La La Land, the jazz musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is primed to be the big winner at this season’s award ceremonies. We spoke to the film’s music director Marius De Vries about why people have fallen in love with the film, how Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone adapted to the roles and if he thinks La La Land should be heading to the stage.
Why do you think everyone has fallen in love with La La Land? Was there a point on set when you knew you were making an instant classic?
“I think it’s just it’s caught a spirit that’s to do with magic, dreaming and romance. But you never really know how people will respond until after. If you’re not slightly scared when making something it means you’re not taking enough risks and if you’re not taking enough risks then you’re not making something that’s special.”
Were you surprised at how quickly Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone took to their roles?
“They’re both very bright and they have very engaged creative minds. I remember late one night sitting in the studio with Ryan after we’d done a another vocal session, we were saying how tired we were and how exhausting the process was becoming at times, and he just looked at me and said: ‘Yeah, but we’re trying to create magic and that’s not easy.'”
Who in current day music do you think embodies the spirit of jazz today?
“In LA there’s thriving alt-jazz community involving Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus. There’s tons of creative jazz around and what’s interesting is how it’s reaching out to other genres and cross-fertilising, which speaks to one of the central themes of La La Land – the creative tension between John Legend’s character and Ryan Gosling’s character about jazz’s purity but also how it needs to adapt and I don’t think that’s a question that’s asked in the film with a clear sense of right and wrong to us.”
There’s been some criticism of the film for the appeared lack of diversity in a film about jazz. How do you respond to that?
“I think it’s a discussion rather than an accusation. There’s always a lot of discussion around issues like this and for sure, in terms of casting and the philosophy of how we put it together, Damien [Chazzelle, director]’s approach was always thoroughly inclusive. I personally don’t see the issue. We have John Legend playing a principal cast member and crucially involved in that discussion and, as I said, I don’t think it’s a discussion where there’s a right and a wrong answer about purity as opposed to diversity and modernisation.
The opening number is as colour sensitive as it could possibly be. For me, I saw that discussion and really didn’t pay that much attention to it as I thought that’s just the sort of white noise that appears around a project like this when the Academy Awards are approaching and one film every year seems to attract more of that discussion than others. But I honestly don’t think it’s a legitimate discussion of La La Land.”
There are a lot of references to Singing In the Rain throughout the film, Debbie Reynolds’ death must have devastated you all…
“That’s hit us very hard and I think especially for Ryan. Debbie Reynolds and her performances were sort of a touchstone as he developed his approach towards being in a musical.”
You’ve worked with both Damien Chazelle and Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet) on musical projects, but who was more intense?
“I think they were both equally intense and the first thing I’d say that’s true about both of them is that when you come out of the end of making a film with them, you really know you’ve done it. They’re extremely intense experiences and they’re extremely demanding and within that lies the excellent and the specialness and the uniqueness in what they create as they just won’t accept compromise.”
Emma Watson was originally cast as Mia in the early stages but she dropped out. What happened there?
“She was one of the originals, who were cast with Miles Teller, and with Emma I’d actually started working with her on the vocal process and we’d started singing together. Then one day she came in and we were really getting on and she said ‘I’m trying out for another project [Beauty and The Beast], would you mind helping me with that as well?’ so I thought that would be good for our bonding process. So, I helped her sing a couple of Disney songs and packaged up the demos for her and they were sent to the director and then the two projects started to look as if they were going to clash, schedule wise, and she made what must have been a very difficult decision. But she decided that she was better off being Beauty than Mia and so we had to re-think the casting.”
There’s been some early talk about translating the film to stage. How do you feel about that?
“Well, that wouldn’t be up to me but I think it would bring its own challenges, its own excitements and also potentially its own problems. It’s a huge job to translate something that is written for the cinema, but also firmly rooted in the history of cinema as an integral part of the fabrication of its creation, and to put that in the theatre you suddenly have a different language to draw on and it’s not necessarily symmetrical. But we’re also talking about Moulin Rouge on stage, which is in development at the moment. So it’s a similar discussion. We’re talking about it; it’s all I can say at the moment.”