Again and again there are directors and actors who seem destined for each other: Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. These two men also go well together: the 33-year-old American director Damien Chazelle and the four-year-old Canadian actor Ryan Gosling. First Chazelle let his leading actor dance through “La La Land” alongside Emma Stone. Now he puts him in a rocket as Neil Armstrong in “Departure for the Moon”. “Ryan was my first and only choice for the role,” says Chazelle. “And I can’t imagine I would have made the film without him.” Gosling’s film partner Claire Foy, who plays Armstrong’s then-wife Janet, adds, “He’s just a fantastic actor.” We meet Ryan Gosling at Universal Studios North of Los Angeles. He’s waiting in an inconspicuous trailer, wearing jeans, battered boots, a tattered T-shirt and tattoos on his forearms.
Mr. Gosling, you are considered picky when it comes to choosing your roles. Why did you want to play Neil Armstrong of all people?
I’m always looking for challenges and this role has brought many. Another crucial point was that I realized: I don’t know anything about Neil Armstrong.
What surprised you about the person?
During my research, it became clear to me how bitterly this man defended his private life. It was actually impossible because he was so in the center of interest. Even so, he managed to keep the things he was struggling with privately out of the spotlight and put the focus on his missions. That interested me. The more I read about him, the more I wanted to play that man.
Then where did you find the emotional fodder for your Armstrong study?
At the end of his life, he and his family opened up a little more. After his death we were able to speak to the family. But then there was this overwhelming public need to know everything about this family. That’s why they tried to protect themselves. That was exactly the right reaction. They even succeeded, which I find amazing. This is a topic that also concerns me.
Because you too are a figure in public life?
I could identify with him on this human level. I didn’t experience anything that made him professional. But I could understand the human side. I think it’s hard enough as a person to find one’s way and master the challenges of life. When your life and the dynamics of your family suddenly stand in the context of one of the most important missions in human history, I imagine it to be incredibly harsh. I felt compassion for this family in a way that I did not expect.
Even as a young actor you decided not to share your private life with the public. Why?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. Unfortunately, there is no manual that you can use as a guide to deal with the situation if you suddenly become familiar. Unfortunately, it wasn’t exactly as you describe it either. I had to learn my lesson the hard way to draw the right conclusions from my mistakes. In the end, I just did what felt right. This is exactly why I admire Neil and Janet Armstrong so much: They weren’t prepared for that attention. And still handled it very well. And they definitely got a lot more attention than me.
To what degree did you have to become an astronaut yourself to play one?