Ryan Gosling lends his face and character to the first man who set foot on the moon.
The lucky collaboration with Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land, is revived in First Man, the film opening the 75th Venice Film Festival. The feature film narrates in the first person the story of Neal Armstrong (the American astronaut). It indulges in moments of his daily life, in intimate facts of his family’s life, and in moods, risks and sacrifices arising from one of the most dangerous and challenging enterprises in history. Yet to Gosling his character is not a hero.
The actor, who attended the press conference wearing a brown jacket and sporting a jaunty goatee and a moustache, especially emphasizes the training and the will power of a meek and mild man, rather than the heroic aspects of a mission that changed history.
In this film you play the role of a very private man who can hardly express his feelings. Did you ever think that Armstrong was precisely like that?
Neil was a humble and reticent man. The challenge in playing him consisted in respecting who he was while at the same time opening windows to his feelings.
What helped you build the character?
Certainly his ex-wife, his sons and his childhood friends. Also NASA, the Armstrong Museum and the biography written by James Hansen were important resources. In addition, working with excellent actors allowed me to create the right atmosphere and to be in character.
Playing a character that is a beacon for millions of people must have been hard…
First off I had to learn how to fly, which immediately explained why he could become a great astronaut and I never could. Another difficulty consisted in portraying Neil differently, underlining how special and distant from ‘normality’ he was.
This is the second time you have been directed by Chazelle, although in two completely different types of films. What qualities do you look for in a director?
First of all they must have beautiful hair (he laughs). Damien has a talent for understanding what people are interested in. Besides, he unites people through cinema. And it is precisely his love for cinema that he conveys through every film he makes. First Man narrates a story that could split the public opinion. On the contrary, Chazelle has successfully united people showing how important Armstrong’s enterprise was for humankind as a whole.
Do you think your character may be defined as an American hero?
I am Canadian, so there was no patriotism in my acting. Besides, I do not consider the moon landing as an American only success. I don’t think Neil envisioned himself as a hero. Maybe others did. He was very humble, so he shifted the focus from himself to the 400-people team who made the enterprise possible. The film is respectful of the man’s essence.