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Choreographer Mandy Moore opens up about getting the two stars in tip-top shape for the musical's complex dance sequences

By Alexis L. Loinaz
February 21, 2017 04:08 PM
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La La Land has tap-danced its way into Oscar history with its record-tying 14 nominations — three of which are for its music. But let’s not forget, the musical also needed to move.

That was courtesy of veteran choreographer Mandy Moore (nope not that Mandy Moore). The dance pro was tasked with making sure that lead stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling could convincingly hoof it up on screen while also mastering the film’s complex dance sequences — many of which were shot by director Damien Chazelle in long, single takes.

“What was very nice was that they weren’t coming in completely cold,” Moore, 40, tells PEOPLE. “They know music, they know their right foot from their left foot. So it was very nice to have a very general sense of movement from both of them.”

But Moore, who famously choreographed the rollicking dance finale between Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, also stressed that she “didn’t want to just drill steps. I wanted them to really have a sense of dancing, and learning how to dance, and enjoying dance.”

LA LA LAND, from left, Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, 2016. ©Summit Entertainment/courtesy Everett
Credit: Summit Releasing/Everett

First up, the stars needed to get into dance-ready shape.

Moore, in full gym-coach mode, put Stone, 28, and Gosling, 36, through an intensive six-week pre-shoot training regimen that saw them do Pilates, jumping jacks, intense stretching, and a bevy of dance exercises, from tap to jazz. There were both private classes and group rehearsals, and by the time the shoot was over, the duo had trained continuously for four months.

“I knew they had to get to a place physically where they could do these nice long takes, time after time, and not only get one take and they would be so tired that they couldn’t dance,” she says.

Premiere Of Lionsgate's "La La Land" - Arrivals
Credit: David Livingston/Getty

That stamina would come in handy: In one pivotal sequence — the flirtatious hilltop duet that’s teased out on the film’s poster — the stars act, sing and dance in a six-and-a-half-minute take that has no cuts.

“You’re in training — it’s like an athlete. You don’t start, from day one, with a six-hour rehearsal. You train up to that point,” she says, adding: “I would start giving them exercises — some days it was tap exercises, other days it was a waltzing exercise, and other days, it would be a jazz-dancing-type exercise. And in those exercises, I was working on their coordination and their agility, and then also their ability to recognize and repeat patterns of movement to music.”

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Moore — who says she envisioned the dancing to be “very colorful and alive” and cites “the greats” like Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris and Umbrellas of Cherbourg as key influences — also figured out early on that both actors learned how to move very differently.

“Emma is a quick study. She likes to pick things up very, very quickly and then to dissect the movement after that: work on the texture, work on the style, work on the dynamic or the feel,” Moore explains, trotting out a rather apt, if hilarious, analogy: “She’ll get her piece of chicken and then add all of her spices after.”

Gosling, on the other hand, “likes to really marinate the chicken, and then eat it later,” Moore quips. “Ryan may take a little bit longer to get the step, but he really wants to make sure that it’s the correct texture and the feel and the dynamic.”

One other thing that Gosling apparently liked to do: keep candies in his pockets throughout the shoot.

“Ryan has an obsession with eating Red Vines,” the choreographer cracks (and she’s not the only one who got a kick out of it). “He used to put them in his pocket, and then we would be shooting the waltz scenes, and then we’d cut and I’d go up and he’d have [them]. I’d [say], ‘Where’d you get that?’ And he’d go, ‘I’ve got them right here in my pocket.’ “

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Credit: Lionsgate

From training to rehearsals to production, Moore literally put the actors through their paces. But, the occasional blister notwithstanding, Stone and Gosling stayed in lockstep with the choreographer’s vision, as they helped breathe life into an Oscar frontrunner that feels both utterly fresh and winsomely nostalgic.

“They looked like real people moving and having emotions that felt real, and they were telling stories that I think so many of us can relate to,” Moore muses. “And that dance played a part in that? I was very, very proud.”

The Academy Awards kicks off live on ABC on Sunday, Feb. 26, with a 7 p.m. ET pre-show and 8:30 p.m. ceremony. See all the Oscar nominees and get your own ballot here!