Having enjoyed pretty much the definition of a meteoric rise to fame, you could maybe forgive Emma Stone for having lost the run of herself. But just as her big-screen persona is usually based on being the approachable, down-to-earth, girl-next-door type, in person she demonstrates many of those qualities too, along with an absolute refusal to take herself too seriously. It made for an entertaining interview at the Berlin Film Festival following the premiere of her animated film “The Croods” (our review here). And if some members of our small press group were not just eating out of her hand, but apparently longing to curl up in her lap and go to sleep there by the end of our time with her, in between the various “Why are you so awesome?”-style questions, Stone did fill us in quite a bit on her philosophy towards her career to date, her role models and what the future holds. And if she has been taught to be a little cagey in some areas, she admitted as much saying, “This is what ‘Spider-Man’ does to you I’m always like ‘I don’t know if I can tell you about that, you’ll have to wait and see.’ About everything. ‘Would you like some water?’ ‘I dunno, you’ll have to wait and see…’ ”
Here’s the interview more or less in full, which, professional reticence aside, was mostly candid and insightful, and anyway, girl gets our vote for namechecking Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” in such a specific way.
Popular on IndieWire
How did the experience of voicing an animated character compare to live-action acting?
The experience was a lot more like traditional acting than I expected. I thought I was just gonna be in a booth “doing a cartoon voice.” I mean, the first year of the project – because you only go in once every couple of months, it’s the easiest, most fun job in the world – I would go in and I was voicing Eep like [perky, high-pitched] “Hi! Ok! Great! Suuper” in this higher cartoonish register. And then once I saw the animation and I saw her build, you know, she just felt like she had a lower register, so I ended up having to make it a lot truer to life.
Do you think you can interpret “The Croods” as politically or ideologically standing against conservatism? [???!?]
I have literally no idea what you’re talking about. It’s…
Yes, very much so. I have a friend who says that roles choose you at the time that you need them most, and you have to believe, as an actor, if you didn’t get a part that you really, really wanted and it went to someone else, it was because it was theirs to begin with. Just like a relationship, if you don’t end up with that person that you thought was the love of your life and they fell in love with someone else, they weren’t yours, it wasn’t meant to be. So the roles that have come into my life have taught me – and in that time period maybe I didn’t even know it but whatever came up or whatever it is that you have to express at that time, has benefitted me in a particular way.
One of those parts that got away was the cheerleader in “Heroes,” right?
Yeah, I think maybe everyone, unless you’re like super-lucky and got a job your first time out, can relate to going and going and going and hearing no again and again and again and the reason “Heroes” was tough was because I could hear them through the wall telling Hayden Panettiere, “you got the part, you’re the best!” and then I went in right after her. And I was just, like “Fuck, man, is it always just gonna be no, no, no, it’s never gonna be the time?” And then two weeks later I got ”Superbad” and that changed my entire life. It was my first movie and it changed everything and that’s why I say that part was meant to be hers, and there were other roles I’ve auditioned for too that were not meant to be mine.
So does that mean you don’t have any regrets?
When I look back I don’t have regrets. In the moment I am really, really hard on myself, I’m definitely my own worst critic and can be my own worst enemy, and I’m trying very hard not to be that. Because it’s so shitty to have a voice in your head that’s saying mean stuff to you. It’s not productive. But when I look back it’s funny, because even if in that moment I’m being hard on myself, I really don’t have any regrets because it got me here and I really am so grateful and appreciative to be where I am, and obviously it couldn’t have happened any other way because it didn’t happen any other way.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
That was the weird thing, bi-yearly it would be tough, because it was about three years of steadily auditioning and doing little guest parts on TV shows, but not really getting a steady job for three years. And I was missing high school all of those years – I do not condone it for children reading! But I never actually felt like I was supposed to give up, it felt like there was something in my gut telling me to keep going.
But from the outside, it seems your rise to where you are now happened so fast…
It was a domino effect, it happened quickly. So it’s strange to be in a position where for so long you take what’s given to you, you audition and if they offer you the role, you take it. [Now] it’s overwhelming, it’s a great, lucky, insanely wonderful and incredible position to be in as an actor to get to say yes or no, based on what feels right in your soul and not on paying rent anymore. It’s overwhelming to have that choice.
And what do you credit with bringing you to this point? Luck, hard work, some quality you have that others don’t?
Can you imagine if I was like “it’s completely a quality that [only] I have”? No, I genuinely don’t know and I don’t presume to know. I have no idea and when I think about it for too long, which sometimes I allow myself to do, it really screws with my head. I have no idea and I don’t expect to always be lucky like this… the life of an actress is pretty, uh… I mean, you’ve seen actresses right? Throughout time? It ebbs and flows, there are very different periods in the career of an actress and unfortunately it’s different between men and women too.
So I’m just trying to remain unattached to whatever position I’m in externally in the world at any given time, as long as I’m on the right path internally. I could be doing dinner theater in Boca Raton Florida and if it’s a play that I love, as long as I feel good about me and my relationship with my family and my friends and who I am, I’m all right.
So basically you have to be in denial to carry on? [!?]
I have to be denial to keep going? [laughs] Yes. I’m glad that’s what you took from all that.
Who were your role models growing up?
[Goes girly for a moment.] Hmm, my role model when I was 15 was the Spice Girls and Kate Winslet in “Titanic,” because she got to be with Leonardo DiCaprio… Just kidding. I loved Gilda Radnor, Molly Shannon. When I was 15 I was really comedy-focused – Lucille Ball, those were the women I grew up watching, and men like Steve Martin and John Candy. But then as time went on, it expanded a little bit. And my love of comedy grew into watching Woody Allen movies or Hal Ashby movies and I started to understand the comedy-drama relationship which is really my vein of gold. That’s my favorite type of story: one that makes you laugh and cry.
So then it became people like Diane Keaton and Debra Winger and Meryl, people that know how to balance that reality of life. But you know what, every great comedian does that. Gilda did that, Kristen Wiig does that. You can feel pain behind the comedy and that’s what makes them truly great. You know in “The Apartment” when she has the broken glass, the mirror in her compact and she says “I like it like that, it reminds me of how I feel”? That broken glass moment – you can feel the broken glass in a lot of comedians.
You speak of loving that comedy/drama crossover, is that why you’re working with Cameron Crowe next?
Oh, I love him! I’m beside myself for that, I cannot wait. It’s been the greatest process ever already and we haven’t even started yet really. We’ve just gotten to meet up and talk and I’ve gotten to hear his ideas and read his writing and that’s enough for me. And listen to music that he sends. It’s been the most special experience of my life this far, because I think he has the same outlook on storytelling. [Before] I went on like a Cameron soliloquy – they were like, “you have to stop” – but he has a quote that I read of his, that he said he makes movies for “the battered idealist in a cynical world.” And he really does, his movies are really far from cynical, and his characters are beaten down but rising above their circumstances. They are hoping. They’re hopeful, and I think that’s pretty beautiful.
At a very young age you actually persuaded you parents to move to LA so you could pursue your acting career. How did you manage that?
You know, my dad instantly said yes, it was weird he was like “YEP! Sure!” and then mom was like, “we’re gonna talk about this! Why did you just say yes?” and then we talked about it for a month and it ended up being yes. But my dad knew from a very young age what he wanted to do – he builds, he’s a contractor and he was always building things with his hands when he was young and he started a business when he was young. And I think he could see, I’d been doing a lot of Youth Theater and he could see, this is what she’s going to do, this is what she wants to do, and he instantly kind of believed in it. And I was very lucky my parents didn’t really see me as an extension of themselves, they saw me an an individual and they understood I wanted to act even though they themselves are not actors. So I was very, very lucky that they supported me as an individual.
You seem mature for your age. Do you feel mature?
I feel 75. I’m taking Metamucil, I have dentures. Heh. No, I don’t think I’ve ever really identified myself with any particular age. I didn’t go to college and I didn’t really go to high school… I just feel really old and bitter. Kidding. Only sometimes.
Starting out at 15, when most girls are very critical of their appearance, do you find now you have to fight against your beauty to avoid being cast just as a pretty face? [This question actually went on way longer but that’s the best sense we can make of it.]
[scrunches up face incredulously] No. I don’t feel like I have to “fight against my beauty.” I have never had that thought. I don’t think that I ever was … I didn’t really bash my appearance back then. I’m much harder on myself now because I’ve seen myself with my face the size of a football field in an IMAX theater and it’s not’s something that anyone should ever have to sit through. It’s like, cruel to see yourself up in 3D – bad news. But no, I’ve never felt that I had to fight against the beauty “thing.”
How about your evolution as a style icon? Would you think of designing? You have such great taste!
My stylist has really great taste – Petra Flannery has really great taste. I mean, I am opinionated, and as time goes on, as I’ve gotten to see more dresses or more clothes it’s easier to say I like that or I don’t like that, but it’s nothing I would ever, you know, design.
Who are you wearing right now? [She is wearing a dress. It is nice.]
Um, Gucci? Gucci. Yes, Mr Gucci made it himself. I don’t know, who designs for Gucci? [No one knows.]
Have you interests outside of acting you’d like to pursue?
Yes. I’d like to write. I think it would be interesting to make documentaries. It would be interesting to open up a flower shop. I think it would be fun to bake for a living, even though you have to get up really early. It would be fun to run a theater company full of people who get to do improv and put on plays. There’s a lot of things that I am really interested in.
You seem quite cynical about the world. [Not sure which room this guy has been in for the past half-hour.]
You think I’m cynical? Int-er-est-ing! I really try to fight against having a cynical outlook on the world. I really think we’re all born good and we all have compassion within us, and we’re all just trying to be the best versions of what we can be. I really try not to be… but JESUS, you think I’m cynical?
Cynical with a sense of humor maybe.
“Cynical with a sense of humor.” Great. Put that on my tombstone. [Someone asks about a small tattoo on her inner wrist.] It’s “Blackbird” – you know, the song? “Take these broken wings and learn to fly” – see, that’s not cynical!
How has sudden fame changed how you live your life?
It makes living in Los Angeles a lot less fun, but I’ve been in New York for the past three years-ish. And if I look at blogs or comments, which I’ve made the mistake of recently, which is the dumbest thing that you can do, because then that “cynic” in me just goes nuts. If I keep to the thing inside me, it’s all right, nothing has changed. I just can’t get too wrapped up in external stuff or too attached to any of that.
“The Croods” opens March 22nd, Stone will start shooting “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” soon.