What do you think La La Land is going to convey to audiences?
I really like how Damien (Chazelle, the director) was able to bring out this old-fashioned sensibility that we virtually never see any more in film. The real essence of a musical is how it engages you by creating this kind of magical world in which the characters live even though there’s still this underlying reality of the show business world that they’re part of.
How did you like getting to work with Emma Stone again?
This is the third film we’ve done together but until this one I never knew how truly talented she really was. I always knew that she was a great actress but in this film she really does so many things and is so good that it was incredible to watch her and work with her.
Your character Sebastian has a very jaded perspective on Hollywood whereas Emma Stone’s character Mia has this wide-eyed sense of hope? What was it like for you when you left Canada at a very young age to work in the film industry?
It was hard at times. You feel cut off from your family and the world that you know and suddenly you’re in Los Angeles competing against a lot of other talented people who all have the same dream as you do.
Sebastian is close to turning into a very bitter and cynical person because of all the failure and rejection he’s gone through trying to make it in the business. But then he meets this very optimistic and enthusiastic girl and he starts to remember how he once felt about that world. They help each other stay afloat at a critical time when otherwise they might have given up. When he falls in love with her that really saves him from turning into the worst version of himself.
What are your memories of your early years as an aspiring actor in Hollywood?
I was happy just to be able to have enough money to live and just be able to get enough jobs to keep me going and help my family whenever I could. I was pretty lucky that whenever my money was running out I always found another part that would give me enough to keep on going.
In my own case, I never really considered giving up because I didn’t have anything else to fall back on. Acting was really the only thing I was capable of doing. Most actors when they’re starting out just want to be able to earn a living and survive until you get that one audition or one role that does it for you. You want to reach a level where you can choose from different projects and not just take any job that comes along just to be able to pay the rent.
You’ve spoken in the past about how you would go on numerous auditions and how frustrating that process could be?
Auditions are the toughest aspect because you have to get used to dealing with the rejection because you feel you’re being rejected personally and it’s hard to separate that from your identity. But I always tried to see it as something that’s part of the business and it’s not as if you’ve suffered some terrible loss.
Where did you get your work ethic from?
All the men in my family worked pretty hard. My father and uncle worked at a paper mill and I wanted to do everything possible not to have to do that for a living. But I like working hard. I think you sleep more peacefully at night after a good day’s work. Also, when you’re working a lot you don’t have too much time to worry about things.
Your image is that of the ultimate nice Canadian guy…
Is there anyone you really saw as a role model whom you take after?
My uncle Bill. He has supported me ever since I was a kid and he always told me that I was going to succeed one day. He’s always taken care of everyone around him. He’s the type of guy who is a very good and generous man – the type of guy who will help people in the neighbourhood shovel snow out of their driveways. He’s the nicest person I’ve ever known.
As the father of two girls, Esmeralda and Amada. What’s that experience been like for you?
It’s like being in paradise. I’m so lucky. The birth of Esmeralda and Amanda Lee has radically changed my life, which every day becomes more beautiful than I ever imagined. Every day getting to spend time with them is so exciting. I love reading to Esmeralda and watching her grow up. I never really thought that being a father would be such a wonderful thing.