Di­rec­tor Damien Chazelle talks us through his mis­sion to bring La La Land fol­low-up First Man to the big screen

Empire (Australasia) - - THE ULTIMATE SPRING PREVIEW -

I WAS FIRST ap­proached by pro­duc­ers of the project back in 2014 right af­ter I had just come back from Sun­dance where I pre­miered Whiplash. At the time I wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested in do­ing a biopic. They gave me this book by James Hansen called First Man and

I sat with it for a lit­tle bit and I started be­com­ing fas­ci­nated specif­i­cally with the mis­sion to the Moon.

Now we’re com­ing up to 50 years from the event and the ques­tions it brings up is, “What’s the cost and the worth of a goal like that? What toll does it take?”

It’s one of these things that I think you ei­ther take for granted or you try to grap­ple with it and it be­comes un­fath­omable be­cause it’s just too big for us to re­ally wrap our heads around.

I wanted to peel back all that mythol­ogy and see the messy re­al­ity un­der­neath. The more read­ing I did the messier that re­al­ity ap­peared to be, and so the more in­ter­ested I be­came.

I came back to the pro­duc­ers and said I didn’t want to do a cra­dle-to-grave biopic, that what I wanted to do was ba­si­cally a mis­sion movie, a movie about the steps that peo­ple took to ac­tu­ally step foot on the Moon told from the per­spec­tive of the per­son who made that first step. So lots from Neil’s per­spec­tive. Very con­fined to his per­spec­tive, to what he was see­ing and feel­ing both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. And it would just cover those seven years from his first join­ing NASA to his land­ing on the Moon.

Uni­ver­sal was into it. I met the screen­writer, Josh Singer, who I had heard a lot of good things about. He had been work­ing on a script called Spot­light that hadn’t been made yet. We got to work re­search­ing.

For some­one who, at a cer­tain point in his­tory, was the most fa­mous in­di­vid­ual on the face of the planet, Neil was so un­known. He’s this sort of blank slate for peo­ple. To be­come that first per­son on the Moon he also served as a kind of can­vas, I think, for not just the na­tion but the world’s dreams and hopes to be pro­jected on to. For any­one who’s been canon­ised or turned into mar­ble in that way, it can be re­ally in­ter­est­ing to chisel away at that, undo all of that, and try to lo­cate what was un­der­neath. And there’s a very or­di­nary hu­man be­ing un­der­neath. There’s some­one who was strug­gling day to day, deal­ing with a lot of grief and fail­ure and loss and trauma.

I think that spoke to the larger idea that we re­ally wanted to get across, which was that this was fuck­ing hard. It came at a very high cost not just fi­nan­cially, but cost in terms of lives, in terms of emo­tions, fam­i­lies, years. That be­came some­thing that was re­ally im­por­tant to us in the telling of this, to try to com­mu­ni­cate just how dif­fi­cult it was.

Ryan and I al­ways talked about want­ing to make it feel like a doc­u­men­tary, like you were there with the crew in the ’60s. In the Arm­strong house­hold, in the cap­sule with the as­tro­nauts. That it wouldn’t feel like a movie per se, but that it would feel like this very in­ti­mate, up-close and per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

I’m pretty happy with the film. I’m in the last few weeks of post-pro­duc­tion where you’re re­ally not go­ing to have the chance to get the thirty thou­sand foot view and get that per­spec­tive. So you just have to kind of go on in­stinct and on faith a lit­tle bit for those last few weeks as you grind through to the fin­ish. So I prob­a­bly won’t get that per­spec­tive un­til prob­a­bly well af­ter the movie pre­mieres. But with as much in­for­ma­tion or con­text as I feel like I can have at this point, I’m pretty ex­cited about it.

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