Cameron Frew chats with Corey Stoll, star of First Man…
A Congressman, a Yellowjacket, and now a world-famous astronaut – Corey Stoll’s career is flourishing before our eyes. The versatile actor has served up a memorable menagerie of roles in the past decade, from his tortured performance as Peter Russo in House of Cards, to the villainous antagonist of Ant-Man. He was last seen in Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, starring as the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. Ahead of the Oscar-nominated film’s physical release, we spoke to Corey about his time working on the movie.
It’s a pleasure to speak to you – I hope you don’t mind the Scottish accent!
It’s great to speak to you – nah I love it!
Damien Chazelle has moved from genre to genre, from musical to ‘sci-non-fi’ I guess you could say, with great success – what was it like to work with him?
It was… well, it was fantastic! He really is the real deal. You could tell on set that this is a director who we’re going to be seeing a lot of for decades to come. The fact that he’s so accomplished at such a young age, and he has such range with types of stories and the way of telling those stories – it’s really exciting. From the first meeting that I had with him, it was just clear that he throws himself fully into every project and has a point of view, you know? I think there are a lot of directors who are very technically proficient, or have an incredible sense of style – which he has both of. But to have a real take on the material is so important because there’s so many tiny little decisions a director has to make every day – when you have that point of view everything can be filtered through that. He’s also so good at telegraphing what that take is to the whole cast and crew, so we’re all in the same movie.
In First Man you play Buzz Aldrin (as you know, obviously), and in the film he isn’t necessarily a nasty person, but he lacks somewhat of a filter. How did you go about forming that performance and were you nervous at all at how the real life Buzz would react?
Well we’ll start with the second one: yes! [laughs] I was definitely nervous about that – but I think that nervousness was a good engine. The script was what it was and it was very clear that this was a character who made other characters uncomfortable and has an almost 180-degree different personality from Neil Armstrong. So knowing that the material calls for a non-sugar-coated portrayal, it definitely made me disciplined in my research so that I could back it up. Buzz himself has written several books and I got into that stuff. And also, Mike Collins wrote a great book, and First Man [the official biography of Armstrong] – it’s so much material on those guys, so I just tried to soak up as much as I can. I went to Houston for the Johnson Space Centre and there was astronauts there and other people who knew Buzz. I tried to get both a picture from inside and outside – there’s the Buzz that explains the way he perceived things and the way people outside perceived him. My job, I think, was to sort of marry those two.
You’re no stranger to an action set-piece, for example your work in Ant-Man. Many have said that their favourite scene in is the moon landing and I would agree because it feels so authentic. How did it feel bringing such an iconic historic moment to life?
It was both incredibly thrilling and exhausting, like very physically grueling. The sort of ‘little kid playing astronaut’ aspect was huge though [laughs], from the very first costume fitting where I got into the space suit. The way they shot it slowed things down and made it more complicated, but in the end I think it was the way to go and made acting a lot easier. Instead of a green screen they had a giant, curved LED screen which was enormous. Like 30ft by 50ft. So everything in the lunar module was curved around us, and when we looked out at the moon, instead of looking at a green screen, it was this high definition image of the moon. So that required the movement of the module, our dialogue, the screen and the lighting to all be in sync. So, yeah… it was hard! [laughs]
But I think that’s what the real accomplishment of that part of the movie is – whenever they go into space it’s not futuristic and clean, you really get a sense of a couple of guys in a tin can, millions of miles from anyone, in the middle of nowhere. You feel how vulnerable these bodies are in space. We all take it for granted that we landed on the moon – for me, it happened before I was even born. But, it was not a foregone conclusion that they could accomplish that. There are more computations used in one iPhone photo than it took them to go the moon and back, you know? The level of technology was medieval compared to what we have now.
You’d have these moments of incredible awe and giddiness of getting to be an astronaut and getting to be Buzz Aldrin, and then six hours of being strapped into a seat not being able to pee because it would take too long to get unhooked and put back in; it’d be lunchtime by then. It was hard work – but every time you’d start to feel self-pitying, one of the real astronauts that was on set would peek their head in and say: “Well this is actually how I was feeling during this part of the mission…” You’d then realise just how easy we had it – that would stop the complaints pretty short [laughs].
Did you have a good relationship with your co-stars then, especially after having to be strapped in for hours on end?
[Laughs] Absolutely, yeah. The bulk of it was Ryan [Gosling] and Lukas [Haas]; the three of us were strapped in shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder for 12 hours-a-day for a couple of weeks. We worked really hard to keep it all professional, but by hour 10 in there we’d sometimes get pretty loopy and into some real giggle fits. But luckily the space suits insolated the actual smells coming from our bodies so, at least we didn’t have to live with that [laughs]!
Flickering Myth would like to thank Corey Stoll for taking time out to talk to us.
FIRST MAN IS AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL NOW AND ON 4K ULTRA HD™, BLU-RAY™ AND DVD FEBRUARY 18th FROM UNIVERSAL PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT.