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Hot Oscar contender La La Land milks unpleasant experiences of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling

For La La Land, a hot contender for next year's Oscars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone tap their early days starting out in Hollywood

Looking at them now, it is hard to imagine a time when A-list stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were struggling actors trying to make it in Hollywood.

For their new movie, La La Land - a retro-style musical that has become a hot favourite for the Oscars next year - the pair revisited those early days to play Mia, an actress, and Sebastian, a musician, who fall in love as they try to break into show business.

Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, 2014) asked the pair to share their most ego-bruising experiences and humiliating knock-backs so he could incorporate some of them into the film, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

"Damien asked us to share our audition experiences and he turned one of mine into the opening scene for Emma, in which she's getting emotional in an audition and someone takes a call in the middle of it," Gosling tells The Straits Times.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto, the 36-year-old says the memory stings to this day.

ON BREAKING INTO SHOW BUSINESS

I did a few things and they slowly stopped using my services... Because there were people like Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears on the show and it was more clear that that's the direction they were headed in.

RYAN GOSLING, who was one of the child stars of Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club

I definitely had the idea of giving up - I just didn't do it. And I've had the idea, in the middle of film shoots, of, like, 'Well, after this one, I'm just not going to ever act again because I'm just not cut out for it. What am I doing?'

EMMA STONE

"I don't remember what role it was for, but it was a highly emotional scene and I was up all night trying to get myself into that state. And when I walked in, I got about a minute into it and the lady just took a call.

"I was not sure if I should keep going or stop and then I looked at her and she gave me the 'just keep going' hand signal and so I was just kind of crying and saying lines, but no one was listening. She just went on having a conversation about lunch."

He jokes that he is still waiting to hear back from that casting agent, but fans of the star already know what happened after that: He would score his first big hit with the romantic tearjerker, The Notebook (2004) and go on to win Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for dramas such as Half Nelson (2006), Lars And The Real Girl (2007) and Blue Valentine (2010).

Stone - who appeared with Gosling in the romantic comedy, Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and crime thriller Gangster Squad (2013) - also had a bumpy ride to the top.

In fact, she contemplated throwing in the towel many times before landing her first feature film, the Judd Apatow-produced comedy, Superbad (2007).

She moved to Hollywood to pursue acting when she was 15. Accompanied by her mother, she had her share of bad auditions in those early years.

At one point, "all the auditions dried up".

"I didn't get parts in anything", recalls the 28-year-old, who has since received an Oscar nomination for her role in last year's Best Picture winner Birdman and this year took home the Best Actress gong at the Venice Film Festival for La La Land.

She has also found commercial success with such movies as Zombieland (2009) and The Amazing Spider-Man franchise (2012 to 2014), but has not forgotten how ego-bruising it was trying to get work when she was an unknown.

The scene in La La Land she most relates to is one in which Mia gets called for a second audition for a part, only to be abruptly dismissed after uttering a single line.

"That I definitely experienced quite a few times, especially in pilot season, when you're going on all these auditions (for new television shows) and these casting directors are seeing so many people. Sometimes, they know right away that you're not right for the part when you walk in," she says.

 

"And then, I got no auditions, which is worse than getting auditions in which you get rejected. It's a terrible feeling when you're living in a place and that's all you want to do and nobody is sending you any auditions.

"That was my first period (in Hollywood). And I thought, 'Am I going to go back home now?' Because I was being home- schooled and I was 15."

The turning point came when she landed a part on a 2004 reality TV show called In Search Of The New Partridge Family. The series did not go far - only one episode aired - but that was how she met her manager.

"And he's still my manager to this day. He's in the hallway now. So that solidified my staying there and then auditions were more frequent."

Yet, she still has moments of doubt about whether she made the right career choice.

"I definitely had the idea of giving up - I just didn't do it. And I've had the idea, in the middle of film shoots, of, like, 'Well, after this one, I'm just not going to ever act again because I'm just not cut out for it. What am I doing?'"

Stone credits the career she has to the unwavering support of her parents, who allowed her to drop out of high school and pursue her obsession with acting.

"They're both very 'seize the day' and instilled in me this mentality of 'If you know what your dream is, work to achieve it'.

"I was incredibly lucky that financially, they were able to help me to do that. Without that, it would've been impossible."

These days, she and Gosling each have diverse, enviable careers. But neither had danced nor sung in a movie before La La Land, which features several elaborately choreographed musical numbers.

Gosling also had to learn to play jazz piano because he refused to use a body double, practising four hours a day for three months so he could tickle the ivories convincingly.

The actor - who is married to his The Place Beyond The Pines (2012) co-star Eva Mendes, 42, with whom he has two daughters aged two and six months - says he and Stone were able to get it right because they had three months to prepare.

"It's more time than you have on most films and we had wonderful tutors. I'd spend part of the day playing the piano, part of the day dancing, part of the day working on our songs and then we'd work on the screenplay. It was immersive and I had a lot of fun."

Gosling fans will know that the star did a fair bit of singing and dancing in the early 1990s, when he was one of the child stars of Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club.

But he was not exactly the best at it then, especially compared with his co-stars, many of whom would later become successful pop stars.

"I did a few things and they slowly stopped using my services," he says drily. "Because there were people like Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears on the show and it was more clear that that's the direction they were headed in, so obviously they did much more of that than I did."

Stone had always wanted to sing professionally and did so on Broadway from 2013 to 2014 in a revival of the musical, Cabaret.

But Gosling thinks La La Land may appeal to viewers who are not big fans of musicals.

"I'm not necessarily a musical fanatic, but this felt like it had the potential to be accessible to those who didn't love musicals because it's about these two people and their relationship.

"I felt like if we could get that part right, it could create a fun experience for the audience.

"And if people could have as much fun watching it as we did making it, then we'd have a shot at having something that was going to work."

•La La Land opens in Singapore tomorrow.

Review of La La Land

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2016, with the headline 'Bumpy ride to the top'. Print Edition | Subscribe