Ryan Gosling on becoming First Man

Ryan  Gosling  landed safely  in Venice with his fellow  crew members from “First Man,”  the highly anticipated opening film at the Venice Film Festival. It turned out  to be a hugely successful mission as the film  was met with wild applause from audiences and glowing  reviews after its world premiere. Before the day was over,  the media began touting First Man as an early Oscar favourite  and could well earn trophies for both Gosling and the film’s director, Damien  Chazelle, who previously collaborated on 2016’s La La Land. The film recounts the  personal and professional journey of American astronaut Neil Armstrong as he underwent  a decade or rigorous training as part of the NASA space programme and Apollo 11 space mission.   He would eventually make his mark in history by becoming to the first man to set foot on the moon  on 20 July 1969.

“It’s  a story  about the  landing on the moon  but it’s also the story  of a man who had to go to  the moon in order to land on earth,”  Gosling said. “There’s the physical mission  but there’s also the emotional journey that Neil  is on. My interpretation is that Neil was also looking  for meaning and answers that he couldn’t find on earth and  so he was compelled to look to the universe for those answers…There’s  a duality that exists between the story that we know and the story that we  were able to piece together and interpret.”

Gosling, who has distinguished  himself in both smaller  indie films – Drive, Blue Valentine, The Ides of March a – as well as big  budget studio fare such as last year’s Blade  Runner 2049 and of course La La Land – gives  arguably his finest performance to date as Armstrong,  capturing both the man’s steely determination as well as  his introverted and cryptic personality. Gosling headlines an  impressive First Man cast that includes Claire Foy (Armstrong’s  wife, Janet), Corey Stoll and Lukas Haas as Armstrong’s fellow  Apollo 11

astronauts  Buzz Aldrin  and Michael Collins,  respectively), Ciaran Hinds  (NASA flight director Gene Kranz),  Pablo Schneider (astronaut Jim Lovell),  Kyle Handler (Deke Slayton, head of astronaut training),  and Jason Clarke (astronaut Ed White).

First  Man is  every bit  as gripping  in its portrait  of the highly successful  and memorable Apollo 11 mission  as is Ron Howard’s depiction of a nearly  catastrophic subsequent moon mission in Apollo  13. And just as Hanks added gravitas to that movie,  Gosling in his own way captures Armstrong’s steady, resolute  self. Much of the film revolves around the nearly decade-long  astronaut training programme that saw Armstrong master not only the physical  demands of space flight but the complex engineering and scientific tasks which  the Apollo 11 mission entailed.

Said  Gosling  of the mission  and its monumental  undertaking: “It’s hard  to imagine the magnitude of  risk, the potential for failure,  and the improbability of success when  a few pioneers decided to leave the earth.”

The  37-year-old  Gosling was born  and raised in Cornwall,  Ontario and the handsome  Canadian now makes his home  in Los Angeles with his partner  of the last six years, Cuban-American  actress Eva Mendes, 44, and their two young  daughters, Esmeralda, 3, and Amada Lee, 2.

Here  is what  Ryan Gosling  had to say in  Venice on Wednesday,  August 29th about his experience  on First Man. Note: the following  comments have been condensed and edited.

Photo via Getty Images

ow did you approach playing a legendary figure like Neil Armstrong?

It  was a  challenge  because Neil  was so remote and  private and fiercely introspective  and we had to honour that and also  create windows so that audiences might  experience what he was experiencing emotionally.

What  struck  you in particular  about the NASA space programme?

Everything  I learned about  the movie made it  seem all the more impossible.   It’s an incredible story and experience.   The extremes of the story were so amazing   – the idea that these astronauts were using their  flashlight of scientific knowledge to search the mysteries  of the universe and then coming home to mow the lawn and taking  out the trash. The duality of their experience and that of their  families is hard to wrap your head around.

What  was your  perspective on  how the film presents  Armstrong’s personal journey  and his life with his family  during all the intense training  and preparation?

The  film is  two stories:  one it’s about  landing on the moon  and the other is about  someone who needed to go  to the moon in order to land  on earth. Neil was going through  a lot emotionally at the time of these  missions and there was a private journey that  he was on as well as (the space flight).

What  kind of  research did  you do as part  of your preparations  for the role?

When  I first  went to NASA  and I was given  a tour by one of  the astronauts that had  just come back from the space  station. He was talking about the  perspective that being in space gives  you and to see the world floating in the  vastness of it. It’s scary but it gives you  an incredible perspective on your life. It’s amazing  because you get home and three days later you’re still honking  at people in traffic and getting back to the problems of everyday  life. It’s a perspective that’s really hard to hang onto.

Did  you meet  with members  of Armstrong’s family  (Neil Armstrong died in  2012 at age 82 – ED)?

The  sons of  Neil Armstrong  helped me a lot,  and I got to know  his (second) wife (Carol),  whose role in history is very  important. NASA opened the door, I  visited her museum dedicated to Armstrong.

Was  it gratifying  to get another  chance at working  with Damien Chazelle again  after your highly successful  work together on La La Land?

Damien  is half  Canadian and  this helps. (Laughs)  The two films I’ve shot with  him are the kind of spectacular  works we all want to see in the  movie theatres. I think Damien has  strong instincts, he knows what people  want, and he has a special gift for the  cinema. It was nice to get back to work and  dive into something that is just as vast as this – there  was so much for us to immerse ourselves in and it was a  fascinating process to get to go to NASA and get to meet with people  who were involved in these missions, to get to see what NASA is working  on now and what they were working on then and spend time with Neil’s family was  an incredible opportunity.

Apparently,  though, you’re  not a big fan of  the kind of training  you underwent in giant centrifuges and other machines  which simulate some of the conditions  of takeoff and the kinds of g-forces Armstrong  and astronauts face?

No…I  also thought  it was important  for my character to  learn the ABCs of flying so  I thought that what I needed  to do was learn how to fly. Neil  could fly before he could drive. But  not too long into my flight lessons the  instructor asked me to take the plane into  a controlled stall, and I thought “This is a  terrible idea.” This was when I understood that  there was a reason why Neil Armstrong became a great  astronaut and why I did not… There was something very  different about him and a lot of other astronauts. It also  requires a certain breed of person to get into a plane (referring  to Armstrong’s experience as a test pilot – ED) that has never been  flown before and push it to its breaking point for the sole purpose of furthering  our knowledge of aeronautics.

How do you think you would have handled  that kind of risk?

I  wouldn’t! (Smiles)…I realized very early on that I was  very different from Neil in that  way. (laughs) I can’t imagine the risks  that they took to accomplish these missions and  the sacrifices they made and that their families  had to make as well. It’s such a singular experience  and hard to relate to, really.

Photo by Emma McIntyre via Getty Images

When  you were  a young boy  growing up in Canada,  did you dream of becoming  an astronaut?

I  don’t  want to  bring down  the room but I  grew up post-Challenger  (the explosion of the Challenger  Space Shuttle in January, 1986 which  killed all seven astronauts – ED) and  there was always a sense of sadness around  space exploration and around human space flight. That  accident happened when I was very young and it was always  very fresh in my mind… An when the subject did come up it  had an inappropriate sense of melancholy around it. That’s very  different from the experience of people growing up in the 60s where these  astronauts were making the impossible seem possible. The fact is that, as Damien  Chazelle says, space adventure no longer has any iconic value for our generation. It’s  not even an adventure anymore and children aren’t dreaming of becoming astronauts anymore.

One  of the  most poignant  moments in the film  comes when Neil, at his  wife’s insistence, is explaining  the risks involved as he is about  to leave on the moon mission?

Yeah,  that was  a hard scene  to do. It’s hard  to imagine. Certainly  being a father myself, which  I think is the greatest privilege  in your life, the idea of going to  work is hard anyway for a parent. But imagine  leaving the planet for the day – it’s hard to fathom  and a lot of pressure on the family as well.

Some  people  today are  signing up for missions  to go into orbit which are  being planned in the near future. Would you  ever want to go into space?

No,  you couldn’t  pay me to go  to Mars!

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