoo.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.

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TAGS: Damien Chazelle, Entertainment, First Man, news, Only In Hollywood, Ryan Gosling
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