She may be one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses , but for Emma Stone success is not based on remuneration; more, it is measured in the satisfaction gleaned from putting an added sheen on the characters she portrays. Take the lm Battle of the Sexes for instance. Such was her brilliance in portraying iconic female tennis player Billie Jean King that the movie became another vehicle for the gender equality debate that most felt had already run its course. It left her as something of an unintentional poster girl for the movement. Yet Stone is at her best when distanced from the placards and soapboxes. Sure, her star power, megawatt smile and kittenish eyes convey a relatable warmth that transmits messages and galvanizes audiences, but deep down the actress values and guards privacy and space more than anything else. And in an industry of big personalities, she is, refreshingly, one of the first to admit to her own limitations. “I’m a very vulnerable person,” she begins, with sincere honesty. “It’s easy for me to feel hurt; but that’s also what enables me to be very expressive and I hope conveys deep emotions as truthfully as possible. I have a pretty good sense of humor about myself even if I can be very self-critical at times and that’s how I push myself to do the best work I’m capable of, and to give my best.” Her best is clearly good enough. Across multiple roles, multiple genres and, dare we say it, multiple decades — by the time her voice work for The Croods 2 is heard in cinemas this spring, she will have crossed over three decades as a performer, starting in the 1990s with TV drama In Search of the Partridge Family.
The foundation for a career that envelops so many standout roles undoubtedly came from an upbringing that, in truth, was as insular as it was expansive. “I lived with my mother in a small apartment in La Brea Park,” she says of her LA upbringing. “I never went out by myself—I would always go out with my mom and we spent a lot of time going to the movies. I wasn’t going to school and I didn’t have any friends, zero social life, and I basically just studied at home and watched a lot of movies, trying to learn as much about acting as I could,” she explains. “Sometimes I felt lonely but my mother was so good and supportive and that gave me the confidence I needed to go to auditions and deal with all the rejection and the fear of not being able to make it. But I never gave up and slowly I was able to build my career.” In the end, it would take almost five years of false starts and failed auditions before the dreaming starlet made her feature lm debut in Greg Mottola’s raucous teen comedy Superbad. With audiences instantly taking to Stone’s startling combination of youthful beauty (and that gorgeous red hair) and a world-weary attitude delivered with such a distinctive voice—which oddly had cost her jobs in the past as “nobody wanted to hire a 15-year-old actress with a deep and raspy voice”—it was evident that Hollywood’s next big star had arrived. Success of Stone’s kind is not without its drawbacks, however. She admits the biggest pressures she encounters always come from within, and while relinquishing some of that aloof persona she embraced in her youth, the actress nevertheless keeps her distance from the tabloids and rarely talks about her personal life, preferring to invest time talking about the personalities she represents on screen, rather than her own. The actress’s most recent project has been Maniac, the Netflix drama that brought together a collection of strangers into the latter part of mysterious pharmaceutical trial. In the lm, things don’t go as planned, leaving the actress and co-star Jonah Hill questioning what is real and what is not. “I play five different characters and I didn’t believe that could happen within the span of two hours. So, it was very fun to explore all of those different people. I loved the cast, I loved Cary’s (Joji Fukunaga) direction, Patrick’s (Somerville) writing—there was so much about it. I thought it came together in a really fun and creative way. Ultimately, you don’t always want to be known for the same things and it was important I stepped outside my comfort zone, both in terms of the format, TV, and the type of characters I take on. For me it’s another significant milestone.”
Having turned 30 a the start of November, you sense Stone is ready for the next chapter in her life, and although she doesn’t want to find herself a celebrity campaigner in the mould of Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry or Oprah, it is difficult for her to move away from the equality conversation.
“You have to ask, at what point will we all be considered equal in every part of life and society? It is frustrating— I guess change and progress can take a really long time to deliver, and it will take a lot more time, much longer than we think.”
“The important thing is we keep talking about it until there is nothing to talk about anymore. And I’m not just talking about women, I’m talking about all people, all human beings, anyone who encounters inequality every day because of their race, who they love, where they live… the conversation has to keep going, it has to keep propelling in the right direction. And it’s fair to say we have there some of the way there,” she continues.
“We have evened the odds in some respects, and thanks to social media we all have access to a platform that is the most powerful anyone has ever created…and it’s time to use it. And my voice, yes, may have a wider outreach because of my job, but I’m still figuring out how to use it properly. It’s a learning process for me.”
If she is going to have any chance of fulfilling those duties, Stone’s sense and preservation of herself is certainly something to focus on, and notably that means time away from the premieres, the red carpets and the lm sets. “I do value being away from it all,” she smiles, visibly exhaling. “Whenever you shoot a lm, your regular life is put on hold for three or four months at a time, and then you nd yourself trying to get back to your usual life, so I end up craving hanging out with friends—it just makes me feel normal again. I also like to spend a lot of quiet time reading or just walking around and finding cool little cafés where I can hang out and not attract any attention.”
That’s easier said than done, of course. The actress is one of the most recognizable people on the planet. In recent times, she’s even been regarded something of a fashion plate.
“That’s flattering, but I’m not so sure,” she laughs. “I would say while I’ve been living in New York I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of brilliant designers and I do get to go to a few fashion shows. I don’t think I have any one style or look that I like to go for—I’m still learning a lot about clothes and experimenting with different looks but I also have a great stylist who looks after me, and I think the way you look and the way that makes you feel can be so vital when it comes to building confidence and belief. But I don’t take all the fashion stuff too seriously,” she explains.
And, the mega-star’s outlook on life in general is reflective of her roots: “Ultimately, I have a pretty good sense of humour about myself and will still be self-critical— I think that’s healthy. These days I don’t worry as much about things that used to weigh me down or take away from all the good stuff that was happening. Life is about being ready to follow whatever path lies ahead, but knowing at the same time where to draw the line between the sacrifices you make. It’s taken me a while to learn that but it’s been a good lesson to learn. And, you, know, right now, I am the happiest I think I’ve ever been with my family, my friends. I’m in a pretty good place, knock on wood.”