Damien Chazelle: 5 things to know about the Oscar winner

Chazelle took home best directing for "La La Land."

February 26, 2017, 11:59 PM

— -- Damien Chazelle’s musical “La La Land” won big at this year's Oscars, and Chazelle himself took home the award for best director.

Chazelle, 32, became the youngest director to win an Oscar, tying a record that was set more than 80 years ago by Norman Taurog.

Chazelle wrote “La La Land,” which also won for original score and original song.

“We wrote this thing as a kind of pie-in-the-sky, you know, idea, thinking, ‘Sure, you know, we’ll make this when we can make this,’” Chazelle said. “So what I wrote on the page, what I sort of conceived there right in the moment, was essentially what you see right there on the screen. It’s just, we had no concrete, realistic road map for actually getting it off the ground.

Here are five things to know about the now Oscar-winning director.

1. He was born and raised in Rhode Island

Though “La La Land” is set in Los Angeles, where Chazelle lives, he’s from the East Coast.

He was born in Providence, Rhode Island, but moved to Los Angeles after college. Growing up, Chazelle said he only knew of Los Angeles through movies he watched, which often portrayed the city's traffic jams.

“That to me was L.A.,” Chazelle said. “I came to L.A., and realized it has its charms and eventually I fell in love with L.A.”

This idea provided the inspiration for the opening scene of “La La Land,” which takes place during a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway.

“I liked the idea of trying to start this movie with the very thing that we most associate in a negative way with L.A., which is people stuck in traffic, and tried to see could there be something beautiful about that,” Chazelle said.

2. He didn’t always love musicals

As a kid, Chazelle said, he would “cringe” when people started singing in a movie, but he eventually fell “head over heels” for musicals.

He said he made “La La Land” with the hope of trying to update the language of the old musicals he loved. “I just don’t think we see movies like that anymore,” he said.

Some of Chazelle’s favorite musicals include “Singing in the Rain,” “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” and those starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

“I do think that musicals are this incredibly emotional expressive genre that just allows you to do things that other genres don’t allow you to do. I think there’s so much freedom in musicals,” said Chazelle.

3. “Whiplash” is based on his experience playing drums

Chazelle wrote “Whiplash” based on his experiences of being a drummer in a competitive jazz band. He admitted he rarely plays the drums these days.

“I’ve got the drum set sitting in my garage gathering dust basically. If I try to play it, the neighbors complain,” he said. “I used to play music a lot, but at this point … the closest I get to playing music is making a movie about music.”

4. He’s known “La La Land” score composer Justin Hurwitz since college

“La La Land” composer Justin Hurwitz, who also composed the score for Chazelle’s movies “Whiplash” and “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” won an Oscar tonight for best original score.

Chazelle met Hurwitz at Harvard, where they played in a band together and were roommates.

“We initially met in a rock band. I was playing drums, and he was playing piano,” Chazelle recalled. “I think our rock star dreams were promptly dashed, but we did find that we both shared a love of movies and love of musicals. And so conversations in college about what to do about the musical as a genre are what ultimately led to ‘La La Land.’”

5. He was also the youngest to ever win best director in Golden Globes history

When Chazelle took home a Golden Globe this year for “La La Land,” he became the youngest ever to win for best director.

He beat out “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, “Manchester by the Sea” director Kenneth Lonergan, “Nocturnal Animals” director Tom Ford and “Hacksaw Ridge” director Mel Gibson.

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