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Ryan Gosling and the cast of First Man say shooting film was like going to 'space camp'

The Neil Armstrong film went to great lengths to ensure an authentic experience

The Neil Armstrong picture went to great lengths to ensure authenticity, including a lack of green screen

Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in the film First Man. (Courtesy of TIFF)

First Man is the new film from director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash), and it closely follows astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) during the time leading up to becoming the first moonwalk.

It's a tense and touching look at the standoffish Armstrong, who wasn't much for the public eye, preferring work and family — in that order, it seems. In the film, as in real life, Armstrong was also a man of few words, the type of role that Gosling easily slides into. For the actor, it also presented an opportunity to present a side of Armstrong the public knows so little about.

As soon as I learned what the moon was, I learned that a man named Neil Armstrong walked on it.- Ryan Gosling

"As soon as I learned what the moon was, I learned that a man named Neil Armstrong walked on it," Gosling said at a press conference for the film this morning. "He was always synonymous with the moon, but like the moon, I knew very little about him."

Gosling was able to spend time with Armstrong's family, including his wife Janet (played by Claire Foy) and sons Rick and Mark, who were also on hand at the press conference. 

Armstrong's sons agree that the film "got everything right" about their late father, and included many moments and scenes that actually happened in real life.

"Exactly what happened and the way it happened, and I think that speaks to the authenticity of the film," said Mark, who added that he's watched it four or five times and still cries.

But there's another realistic aspect of the film that is getting praise: the intensely realistic space sequences, which combine the use of shaky handheld cameras and glorious IMAX to take viewers both inside the space shuttle and up into space.

"There was always someone when we were shooting the mission sequences, there was always someone who had been directly involved with that mission in some way," said Gosling. "They were obviously there to ensure the accuracy, but they were also there to ensure that it was impossible to complain because they had really experienced it," he added. "It was immediate perspective."

On top of that, the actors were enrolled in a NASA space camp and went through zero-gravity training. But perhaps most notably, there was absolutely no use of green screen, which is surprising for a film of this scope and genre. Instead, an approximately 24-metre, 180-degree LED screen was built, allowing the actors to feel as if they were in space.

"It was an extension of that space camp in a sense," said Cory Stall, who plays Buzz Aldrin, the man who walked on the moon with Armstrong that day. "We were given every opportunity to feel what they felt, as close as we could get while we were filming a movie," he said. "To look out the window and you see pretty much what we're seeing in the movie was incredible."

Gosling, true to his Armstrong character, simply added: "I agree."

First Man is playing as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. Its wide release is Oct. 11.


Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Senior Producer, CBC Music

Jesse Kinos-Goodin has been a journalist and producer at CBC since 2012. He focuses on music and the arts. He is currently the senior producer for social at CBC Music. Reach him on Twitter @JesseKG or email jesse.kinos-goodin@cbc.ca