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‘La La Land’ Director Damien Chazelle Explains His Approach to Casting the Original Musical

Variety logo Variety 2/4/2017 Dave McNary
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La La Land” director Damien Chazelle admitted Saturday that he had obsessed over the minute details of castings of the musical comedy-drama.

“The most difficult parts to cast were the smallest parts,” he said at the Meet the Nominees panel at the Directors Guild of America Theatre. “There really are no small parts because one small thing can throw the whole tone out the window. We spent so long listening to voices.”

Chazelle was joined in a two-hour discussion by “Lion” director Garth Davis, “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, “Manchester by the Sea” director Kenneth Lonergan and “Arrival” director Denis Villeneuve. The DGA will present its best feature film director award Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton.

Moderator Jeremy Kagan questioned Chazelle about the movie’s opening scene, a song-and-dance by 150 actors on a freeway onramp called “Another Day of Sun.” Chazelle said it was crucial to avoid casting actors with a “chiseled” look.

“It was much more important to me that they look the part and act the part,” he added. “So we went for a real mix of acting style, dancing styles and looks. We were looking actors who could dance a little, and dancers would could act a little — those worlds don’t overlap as much as they used to.”

Chazelle noted that the singing needed to be conversational from stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling on down. “It had to feel like singing but not singing. We were working on that all the way into the last days of mix,” he added.

“La La Land,” which was nominated for a record-tying 14 Academy Awards on Jan. 24, was shot in 70 different locations in Los Angeles, mostly on locations rather than on lots. Locking down the space for a night-time swimming pool scene was particularly challenging.

“Each time we would book, the neighborhood would reconsider. So one or two nights a week, we would have to scout again,” Chazelle said.  “You really understand why people shoot on stages.”

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