Amid all the dazzling musical numbers and nods to the unexpected charm of Los Angeles, one of the nicest surprises in La La Land comes in the final 15 minutes. It’s then when we see the face of actor Tom Everett Scott (eternally beloved for his role as Guy Patterson in the 1996 musical That Thing You Do!) appear onscreen in a brief, practically wordless cameo role.
SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve already seen La La Land, then you know which role Tom Everett Scott plays. If you have not seen it, be forewarned that late-film plot revelations lie ahead.
Writer-director Damien Chazelle, winner of two of the movie’s record seven Golden Globe awards, explained to EW that Scott’s casting was not a random occurrence. “I truly love That Thing You Do!” Chazelle says. “Growing up and wanting to be a jazz drummer, that movie was kind of revolutionary for me. To see a film about a band where the jazz drummer was the lead character, I mean, it was like it was speaking to me.”
Scott’s name came up in discussions between Chazelle, producers, and veteran casting director Deborah Aquila — and once he was mentioned, the idea seemed irresistible. “I didn’t want his presence in the film to be a conscious in-joke,” Chazelle says, “but when I heard his name, I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s perfect.’ Plus, there were some on-the-surface mundane considerations. He had to be a little older than Ryan Gosling, so that we could suggest the passage of time. And we didn’t want to have another blond guy. And the big thing was that Tom is just the nicest guy. That was the key. We didn’t want the audience to think of Mia’s [Emma Stone’s character] new husband as some kind of a villain.”
And Stone certainly didn’t feel that way. “When I showed up at the table read on the first day,” she tells EW, “I saw Tom Everett Scott — Guy Patterson! — and found out what part he was playing. And I was all, ‘Not bad, not bad! Mia did pretty well for herself.”
Scott, 46, who’s originally from Massachusetts, spoke with EW on the phone from his home in Los Angeles. He described his delight at being offered the role in La La Land — and certain people in his life who were amusingly disappointed at the “spoiler” part that he plays.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It was such a nice little treat to see you show up at the end of this movie. How did you become involved?
Tom Everett Scott: I was in Toronto filming something a few years ago and I got this email from my agent. I don’t know how my name came up but I got a request from Deb Aquila, the casting director, who had years ago cast me in Dead Man on Campus [in 1998]. And this wasn’t for a meeting or an audition, it was just a flat offer. It was to appear in the next movie by Damien Chazelle. I said, “The guy who made Whiplash, really?” And it would be starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.
So you accepted the role sight unseen?
I did, of course. I knew I was gonna take it. But I guess I did wonder for a minute, “Hmm I hope the character isn’t into any, you know, really kinky stuff.”
Right, you don’t want to get to set and realize you’re gonna be tortured onscreen.
Exactly. Or Damien says, “Well, Tom, so you’re this really bad priest…” [Laughs]
When did you first meet Chazelle?
When I went to the table read. It was actually quite flattering. Damien, Emma, and Ryan were very warm and wonderful to me and said many nice things. It was mostly about their love of That Thing You Do! — Emma really wanted to do a Dubsmash with me of “That Thing You Do,” the song. We never got around to it.
There’s still plenty of time.
True. It’s still high on the to-do list if I’m speaking for myself.
So are you aware that Damien Chazelle was 11 years old when That Thing You Do! came out? And he was, just as you play in that film, an aspiring jazz drummer.
Yep, I’m aware. [Laughs]
Was he able to express, basically, what you meant to him?
He was very sweet. Yeah, I mean, I will say that he was geeking out, shortly after he introduced himself. We talked about it a lot. My first day was on the set in the jazz club and Damien looked over and just seemed excited that we were all there.
But can you see why he connected with you and That Thing You Do! so deeply?
I do, yes. It’s flattering that he appreciated what I did before and that he wanted to take a little piece of that and put it in his film. I understand what you’re getting at, but I can also see why Damien connected with That Thing You Do! as a filmmaker. There is a great musicality in Tom Hanks’ direction, not just because it’s a musical but in the pacing and the editing. I see that similarity between the two movies. The production design in La La Land, like of John Legend’s recording studio, is quite similar to the studio where Guy Patterson is recording with Del Paxton in That Thing You Do! The jazz club has a very Blue Spot feel to it.
What’s he like on the set?
Loose, easygoing, very efficient. He’d done so much work in preparation for this that he was able to have some fun when it came time to shooting. They were cramming it in, too, bouncing all over the place. Running up to Griffith Park to capture a shot at magic hour and then running back to the jazz club.
In that scene in the club, were you able to observe Ryan Gosling on the piano?
I was. We chatted about the difficulty of learning an instrument for a movie. I had a few months to learn the drums for That Thing You Do!, but I only had five drums to hit. He had 88 keys. And playing piano convincingly on film is much harder than playing drums. But he was being really humble about it, as usual.
Did you imagine a backstory for your character? What does he do for a living and how did he and Mia meet?
We talked about it, Damien and Emma and I, but very loosely. He was supposed to be somebody really stable and they like each other a lot. The audience just has to believe that she’s in a good place. Other than that, I just held her hand and smiled. And for the purposes of the movie, we decided that he wasn’t supposed to know who Ryan was. We imagined that they hadn’t dug too deeply into that.
You’re a spoiler in the movie in two ways. First for Mia and Sebastian’s relationship and then for the audience.
That’s a way of saying it. When I got the role, my neighbor asked me about it and I said, “Well, I can’t tell you much about my part because I’ll ruin the end of the movie for you.” She said, “Nah, come on, just tell me.” So I explained that the story was this whole romance between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and they really love each other. And then it flash-forwards five years later and she comes through the door with a baby and her husband. And you think her husband is going to be Ryan Gosling, but instead, it’s me. And my neighbor goes, “Noooo!!”
Geez, what a good neighbor!
She’s very, very sweet. But I asked her, “Well, it’s not that bad, is it?” Sometimes that’s just the feeling people are going to get when they see my face — and not Ryan’s — in this movie.
Have you been approached by fans of the film?
Yes, I’ve had some very pleasant encounters. Everyone is extremely nice… to my face.
You’ve also lived in Los Angeles for most of your career and you’ve raised your family there. Do you relate to the movie’s depiction of the city?
Oh, I love it as an L.A. movie. At the premiere, our mayor was there and he thanked everybody for representing the city the way that the film does. And I hadn’t thought about it very deeply before then. But then I saw the movie a second time at the ArcLight on Sunset Boulevard with my daughter and her friend. They’re all pretty obsessed with La La Land — but I’m pretty obsessed too. And while driving home, we drove past all those murals that Emma walks by in the movie. And that really hit me. It’s beautiful to come out of a movie and see the world that you live in with fresh eyes.