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Science wasn’t specifically discussed on Friday night when the Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the stars of Damien Chazelle‘s original musical La La Land, with its Outstanding Performer of the Year Award, but anyone watching the dynamic duo onscreen or, it turns out, in person, inevitably winds up pondering the same thing: the magic and mystery of sheer chemistry.
Over the course of a two-hour conversation interspersed with clips, Gosling and Stone bantered and improvised a slew of answers to festival director Roger Durling‘s queries about their lives, careers and collaboration, which now encompasses three films: the 2011 comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love, the 2013 crime film Gangster Squad and finally the 2016 original musical for which both received lead acting Oscar nominations, accounting for two of the film’s record-tying 14 mentions.
The ceremony at the Arlington Theatre, which was jam-packed with vocal fans of both Gosling and Stone, began with an extended clip placing one of their La La Land scenes side-by-side with one from the 1930s featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, which helped to illustrate the sort of homage the newer film aimed to pay to the musical genre. That led into a montage of clips from both thesps‘ careers, separate and apart.
Once onstage, Gosling and Stone reminisced about their first meeting, at an audition for Crazy, Stupid, Love, where they improvised together and chemistry immediately was obvious. They both said that they responded to the other’s generosity, commitment and ease when it comes to adapting on the fly, all things that were necessary for what Stone described as the “technical” requirements of La La Land.
“They did a wonderful job of surrounding us with angels,” said Gosling of the people who helped him and Stone during the film’s unusually long three-month rehearsal period, including his piano teacher Lisa and the choreographer Mandy Moore. Stone remarked that they were just as concerned about perfecting the film’s tone as they were about its stylistic flourishes, noting, “That was the conversation we probably had the most.” In the end, Durling noted, they perfectly balanced tragedy and comedy, often in the same scene. Gosling regarded that as a high compliment, since comedy tends to be underappreciated in Hollywood. He said of the best comedic screen performances, such as Eddie Murphy’s multi-character challenge in The Nutty Professor remake, “How that isn’t treated as an acting feat that’s worth rewarding, I just don’t know.”
Chazelle, who is poised to become the youngest best director Oscar winner in history, closed the night by heaping praise and gratitude on his film’s stars. “When I started writing La La Land about six years ago, I dreamed about having Ryan and Emma in the movie,” he said. “No one is more shocked than I am that they actually did it — and not just that they did it, but that they poured their heart and soul into it. I still pinch myself that any of it happened.”
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