STORY WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
It might seem a bit early to make Oscar predictions but “La La Land” has already emerged as a frontrunner for Best Picture.
After premiering on the film festival circuit, the bittersweet musical landed the Audience Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival before netting some of the year’s best reviews from critics.
Written and directed by “Whiplash’s” Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” has also scored plenty of Oscar buzz for its stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who play, respectively, a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress/playwright trying to navigate the world of showbiz and their growing love for each other.
“I think that it’s really, really cool that people are responding to the movie in a good way,” says Stone who was previously Oscar nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role in “Birdman.”
“I think that people seem to like it … and that’s definitely so exciting and fun to hear. … But I have no idea what’s to come. I try to just stay in the moment.”
One of the most glorious aspects of “La La Land” is the explosive chemistry between Gosling and Stone. The pair met a few years ago while making “Crazy Stupid Love” and then reteamed again for “Gangland.”
“La La Land” pivots on their partnership, proving once again they pass the chemistry test with flying colors.
Stone thinks that meeting Gosling when she was so young is one reason why they seem to click so easily on the big screen.
“In our first-ever audition together, which was seven years ago, we were asked to improvise,” notes Stone, 28. “So, we immediately had a rapport. You can find out a lot about someone if you improvise with them and if it works.
“[We also] have a similar sense of humor, and a similar sort of mentality. … Damien let us improvise a lot in this movie, and I think that really helped us build trust with each other as actors.”
Over the course of the movie, Stone and Gosling make like Astaire and Rogers and sing and dance a few lovely numbers together. The sequences, which shimmer with emotion, manage to evoke classic Hollywood musicals as well as the works of the late French director Jacques Demy, whose 1960s songfests “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort” are classics of the genre.
Stone, fresh from an acclaimed run as Sally Bowles in a Broadway revival of “Cabaret,” was already in fine voice. But getting the knack of the dance sequences required lots of work. For three months, she and Gosling kicked up their heels with separate teachers.
“I would dance with my dance teacher and Ryan would dance with his and we would spin down the dance floor at the same time, but not together,” recalls the actress. “Finally, we were, like, ‘We can dance together. It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.’
“Then we danced together and they’d be, like, ‘Hmmm, okay,’ and we’d have to go back to our respective teachers. They said, ‘That was not it yet.’ So it was closer to the end of shooting that they actually put us together.”
One aspect of the movie proved almost too demanding for Stone.
“It was so hard for me to sing and dance at the same time,” says the actress. “It was hard to Beyonce. Beyonce’s Beyonce for a reason. She can sing while she dances.”
In the movie, Stone’s character undergoes a horrible audition. The sequence was, in fact, based on an experience Gosling had where a casting agent took a phone call in the middle of his reading.
But Stone, who moved from Arizona to Los Angeles to break into acting when she was just 15, claims never to have been bothered by bad auditions. She says she never felt defeated as long as she was at least trying out for a role.
“When I first moved out to L.A. I was fifteen and I was at a youth agency and they were sending me out on a lot of Disney Channel stuff and I was pretty much the same as I am now,” says the actress.
“I was loud and seemed like I do now but I was auditioning to play a cheerleader. I wasn’t the most obvious choice at the time. So I was getting nothing, but I was going on lots and lots of auditions.
“Then, after awhile, it was just radio silence. Nothing. I didn’t get any auditions for months, and that to me is more painful than auditioning a lot and getting rejected.
“Now, not every actor feels this way. But I think if you’re auditioning a lot and getting rejected, at least you’re [trying].”
At its heart, “La La Land” is a valentine to the City of Angels. The movie opens with a glorious number set on the 105 Freeway. There’s also visits to the Rialto Theater in Pasadena, the Warner Bros. backlot and the Griffith Observatory.
Stone has her own complicated relationship with Los Angeles. For the last eight years she’s lived primarily in Manhattan yet she’s found it tough to give up her home in Hollywood.
“Obviously I moved away eight years ago but I lived in Los Angeles from the ages of 15 to 21, and it was tough and cool,” she says.
“There’s so many different areas to explore. And there’s so many different types of people who can crush your dreams or help them come true. There’s no city like it, where everyone’s sort of in the same boat.
“Almost everyone in L.A. works in the entertainment industry in some capacity. So, there’s no city quite like it.”