Does Ryan Gosling play the piano? To put it succinctly, Ryan Gosling did play some, mostly by ear. But for his role in La La Land, the actor trained for 2-3 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, for more than 3 months to carry out his role.
“It’s conflict and it’s compromised. And it’s just… It’s new every time. It’s brand new every night.”
If you’ve ever got the chance to watch 2016’s La La Land, you have surely got this line stuck to your mind. The quote was uttered by Ryan Gosling’s character Sebastian with immense emotions and passion toward Jazz music.
This scene made Sebastian more human on the big screen and made the audience understand what fuels him.
Such passion and determination displayed is only the tip of the iceberg – and there is so much more to witness behind the scenes.
As a musician yourself (or maybe just a curious somebody), you might be wondering the extent of Gosling’s involvement in the film’s musical scenes.
How did he prepare? And did he actually play the piano?
Ryan Gosling in Character
It may be common knowledge to everybody that Ryan Gosling’s trek to stardom kick-started from Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club. And guess what? He was only 13 at the time.
Since then, he starred in multiple films in the 90s and early 2000s – from 1995’s Are You Afraid of the Dark to 2003’s The United States of Leland.
Before the late 2010s, he may be most famous for his role in the romantic blockbuster The Notebook (2004) – in which he even became one of the youngest nominees for an Academy Award for Acting.
Fast forward to the recent present, Gosling played a role in one of the most critically acclaimed films in 2016—commercial hit, and Golden Globes Best Motion Picture, La La Land.
No wonder Gosling got an Oscar nomination for his role in the movie: he literally spent three months getting a grasp of playing the piano prior to filming!
What’s interesting is that there’s a double prepared to play for the scenes. But still, the question of whether or not Gosling actually played the instrument in front of the camera remains something that we will answer later.
In fact, it is not new in Hollywood for actors to have their instrument-playing scenes dubbed. A good example would be Bradley Cooper’s guitar scenes in A Star Is Born (2018). In this film, Bradley Cooper plays a rock star, Jackson Maine. To prepare for the role, Cooper trained for six months so he could effectively execute the scene where he sang and played the guitar. In the end, though, his guitars lines were dubbed by a professional guitarist.
Going back, Gosling’s effort for his character did not end in the preparation phase. Unseen footage from Variety has revealed several clips of the actor rehearsing in-between scenes.
It is not the first time that Gosling went to the extremes to do a role justice. Other notable examples would be his role for The Notebook (where he spent a couple of months to immerse himself in the movie’s actual town of setting) and The Lovely Bones (where he had to swiftly gain 60 pounds).
This method acting style paid off for Gosling, as he is considered one of the greatest (albeit underestimated by some) actors of his generation, garnering honors and nominations from major award-giving bodies.
Did He Actually Play the Piano in the musical La La Land?
As easy as many would make it seem, learning to play the piano is far from a walk in the park. Though it is true that there are free ways to learn it, you’d still need to invest a lot of time and effort to get the basics down.
Just like Ryan Gosling, himself, spending three to four months of piano training to prepare for La La Land (as we’ve mentioned earlier). But the question still stands—did he actually play the piano in front of the camera for the film?
Let’s take it from the flick’s director, himself, Damian Chazelle: “It’s all Ryan.” He then backed this up by saying, “There’s no piano double at all in any shot of the movie.”
Not to mention, the film required lengthy shots so CGI can never be an option.
Gosling’s character is a jazz musician – and we know surely that jazz music demands some serious skills. Jazz is not an easy genre to learn! The actor’s intense training was done to make sure that he makes this character as convincing as possible.
Some of his training videos were even made public!
Of course, his hard work was not left unrecognized. Gosling even impressed John Legend, whom he played with during the filming of the movie. “I was like, ‘Have you played before?'” Legend jokingly remarked in an interview. “’Cos you can’t be this good right away.”
Jazz music boasts immense intricacies that you cannot simply tame in the span of 12 to 16 months (Some jazz artists can be a testament to this). To get there as quick as Gosling did, you’d have to have some good pair of ears, flexible wrists, and a bucket load of time and determination.
But Did He Play Piano Before?
As we’ve said earlier, a few months would not be enough to master jazz music on the piano. Does this mean Ryan Gosling has prior experience with regard to playing the instrument?
When asked this very question in an interview, Gosling answered, “nothing like the ability to play the jazz piano you see in the film.” It was true that his piano skills were not a blank canvas to begin with; he only knew how to play by ear.
Hence, this is why the actor’s grateful for the role—he had a chance to revisit and nourish an old talent!
How about jazz music? Did he ever have any experience with it?
Prior to filming for the movie, jazz was not a familiar face for Gosling. To give him a crash course on the genre, he devoted time to watching a PBS documentary on jazz music by Ken Burns.
As we also know, piano-playing was not the sole thing Gosling had to work for. His and Emma Stone’s dance sequence under the moonlight was surely an iconic scene from the film and, obviously, getting that down perfectly took immense practice.
As almost similar to his endeavor in mastering the piano, practicing for the said number also took nearly three months!
In case you’re wondering, here’s the video clip from the movie where Ryan Gosling played the piano:
Being an actor takes more than just preening and looking good for the camera, and Ryan Gosling’s commitment to his role is a living testimony.
In this article, we brushed through Gosling’s month-long preparation for his roles in some notable movies, his piano-playing skills and how they transcended through the big screens, and the actor’s experience with the piano and jazz music prior to filming the critically-acclaimed flick.
You don’t have to become Gosling to learn and conquer the piano. It is true that such endeavor may be challenging, but the actor’s display of determination displayed what truly matters—lots of patience, focus, and a little elbow grease. If you put your mind to it, you can do it, too!
Joyce Ann graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at New Era University. She especially enjoyed her journalism class and was nominated for Photojournalist of the Year. Joyce Anne loves music; she is a self-taught piano player. When she's not writing (or baking or watching documentaries), she's probably playing songs on the piano, mostly by ear.