La La Land has dazzled critics as its made its way through film festivals in Venice, Telluride (where Entertainment Weekly‘s Chris Nashawaty called it “pure movie magic”), and now Toronto. But making the Los Angeles-set musical wasn’t without challenges for its director and stars.
Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) stopped by the PEOPLE / EW / InStyle Portrait Studio at the Toronto International Film Festival, where they discussed the difficulties of making the film.
“I think what worried me the most was just losing track of the characters when the musical numbers came in – that somehow they’d feel like different people because they were singing, and then go back to being who they were in the scenes,” Gosling said
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Stone says she was focused in the beginning on nailing down what the tone of the movie was going to be, adding, “I couldn’t fully understand what was gonna be anamorphic [animation] and what was gonna feel a bit more grounded and realistic, and I think that Damien balanced that incredibly well.”
In La La Land, Gosling plays a jazz musician named Sebastian, while Stone plays an aspiring actress named Mia. The two meet and fall in love, while their careers in Hollywood begin to grow and change.
For Chazelle, one of the biggest challenges was the premise of the film itself. “Musicals are a hard sell for today’s audiences,” he admitted. “That kind of full-fledged idea of people breaking into song because their emotions inspire them to is something I love but not everyone loves as much as I do, so the challenge for this movie was to try and kind of make that feel accessible and relevant.”
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That meant an even bigger challenge for his two stars, but one that the filmmaker is confident they’ve pulled off.
“I think Ryan and Emma were the perfect actors for the roles,” he added. “I think it’s their emotions and their behavior that really just carries an audience – even an audience that’s not really into musicals – through the movie. So it was a huge burden on their shoulders to create that through-line, but that’s what I needed and that’s what they did.”
La La Land opens in theaters on Dec. 2.