Los Angeles is alive with the sound of music in Damien Chazelle’s new movie musical, La La Land, which has been racking up rave reviews since it debuted at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month. Through the director’s eyes, clogged freeways and rambling hillside roads becomes stages for elaborate song-and-dance numbers performed by the two leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who play the movie’s young lovers Sebastian and Mia, a jazz pianist and actress, who are pursuing their creative ambitions in the City of Angels.
La La Land provides viewers with a whole new way of viewing L.A., and Stone admits to Yahoo Movies that she’s still under the movie’s spell. “I really do see L.A. differently now,” the actress says in a hotel room overlooking Toronto, a day after the movie’s triumphant premiere at the Toronto Film Festival this week. “I had never even been inside the planetarium before, and now I’ve floated through space in there! It’s a Los Angeles that’s very cinematic and could really only exist in a movie.”
In preparation for La La Land, Stone watched some of the movies that provided the inspiration for Chazelle’s stylized Los Angeles, including Jacques Demy’s 1964 classic The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. She also spent some quality time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. It helped, of course, that she and Gosling have taken previous spins around the floor together, first in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love and then again in 2013’s Gangster Squad. “There’s a comfort that comes with knowing someone for almost seven years,” Stone says. “Ryan and I were asked to improvise a lot on Crazy, Stupid, Love, so going into La La Land, it was nice to know we could throw things at each other.”
Stone remembers long rehearsal periods with Gosling to nail the movie’s dance sequences, many of which unfold in a single take, leaving little margin for error. Although, as it turned out, Chazelle didn’t mind if and when his stars made a mistake. “Damien really celebrated the idea that we’re regular people and not Broadway performers. If we tripped or something, he didn’t mind.” While shooting Sebastian and Mia’s first dance together, for example, Stone says she took a tumble over the back of a bench, but picked right up and kept on going with the scene. “Damien didn’t use that take,” she laughs.
Oscar talk is inevitably swirling around La La Land, an experience that Stone remembers well from two years ago when Birdman stormed the film festival circuit on its way to nine nominations, including her first Supporting Actress nod. The fact that she recently won the Best Actress award from the Venice Film Festival further suggests that Stone will be a fixture on red carpets from now until February 26 when that statues are handed out.
But she’s not thinking that far ahead. “There’s no way of knowing what’s going to happen in the January/February world, but right now, here in September, I’m just happy the movie is bringing people joy.” And she hopes its potential success encourages more studios to take chances on original material, musical or otherwise. “These days, there tends to be these very small movies or big tentpoles,” says Stone, who starred in one of those tentpoles, Sony’s now-defunct Amazing Spider-Man series. “I completely understand that, because it’s a lot of money and you want to make your money back, so something that’s not tried and tested is scary. It took Damien five years to get someone to say ‘yes’ to this movie!” After La La Land, that might not be much of a problem for him anymore.