Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
“It was hard to just, you know, Beyonce.”
Though Emma Stone felt her inner-Beyonce challenged while making LA LA LAND, she’s ebullient and happy to speak about her experience, effusively praising director Damien Chazelle’s talent. In this musical love letter to Los Angeles, she plays “Mia,” an aspiring actress who hasn’t found her big Hollywood break yet when she meets jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who is also facing similar struggles. It’s a dazzling piece of cinema that you’re guaranteed to be feel swept away by.
Speaking at a recent La La Land-based press day, Stone said she too has faced confidence reducing moments in her career. However, she’s accepted it as part and parcel to her chosen profession.
That might also be the life of a creative person – the ups and downs, security and insecurities. It’s part of the lot in life when you’re pushing yourself and hoping to always keep growing and expanding. It’s emotionally tricky.
LA LA LAND shows Mia going on many fruitless, soul-crushing, deflating auditions where she’s treated worse than cattle. Stone said she and Gosling collaborated with Chazelle on the scenes, sharing their worst ever auditions.
We brainstormed with Damien about the auditions. He really was like, ‘Guys. Tell me.’ The audition at the beginning was Ryan’s story. He had been in an audition when he was a teenager and was crying in the middle and a casting director answered the phone. She hung up and was like, ‘Continue!’ Damien was like, ‘That’s great! I’m putting that in the movie.’
What sat with me the most was when I first moved out to LA, I was fifteen and I was at a youth agency. They were sending me out on Disney Channel and I was pretty much the same as I am now – loud. For a fifteen year old auditioning to play a cheerleader, it wasn’t like the most obvious choice at the time. So I was getting nothing. Then it was just radio silence. I didn’t get any auditions for months. That to me is more painful than auditioning a lot and getting rejected. If you’re auditioning a lot, you’re lucky. At least you’re getting a chance – when you’re trying and it’s not working out. When you don’t even get to try, it’s like you’re in a vacuum. Now, there’s opportunities in different ways to put yourself out there. I find the worst audition is the no audition.
LA LA LAND is proof that Stone felt reinvigorated by her craft, thanks to her stint on Broadway, playing Sally Bowles in CABARET.
I loved doing LA LA LAND, but CABARET was the single most greatest experience of my life. It reinvigorated how much I loved being an actor. It was absolutely mind-blowing.
Despite LA LA LAND’s regimented structure, she found heaps of creative freedom within the confines of the song and dance numbers.
I felt a lot of freedom. Everybody was so open and we had so much time to rehearse. Ryan and I, rehearsing with Mandy Moore (our choreographer), we were learning to tape dance, learning to ballroom dance and she sort of got to know how we were dancing in order to choreograph with us. Same with the music with Marius [De Vries], our music supervisor. We would go to his house and record the songs so he could hear how we were doing. And I would work with my vocal coach and I’d say, ‘Okay. I can’t belt this. So I’m gonna have to sing it here.’ It was so technical but it was free.
To nail the choreography, Stone and Gosling prepared separately for much of the three month rehearsal process.
It was separate while we were first learning – especially with the ballroom dancing. Once we got in the room together, I would dance with my dance teacher and he would dance with his. We would just spin down the dancefloor at the same time, but not together. Then we would dance together and they would be like, ‘Okay. That’s not it yet.’ It was closer to the end that they put us together.
Mia’s physicality evolves throughout the time we spend with her on screen. She transforms from a hopeful young starlet to an elegant, refined woman.
That was part of my…she is five years younger for the majority of the film than she is in the end. That just little bit of discernment was important to keep up that youthful energy.
A few of the songs in the film were sung live.
The duet and dance number in Griffith Park was recorded and we were lip syncing. “City of Stars” and “Audition” was live. There was dance. It was hard to just, you know, Beyonce.
What makes LA LA LAND so unique is that it doesn’t turn out exactly like traditional musical fantasies. Stone says,
I find it bittersweet, but I find it realistic.