Onscreen and in real life, Ryan Gosling is often a man of few words … and many soulful glances. That makes him the perfect actor to portray Neil Armstrong, the famously taciturn astronaut who in 1969 became the first terrestrial citizen to set foot on Earth’s moon. Damien Chazelle’s new film, First Man, depicts that momentous accomplishment, as well as the years of professional failures and personal tragedies that led up to it.
Even as he was on the cusp of making history, Armstrong kept his public commentary to a minimum. In this exclusive clip from First Man, which opens in theaters on Oct. 12, Armstrong and his moon mission partner, Buzz Aldrin (played by Corey Stoll), face a press corps eager to get some money quotes for their stories. And while Buzz is willing to oblige — even joking about bringing his wife’s jewelry to the moon with him — Neil would clearly rather be somewhere, anywhere else. Asked what extra item he’d stash in the rocket if he could, he provides a total killjoy answer: “If I had a choice, I’d take more fuel.” (Watch the clip above.)
Gosling was similarly succinct at a Toronto International Film Festival press conference for First Man earlier this month, where the film received a rapturous response that vaulted it into the Oscar conversation. “I think as soon as I learned what the moon was, I learned that a man named Neil Armstrong walked on it,” the actor said about his initial exposure to Armstrong’s story. “He was always synonymous with the moon, but like the moon, I knew very little about him.”
The original moon walker passed away in 2012, so Gosling wasn’t able to take a master class in Armstrong’s life from the man himself, but he credited the astronaut’s friends and family — including his first wife, Janet, and their two sons, Eric and Mark — with providing invaluable assistance. Stoll, on the other hand, did receive some firsthand advice from the now 88-year-old Aldrin. “Buzz came to my last day of shooting, which was nerve-racking,” he said. “He said he could recommend somebody to look at my hair.”
For his part, Chazelle said that Armstrong’s aura of mystery — the direct result of his withdrawn nature — was one of the things that drew him to telling his story. “I’ve always been interested in people who have a hard time communicating their emotions in the ‘normal’ way,” the Oscar-winning La La Land director remarked. “With Neil, I think there was such poetry looking at his life in the story of someone who in many cases seemed to sublimate his emotions into his work. That became the throughline for us. How that makes it difficult for someone who has his eyes locked on the sky to lock his eyes down on Earth and actually engage and communicate.”
First Man blasts off into theaters on Oct. 12. Watch the trailer:
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