by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
Something Emma Stone says in an off-hand way when she and Ryan Gosling pick up the Outstanding Performers of the Year from Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) on Friday night really sticks. Seated beside Gosling, her co-star and co-nominee for the acting Oscars in LA LA LAND, Stone plays with the 20’s fringe on her dress, then offers this insight: “movies make us feel less alone, I guess, that’s what they did for me.” In that small statement, you can see her whole career encapsulated. How she watched Steve Martin’s THE JERK from 1979. “I love The Jerk. It’s my dad’s favorite movie.” How she built her own world of characters. “We laughed at that movie over and over. It was a very important bonding moment. Should I be on the couch?” Ryan Gosling, who is known for not being flashy about his secret good-guy deeds like privately playing music for children in hospitals, looks at Stone with a rapt expression. But when asked about his own experiences growing up to be an actor, he deflects it with “at 15, I was all about the scratch. Making the paper.” “And he’s still like that,” Stone quips, “all about the money.”
Their chemistry is fun to watch. Emma adds that her “favorite characters have a wide-eyed nature to them.” “As a viewer I’m drawn to comedy with a hopefulness to it. It’s about being uplifted in a way by film. That’s what comedy did for me. I escaped into those characters — I can’t brush them off as just funny. Gilda Radner, John Candy, Bill Murray… Shirley MacLaine shaped me,” Ryan’s co-star from CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE shares.
“The films that I love the most have a combination of both – someone that can break your heart and make you laugh, and a story that can break your heart and make you laugh, at the same time.”
Gosling throws a curveball in the conversation, but he’s actually serious and unapologetic. “It’s crazy that Eddie Murphy can sit at a table and play nine characters and that’s not rewarded.”
This affirmation of comedy’s power comes after he says, “as a comedian you kind of start by making your Mom laugh. Right?”
Gosling, who got his start out of Canada as a Disney Channel song and dance import before crossing over into mainstream films, reveals his far-flung odds for making it in Hollywood. “My mom had a membership to the library movie thing, because they were free. I saw Abbott and Costello, any duo film, Martin and Lewis and Danny Kaye, all of them.” He recalls that he liked teams because the action was shared and it felt real. “I’d like to do that with Emma or Steve Carell [reteam]. Anytime you can do that, it’s fun.”
He will call Emma, “Emsies” to prod her.
“Emsies? I’ve never called him Rysies,” she retorts. “Ryan can be infuriating to work with, I’m kidding.”
A flash of paparazzi lights whizz across Ryan and Emma at various moments during the evening.
“Every time I change positions, these guys take a million pictures,” Ryan notes.
And then it’s back to LA LA LAND, the realities of getting a musical made, including three months of jazz piano lessons for Ryan, two hours, almost every day. Director Damien Chazelle, already famous for Oscar-winner WHIPLASH, is on hand. Ryan singles him out.
“Damien, can I tell the story about how we first met?” After a wary nod, Gosling lets it slip.
“When I first met Damien, we first met at a restaurant. I tapped him on the shoulder, and he gave me this look like motherf@#%. ‘Who’s this guy to put their hands on me?’ I thought, he’s got a fight in him, that I respect, and I thought this could come in handy later.”
On a serious note, the DRIVE actor says “I think he remembers the moment he fell in love with cinema. Damien can make you feel that.”
On Gene Kelly as an influence, Gosling nails his importance. “I liked the masculinity about him, he could dance and kick your ass. Tough and graceful. A balance.”
It wasn’t until recently in his career Gosling found out Gene Kelly was involved in every facet of show business. “I didn’t know he wasn’t just a dancer, he was a choreographer, producer, and more.” Both actors actually visited the home of Gene Kelly’s widow before making LA LA LAND. “She let us look at his archive, sort of gave us her blessing.”
Damien Chazelle takes over, like a true director who has so far made the most inventive hits to come out of Hollywood in a long time. The story he tells is as awesome as the dreamer plot in LA LA LAND, now nominated for a record 14 Oscars. When he first had the idea for the musical, he told people “our dream is Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. People said ‘yeah good luck with that.’ I guess no one is more shocked than I that they agreed to do it. That they poured so much into these roles. That Ryan learned jazz piano in three months to become a virtuoso. Emma did so much.” The movie is “effervescent and heart breaking and again they make it seem effortless. I still pinch myself that any of it happened. Really the reason I wanted you in the movie is because I think you are two of the best performers working right now.”
LA LA LAND will take its place in movie history at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, but it’s already taken so many awards that Ryan Gosling says “I thought making it was enough, then the next thing happened, and that was enough. All the awards are just icing on the cake.”
For more information about Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which runs through Feb. 11, visit sbiff.org.
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