Damien Chazelle On ‘La La Land’ And How He Was Influenced By ‘That Thing You Do!’

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One of the many, many, nice surprises from La La Land – which premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival to almost universal acclaim – was the appearance of Tom Everett Scott. I couldn’t get it out of my head that this piece of casting by director Damien Chazelle couldn’t have been by accident. Here’s the director of Whiplash (a movie about drumming by a director with a background in jazz drumming) casting Shades from That Thing You Do! (a drummer who loves jazz). This was too perfect to be a coincidence.

At one of the many events that a person attends while covering a film festival, I ran into Chazelle and mentioned That Thing You Do! and his eyes lit up with excitement. Okay, I was on to something! So, of course, when I met Chazelle at his hotel in Toronto for our scheduled interview, there was no way I wasn’t going to explore whatever relationship Chazelle has with That Thing You Do! and how it affects his filmmaking today. Hey, if nothing else, we now know that Emma Stone does a great Jimmy Mattingly singing, “I quit. I quit. I quit. I quit, Mr. White.”

La La Land stars Stone and Ryan Gosling as two almost literally star-crossed lovers who sing and dance their way through the bright colors of a nostalgic, modern day Los Angeles. It’s an infectious movie that’s just about impossible not to like. Ahead, Chazelle talks about That Thing You Do! a lot (this is my fault, but I am not sorry); his next project, a movie about the Apollo 11 mission that he’s working on with Spotlight’s Oscar winning screenwriter, Josh Singer; and he responds to Miles Teller’s Esquire interview in which the Whiplash star gave his account of why he wasn’t in La La Land

I just road in an elevator with Peter Berg. He thinks you are talented.

Oh, really? Oh, that’s awesome. I’ve never met him. I remember seeing Lone Survivor when I was editing Whiplash and I told my editor to go see it, too. And you’d think it would have nothing to do with Whiplash, except that there was something about any movie that kind of can make you feel the physical pain of characters. Which he really pulls off with those fucking tumbles down the hills. I thought that stuff was like so hard to watch.

So, how close were you to bringing back Cap’n Geech & The Shrimp Shack Shooters for La La Land?

[Laughs.] This close.

They could have been in there somewhere.

I don’t know if I told you the story of when I cast Tom Everett Scott in the movie…

When I saw him show up, I couldn’t help think, “Wow, he got Shades!”

I remember it was something like his name came up and I was like, “Oh my God, you think we could get him?” But then I remember telling Emma and Ryan, not thinking that it would mean much to them. Emma asked me, “Hey, so who did you cast?” And I said, “Oh, it’s this actor Tom Everett Scott.” So and she goes, “Shades! That Thing You Do!” And she starts quoting the movie. And then she grabs Ryan and she goes, “Hey, Ryan, guess who he cast?” And Ryan’s like, “That Thing You Do!. And literally, they could recite the entire movie. I thought I was the biggest That Thing You Do! fan. They beat me.