Earning rave reviews with its authentic (and definitely flag-inclusive) take on the first moon landing, director Damien Chazelle's First Man put its central actor to the test as Ryan Gosling embodied Neil Armstrong. Turns out, playing the man was exactly as far as Gosling wanted to go, finding that after all that training and cinematic verisimilitude, being an astronaut was a lot harder than it looked.
In an interview with Total Film, Chazelle commented upon the documentarian approach he took to making the film as realistic and gritty as possible — demystifying one of the more mythologized events in human history. Taking ‘60s documentaries as stylistic influences, the director said, “I think the most important thing to me was if I could really get into the granular, and really get into the realism of it, and make you feel like you’re in the capsule with them.”
“Here, we know the vast cosmic expanse of space, and we’ve seen that in films,” Chazelle said, “but these crafts were these tiny rickety machines that I would barely feel comfortable going down a highway in, let alone going to space.” Some of that scrappy fidelity may have contributed to the bursting of its star’s career-dream bubble. “It was... unsettling,” Gosling said of the multi-axis trainer dubbed the cosmodome (you know, that spinning chair that makes you experience some serious Gs?). “I realized I couldn’t [actually be an astronaut]. Any fantasy I had about that was quickly shattered.”
After some exhausting training and intense shooting inside period-accurate costumes, Gosling said shooting gave him "a tiny window or a small taste of how isolating that must have been for them. There’s no comparison. And any time you’re on the verge of maybe complaining, they always had a person that had direct experience with the mission there on set.” That’s got to be intimidating for an actor, which Gosling confirms. “Most of the reason was for technical accuracy. But I also had a sneaky [sic] suspicion it was just to keep us from complaining.”
So maybe Gosling isn’t cut out to be an astronaut. That only serves to make the efforts and trials undertaken by the real-life space explorers even more incredible, as even their portrayers comment on the harshness of the task at hand. But for future astronauts, hearing of this hardship will likely only act as a challenge.
First Man takes one small step into theaters on Oct. 12.