La La Land is a film so perfectly suited to its stars that it's incredible it wasn't tailor-made just for them. It's thoroughly modern, but with old-fashioned sensibilities. It's 2016 through a retro filter, feeling as of another time as Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who always felt plucked from the classic Hollywood era. With the release of their third film together, they have become something of a Bogart (Humphrey) and Hepburn (Katharine, not Audrey) of this generation, a likeness both stars have surely heard before now, though perhaps not in the way director Damien Chazelle sees it.
"How do you feel about being described as Bogart?" Chazelle joked.
"I have to say, I get it," Stone playfully shrugged during a sit-down with ET. "Like, in terms of the Bogart thing, I get it. My voice is quite deep," she deadpanned, before smiling and considering the similarities. "Well, you know, thanks!" she bashfully shrugged again. "That's a nice thing to say."
It's a comparison half a decade in the making, ever since Gosling and Stone first came together onscreen in 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love. He played a womanizing playboy, and she was the one woman who initially rejects his advances. Even then, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa knew they had found something special, singling out the scene where Stone and Gosling's characters begin to fall in love as their favorite in the film. "Emma and Ryan had crazy chemistry and love for each other in real life," they said, "and get on like a house on fire."
"Emma Stone is just, like, constantly opening Christmas presents," Gosling put it at the time. "There's nobody like her. As soon as she signed on to the film, I knew it was going to be good." Stone echoed a similar sentiment during the film's junket, explaining, "He's so genuinely funny and such a good--" She paused. "I keep calling him teammate, but he is! He's a good teammate. He's really fun to act with and hang out with. He's just...I dunno. He's the best!"
Director Ruben Fleischer got the team back together two years later for Gangster Squad, where Gosling played a '40s-era playboy cop and Stone was the social etiquette coach torn between him and mob boss Mickey Cohen. Even in the period drama, the pairing brought a touch of rom-com -- "Magic? Maybe he's got a magic spell on him," Stone laughed while trying to explain her other half's charm. "There's an aura there. His aura is purple." -- which made for an easy transition into their latest collaboration, La La Land.
"I forget who signed on first," Chazelle explained. (For the record, Stone says she was signed on first and found out Gosling was attached when he texted her.) "But it was this weird thing where it was completely, at least from my point of view, this independent thing. I initially met Ryan about something else, earlier. We started talking about musicals. I met Emma when she was in New York doing Broadway. These two things kind of converged as soon as the idea started to rumble of, Oh! Maybe not only would they do it individually, but maybe I could have them both do it and reunite them as a pair."
In wunderkind Chazelle's follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Whiplash, Gosling plays a struggling pianist who falls for Stone, an aspiring actress, over a series of song and dance numbers. Though their director admits he felt some pressure not to ruin his stars' streak, he needn't. Stone is sweet and sad and funny, and an early Best Actress frontrunner. Gosling plays his part with square-jawed determination and is as charming as he's ever been. Together, they're swoon-worthy.
"We really hit it off," Stone recalled to ET at La La Land's premiere at the Venice Film Festival of how she knew there was something special the minute she met Gosling. "We've been just pals ever since. He is a wonderful person, but also an incredible actor. It's a lucky thing that we get to do three. It's not bad."
If Chazelle has his way, he could be responsible for the fourth, too. "I think he is just literally one of the greatest actors alive right now," he said of Gosling, who he is set to direct in a Neil Armstrong biopic. "I will work with him a hundred times more if he'll let me." Whether there's a role for Stone in the movie, Chazelle enthused, "I'm loyal to talent. I would love to do that again." As far as he's concerned, he does "get" the comparison to Bogart and Hepburn, the duo who starred in The African Queen 65 years prior.
"What she and Ryan do, sometimes it looks effortless and it looks easy, but it's really not," he explained. "And it's this balancing act between old Hollywood and new Hollywood, between reality and this idea of movie stardom, which is really rare. I think it's incredible." He turned to Stone, his star and the Bogart to Gosling's Hepburn. "You shouldn't sell yourself short."