First Man: Interviews with Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, Stars of Damien Chazelle’s Eagerly Awaited Space Epic

Interviews with Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, Stars of Damien Chazelle’s First Man, the Thrilling Opening Night of the 2018 Venice Film Fest.


Lack of Certainty: Not Knowing if Husband-Astronaut Will Come Back

Claire Foy:  I don’t know, I think the only way I could make any sense living in that state of permanent danger was when people go to war, it was the only kind of thing that I could say that was similar.  When Janet married Neil Armstrong, she didn’t marry him knowing he was going to be an astronaut, but she married him knowing that he flew planes quite fast and very dangerously.  But she knew that he would always take care of himself.  But when it came to the Apollo missions, that’s when it went up a notch and it felt a bit out of control and it didn’t feel like people were in control of taking care of these men.  That’s what the film explores: what drives people to do things which seemingly are sort of suicidal in a way.

Doing Press Together  

Ryan Gosling:  This is my first day doing press with Claire Foy and I am realizing that I can’t top anything she says.

CF:  You can try.

RG:  I can’t top it.  I will follow it.  But I will stumble.

Dual Mission

RG: they were using their comparative flashlight of knowledge to explore the mysteries of the universe, and at the same time they were coming home and taking out the trash and mowing their lawns.  The duality of this story and the extremes of these extremes is really incredible.

Taking Risks 

RG: They are a certain kind of breed, they are just different.  When you sit in those capsules for eight hours and you realize that in some cases, they were there for weeks on end, not able to move, just circling the Earth.  In their early missions, they were replacing the nuclear payload on a missile with people firing them into the atmosphere.  It’s a certain breed of person, which was important for me to realize that distinction to be able to try and resemble it.


Dealing with Privacy

RG:  I couldn’t identify with it really, because it’s such a singular situation.  It was hard to connect to it in a lot of ways because it was such a different time and the idea of masculinity was different then.  Neil just was a very singular person and he didn’t really, everyone that I spoke to who knew him said good luck playing Neil, because for a lot of people, even people in his life, he was very hard to read.  He was a very deep person.  And you could tell sometimes in the way that he would articulate himself, there was a poetic nature there, but a very fiercely scientific mind.  And so scientific that it ended up sort of manifesting itself in this slightly poetic way that was really unique and special.  So in a way it wasn’t about relating to him personally as much as relating to this other concept in the movie.  There’s the main idea which is landing on the moon, but I think for me the other film that’s also happening, is about somebody who has to go to the moon in order to land on Earth.  Someone who is searching for answers and meaning in their life, and they are no answers they can find here on Earth and they are given the opportunity to look for those answers in the mysteries of the universe.  And he takes this opportunity.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9826683b)
Actor Ryan Gosling poses for photographs with fans upon arrival for the photo call of the film ‘First Man’ at the 75th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy
Film Festival 2018 First Man Arrival, Venice, Italy – 29 Aug 2018


Primitive Technology

RG:  I don’t think I fully appreciated how dangerous these missions were, how primitive the technology was by today’s comparisons.  I am sure you have heard the analogy that there’s more computing power in our phones than there was in those capsules.  And yet they managed to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.


Feelings about Space Program 

RG:  What I took from it that I didn’t expect was this idea that, they went to explore the moon, but what they really discovered was the earth.  That it was the first time, not to disparage the moon, but it was the first time that they had gotten enough distance from the earth to really perceive our planet alone in the vastness of space. Those photographs that I grew up on of the earth in space, the totality, were taken on those early Apollo missions.  There’s a perspective that I think people took from those photographs, and it was the first time we really got to see ourselves and how fragile it all is, and how lucky we are and how special this planet is, in context, to the unforgiving nature of the universe.


Relationships in the Pods

RG:  They were fiercely private people.  This came from conversations, we tried to as much as we could, to infer what was happening prior and how they were grieving.  But they still maintained, at least Neil and Janet, they still were private people.  So one of the tasks that Claire and I had was to try and, cause a lot of these scenes were improvised, was to try and find a way to improvise what those moments might have been like.  And what I loved working out with Claire was, she never assumed that because they had a certain public persona, that that also reflected their private persona.  Every improvisation that we did and every scene that we did, Claire and I kept looking for opportunities to explore and to communicate the complexity of the marriage.  And at the same time try to communicate the experience of two people that are experiencing something so singular that it’s almost possible to relate to.


Character of Janet Armstrong

CF:  She’s lots of things.  You can tell with her decisions, you are what your choices are.  Janet, who raised two boys pretty much on her own, supported her husband and she said amazing things in interviews I found.  It got to a point where she was at home and she was also a swim instructor, and she said unless she was challenging herself everyday, she felt she was wasting her life.  So he was off doing his thing, but she did her thing, and she didn’t just stay still at home, she got out and did things.  And also it was a thing about Neil’s clothes, it got to a point where she was like, I am not going to wash and iron his clothes, he likes them in a particular way and I haven’t got the time to do that.  So I just send it out to the dry cleaners and that is what I do.  I mean, she wasn’t trying to pretend to be anything that she wasn’t.  And that’s possibly what attracted Neil to her, that she wasn’t like every other woman necessarily in that way of her generation, she had a belief in herself and saw things. She herself would have made a great astronaut.


Gender in Film: Differences between Male and Female

CF:  The fascinating thing about the film is Neil’s character and personality.  You are watching someone deal with grief in a way that as a viewer, you want to help him try to deal with it and you want to see him come to some solution in that.  It’s not that you see Janet come to that, but you get the impression that she lives every day and that’s what she has to do, she has to come to terms with it.  But to me, Neil feels stuck, he feels like he is working towards something and just trying to do something to get there.  I don’t think that is a masculine or feminine thing, I think it’s his personality, that’s why this story is fascinating. If he had been a complete open book, there wouldn’t be much of a story there.  His complexities are what make it so interesting.


Film’s Goal and Purpose

RG:  Initially it was trying to communicate just how dangerous these missions were, and just how extreme this all was, it seems predestined now, but at the time it was not. I was lucky to grow up in a generation where walking on the moon is not a crazier idea than the idea that the moon could be made of cheese or God.  Every mission was about pushing their understanding of what is possible? Can you put a human being into space? Can you function in space and what will happen to you?  When we get to the moon, can we land on the moon and can we get someone home?  None of these things were certain, every task seemed impossible.


Having Second Opening Night at Venice Film Fest

RG:  Well I am really looking forward to having people see the film.  I feel very lucky to be here, not only because it’s not one of, if not the most beautiful cities in the world, but it also was a human achievement. It’s important to us to be able to present it in an international setting, and to present it in this way is exciting for us.


First Time in Venice Film Fest

CF:  Yes.  I have been to Venice many times before, but I have never been to the festival, and it’s amazing.  It’s great.  I don’t know what I feel apart from it’s just great.  I feel very lucky, it’s very nice.


Being Directed by Chazelle for Second Time:

RG:  It’s a very different film in almost every way.  The environment on set was completely different.  On “La La Land” there were lots of crew around every shot and a team effort.  Everything was so meticulously timed and long steadicam shots.  The whole atmosphere and energy was completely different.  This was just documentary style where there were really no crew around, and it was just a lot of times the two of us in a room and improvising and the camera, never really knowing what the camera was doing and having us dictate what happened in the scene as opposed to in “La La Land” where it was the opposite.  Very different style and atmosphere, but the same equally in that I think we felt over our head.  It felt like it was equally ambitious but very different and a lot of attention paid to the details.  It was different in the sense of having so many people who lived through this experience there with us reliving it with us. But I think it’s true what Claire said earlier, that the idea that their sons were going to see this film just loomed large in every day of shooting and I think there was a pressure on this film that I had never felt before.