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Damien Chazelle on ‘La La Land’ Tying Oscar Record: ‘I’m a Little Speechless’

Variety logo Variety 1/24/2017 Kristopher Tapley
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It’s almost unfair to put Damien Chazelle on the spot, his mind reeling from a record-tying lineup of Oscar nominations for his film “La La Land,” but it’s hard not to be curious how this level of industry adulation makes him feel. His work now sits alongside “All About Eve” and “Titanic” in the Oscar history books, after all.

“When you mention those movies, it makes my head spin even more than it’s spinning,” he says, calling from Beijing where he’s promoting the international release of the film. “I’m a little speechless.”

Indeed, he’s having trouble finding the words. So I suggest something that number, 14, represents that sets him a bit at ease: It means many of his collaborators are being celebrated for their work on the film, too.

When “La La Land” broke the record for Golden Globe wins earlier this month, Chazelle told me at the time that whenever his name was called for best picture or best screenplay, he couldn’t process it and fear seized him, because he knew that he had to go up there and make a speech. But when it was Emma Stone’s name that was called, or Ryan Gosling’s, or composer Justin Hurwitz’s, he was much more comfortable, much more capable of enjoying the moment.

“The one thing I can say without sounding like a stuttering maniac is this means that so many people who came together to make this movie for me have been recognized, and that just means the world to me,” he says. “I got to see firsthand how much work and inventiveness and sleepless nights they brought to this movie. I’m filled with gratitude.”

At 32 years old, Chazelle has been fired out of the cannon at a staggering velocity. Three Oscars went to his previous film, “Whiplash,” and “La La Land” will no doubt pull in more than that. And launching headlong into his next project, “First Man,” the expectations will no doubt be off the charts. But as a young artist still in many ways finding and exploring his voice, he’s got the right attitude.

“In a weird way I guess I’m not even thinking too far into the future at this moment,” he says. “You’re stunned and in a daze and you have no choice but to live in the present. I just feel like I’m right here, right now. Maybe this means it’s going to be one long, inexorable decline after this. But I hope not!”

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