‘First Man’ mission was to get it right


By LINDSEY BAHR

AP Film Writer

LOS ANGELES

Making a movie about Neil Armstrong may not necessarily be on par with, say, successfully landing on the moon but the pressure involved isn’t a giant leap from that either.

There are astronauts who were there, for one, in Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, in addition to all the people who were on the ground at NASA ready jump on any inaccuracies.

There’s the near-mythic weight that that achievement of being the first man to walk on the moon holds. For film fans, there’s the “2001: A Space Odyssey” factor. And then there’s the fact that Armstrong, who died in 2012, while a stickler for facts, didn’t like to talk much about himself — even to his own family.

But it was a challenge director Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) and screenwriter Josh Singer (”Spotlight”) were willing to take on. Chazelle envisioned a documentary-style approach to telling Armstrong’s story in “First Man,” now playing nationwide, with Ryan Gosling in the lead role. He wanted to strip away the glossy romanticism from early space travel and make it about the real men, with real families, and the very real danger of this dream to go to the moon.

“If ‘2001’ is the grand movie-movie treatment of space and the greatest possible version of that, you’re never going to beat that,” Chazelle said. “(We thought), could we do the documentary version of that? Could we do the gritty, camera on the shoulder, 16 mm, cinema verite version of space and make it feel like D.A. Pennebaker had crawled into the capsule with the astronauts?”

To achieve this goal, production designer Nathan Crowley (“Dunkirk”) and his team built full-scale replicas of capsules from Gemini and Apollo missions, the X-15 aircraft and the multi-axis trainer — practical sets so Chazelle could put his star, camera and the audience right in the claustrophobic action and shake them all a little while space imagery played outside the windows on LED screens.

Beyond the physical challenges of the role, Gosling had to also embody the man. “He was the most famous person on the planet and somehow managed to keep the focus on the missions themselves,” Gosling said.

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