Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling first worked together auditioning for the 2011 romantic-comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” Asked to improvise a scene, Gosling remembers, “We just couldn’t shut up. It was just lots to talk about and very easy.”
That instant rapport was evident in “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Gangster Squad” and, of course, “La La Land,” the irresistible musical that netted a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations, including nods for both its leads.
And it translates off-screen as well. On a recent “La La Land”-perfect day, sitting on the balcony of a Beverly Hills hotel that owns, per Gosling, a “strong palm tree game,” the two actors, fueled by multiple vitamin drink mixes, banter effortlessly about the merits of mayonnaise, public access television and, of course, Los Angeles itself.
If, as the movie jokingly posits, L.A. is a place that worships everything and values nothing (a line Gosling cribbed from “his lady,” partner Eva Mendes), both Gosling and Stone seem to be in on the joke and appreciative of those fleeting moments when the city does seem to be lightly dusted with magic. Let’s listen in ...
When you moved to Los Angeles as teenagers, did you have an image of the city fixed in your heads?
Stone: I had been here before and seen the Hollywood sign and the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s. So I was more just figuring out how to live here. I stayed within my little Miracle Mile area, around the Tar Pits. That was mind-blowing for me, the Tar Pits. You go to the Tar Pits often?
Gosling: I don’t go there often.
Stone: Do you even know about the Tar Pits?
Gosling: Sure, I know about the Tar Pits. [Whispers to interviewer: What is she talking about?] OK. I’ve never been to the Tar Pits.
Stone: [Incredulous] You’ve never been to the Tar Pits? Ever?
Gosling: This is turning into an intervention.
Stone: It’s just fascinating that in the middle of Los Angeles, there are pits of tar with the bones of a woolly mammoth and some dinosaurs.
Gosling: [To interviewer] Can we cut this short? I have to go to the Tar Pits ... right now.
Stone: Where did you live when you moved here?
Gosling: [Long pause] Canter’s. Basically, I lived at Canter’s on Canter’s potato salad.
Stone: What part of town did you live in?
Gosling: Have you had their potato salad?
Stone: I don’t like a mayonnaise-y dish.
Gosling: You see, like, automatically, you’ve just decided that you don’t like it.
Stone: Because I don’t like it when things are held together by mayo!
Gosling: There are many ways to do potato salad. You’re just painting potato salad with this broad brush. Try the Canter’s potato salad.
Stone: OK. I will try to be more refined about potato salad — but only if you tell me what part of town you lived in?
Gosling: West Hollywood. And for me, being in L.A. as a teenager … well, when I first moved here, I saw “Rebel Without a Cause” for the first time at a movie theater. It was playing on a double bill with “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Stone: [Gasps] What a game-changer!
Gosling: Then I drove up to the [Griffith] observatory and I had this thought that I could find James Dean’s crowbar that he threw over the edge. I still maintain that it’s there.
We shot “Gangster Squad” at the observatory too. It’s so beautiful. We were there at 5 in the morning, setting up, and it was covered in fog and there were all these people doing tai chi around James Dean’s bust. So to go back for “La La Land” was very cool.
Stone: I had never been inside before. I had never seen the planetarium.
Gosling: I heard they’re doing “La La Land” tours now. You can see all the locations of the movie and other iconic Los Angeles places. Not just … you know … the Tar Pits.
Stone: The Tar Pits are sick! Everyone knows it!
Were there other places in the city considered for the movie?
Gosling: There were so many. We couldn’t fit them all in.
Stone: Like what?
Stone: We shot our last day of “Zombieland” on that bridge. So we both shot on that bridge. And we’re both Scorpios. It’s crazy!
Gosling: There are some beautiful places in Pasadena, Toluca Lake, the Valley.
Stone: You had a lot of ideas for locations. Angel’s Flight was your idea.
Gosling: I lived across the street from Angel’s Flight for five years. For five years I was trying to ride it. They would never open it.
Stone: It’s so beautiful. It was my favorite thing that we shot.
Gosling: It should be reopened. That should be up for discussion. From what I understood from the gentleman who was working there, a man who’s really an advocate for reopening it, that there was a lot of red tape keeping it closed.
Stone: Honestly, it should be reopened. It’s totally safe. You should write an article and ...
Gosling: Pacific Dining Car. Musso & Frank’s. [Stone looks at him, confused.] Sorry. I’m just thinking of other places that would have been great for the movie. The Pantry.
Stone: What’s The Pantry?
Gosling: Oh my God.
Stone: What’s the Pantry???
Gosling: Breakfast 24 hours a day. It has been around forever and it has never closed its doors. I don’t think the doors even have locks.
Did you attract much attention while you were shooting at all these locations?
Gosling: There were some angry cyclists at Griffith Park.
Stone: Very angry cyclists! We went up there on Saturdays to rehearse “A Lovely Night.” Because it’s one thing to rehearse it in the studio, but part of the genius of [choreographer] Mandy Moore was her saying, “You’ve got to get up on that hill.” Because that whole dance goes up the hill and then down and he’s doing these barrel turns at a diagonal with a camera on a crane and these rogue rocks …
Gosling: And a lot of very angry, exhausted cyclists in tight clothing mad-dogging us. Flashing lights on their helmets, shooting daggers out of their eyes.
And when it came time to actually shoot that number, you had, what, enough time time for about five takes before you lost the light?
Stone: The good thing was we had been rehearsing for such a long time, the adrenaline of knowing we had about an hour to get it right gets you through it. When you know you have to run to the bottom of the hill, wipe your face and go do it again.
Gosling: It was the adrenaline and then just the sheer force of all the good will of Damien and Mandy and [assistant choreographer] Jillian [Meyers] standing right by the camera like Care Bears, like Care Bears Countdown, willing us to succeed with every particle of their minds, bodies and spirits.
Stone: I think a lot of people think those magic-hour shots were green-screened.
Gosling: The lighting helped a little bit. Like we added those lamp posts to the pier and now I hear that Hermosa Beach is considering adding those lamp posts.
Stone: No way! Who’s telling you all this? Why does no one tell me anything?
Gosling: I watch city council meetings on TV. You should take that up.
Stone: That would be pretty sweet. It would be such a simple thing. Maybe the movie could donate a commemorative bench.
Gosling: I like how you said “the movie.” You were just about to put it on your dime. “Maybe I could ...” “Maybe … the studio could do that.”
Stone: Lionsgate is going to love it! It’s going to be such a great gift to the city!
Gosling: We did need those lamp posts. At the pier, losing the light, we had to think quickly. We were trying to find a way to start the scene and bring me to that couple. And I remembered I had seen a hat juggler at the Magic Castle, so I got a friend to get me his number and I was Skyping with him in my trailer, trying to get him to teach me hat tricks so we could incorporate a hat into that number.
And that’s the first time we hear “City of Stars.” Did you know you’d have a hard time getting it out of your head when you first heard it?
Stone: Oh, man, you loved that song from the beginning.
Gosling: It just seemed to define the film. That was the song. Initially I think it was just something I was supposed to sing, but I felt it was something we should sing together because it felt so definitive. So on the pier, I just sang a piece of it to plant a seed.
When you were a struggling actress, Emma, did you ever have an apartment in L.A. that looked like Mia’s?
Stone: No. And I was shocked. I had all these thoughts about Mia’s little tacked-on room. It’s written in the script that she’s basically in a glorified closet and it feels really gray. I built this whole world for her in my head. Then I walked onto the set and there’s Ingrid Bergman from floor to ceiling and all this colorful stuff. It was the greatest apartment in the world!
I learned more about the kind of movie we were making in that moment when I walked onto the set. I realized I can create anything I want internally for what Mia is living in but it will take place within a room that has a billboard-sized poster of Ingrid Bergman. On a day-to-day basis, that was what we were dancing with.
Gosling: We knew we’d be dancing off into space with harnesses.
Stone: Hell yeah!
Gosling: You brought your own harness from home.
Stone: Can you not … talk about that here? It’s, like, pretty private.
Gosling: I thought you were coming out with your own harness line.
Stone: That was the one point where I got pretty cocky.
Gosling: The one point?
Stone: Yeah, Ry. The one point. Ever. Because you had never been on a harness before, right?
Gosling: God, no. I’ve tried to avoid it.
Stone: And I died on a harness in “Spider Man.” And it’s really rough and tumble, especially for the boys.
Gosling: I’m just a little … you didn’t send me flowers the next day.
Stone: In my dreams I would have thought that through and sent you flowers for your harness work the next day. What a great opportunity missed!
[Awkward silence] And yet you still seem friendly …
Gosling: “Seem” being the operative word.
Stone: I was actually bummed when we finished the movie. A little relieved, but bummed too. Oct. 9, 2015. The walk across the Colorado Street Bridge was the last thing we did. Our last magic hour.
Gosling: I was really prepared to have to defend this film. So all this has been a nice turn of events.
Stone: It was just your delivery of it. It’s totally fair. To make this movie and feel excited about it and watch it and think, “I wonder if we’re the only ones who are going to feel this way.” You have no idea. Did you think it was a disaster?
Gosling: I’ve had this feeling before where you’re very proud of something and then it comes out and [laughs] it’s, “Why are you so proud of that?” It happens a lot. So I was preparing myself to defend it.
Stone: You were steeling yourself. Building walls when you should have been building bridges. But I felt the same way. I was prepared to defend this movie to the death. And I would have. But I’m glad I didn’t need to. It’s a lot more fun that way.