There's a new musical at the theaters this season and it's set in L.A.
Damien Chazelle wrote and directed this tale about a musician named Sebastian, played by Ryan Gosling, and an actress named Mia, played by Emma Stone. The movie is a love letter to Los Angeles, relationships and jazz musicall with the feel of an old-school musical.
Chazelle brings experience from five-time Oscar-nominated film Whiplash to the project, which has already garnered multiple awards. Windy City Times sat down with him and actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Sebastian's sister in the storyline, at the Waldorf Astoria during the International Film Festival.
Windy City Times: From the opening sequence, I was hooked. How was it filming on the L.A. highway?
Damien Chazelle: It was an E-Z Pass ramp in L.A. that they were able to shut down for a weekend. We shot Saturday and Sunday. We only had that time so it was like mobilizing the army. All hands were deck and we got there very early.
Rosemarie DeWitt: Did you have megaphones?
DC: Yes, and one of the best memories was our choreographer holding this giant megaphone screaming at the dancers: "One, two, three…"
The last shot was nerve-racking because everyone gets in their cars and had to shut their car doors at the same time. It was so intense and we did a lot of takes. Everyone, of course, had to look happy!
RD: After being screamed at by a megaphone…
WCT: Wasn't some of the movie [sung] live?
DC: That number was done to playback but the smaller numbers were sung live, like Emma's audition number.
WCT: I love a gay musical, but this one was very straight in subject matter.
RD: That is interesting because people say the gay community likes campbut there is no camp in this movie. It really is pure emotion. That is the crazy feat of the movie.
We talked about the dancers already and it was all of these hetero hipsters, dancing outside their cars. We have not seen that much in the past.
DC: I think even down to the leads in the film we tried to cast against type. Even if we knew people like Ryan and Emma, we hand't seen them in a musical before. We wanted it to be full on musical but puncture it at every instance with bits of reality. We didn't want it to be caught in a rabbit hole of musical-ness.
RD: If you watch the old musicals like West Side Story, the guys aren't scary. There was always a major suspension of disbelief that you don't have to do in this movie.
DC: If we would have done ballet gang fights, we would have had to suspend belief!
WCT: Would you want this movie to be made into a stage version, similar to Once?
DC: Not that I don't love stage musicals, but it so conceived for the screen. It is a movie musical that could only exist that way. It would take a lot of adapting but if anyone wants to I'm game.
WCT: Rosemarie, how was it working with Ryan?
RD: That scene with Ryan was shot with one take. We walk around the apartment and there is a lot of information about his relationships, then we are out. We had no safety net. There was no changing it and it was a live take.
It is really thrilling to work that way when you are an actor because someone can't go in the editing room and change your performance. It is a fun way to work but not super safe.
DC: The reason we were not aware of any technicalities is because they make it seem so effortless. It feels improvised but the time and blocking were very precise.
WCT: Who was the biggest diva on set?
DC: Rosemarie, obviously.
WCT: Did you have a lot of demands, Rosemarie?
RD: I still have a lot of demands! Maybe our director of photography?
DC: Linus Sandgren she worked with on Promised Land, so we like to share Linus stories.
RD: He's very passionate, but we are kidding. Emma and Ryan set the tone and were very grounded.
DC: You would have expected them to be divas but they were the opposite.
RD: They are lovely people. They treat everyone like they are super-integral to the movie.
WCT: John Legend was easy to work with?
DC: He was. I joked that Ryan had never performed music onscreen before and John had never acted onscreen before. The scene where John talked to Ryan about pushing jazz music forward was something John came up with.
WCT: What are you both working on for the future?
DC: I am hoping to do a movie about Neil Armstrong that I have been working on. It will be non music related unless I throw in a moon dance number!
RD: I did a pilot for Amazon called The Last Tycoon that [is] set in '30s Hollywood. I am doing it with Damien's girlfriend, Olivia Hamilton, which is just a coincidence.
DC: It is a small world, but they are both Hollywood love letters.
La La Land opens nationwide on Friday, Dec. 16.