NEW Interview with Vogue
Emma Stone is flying high—major movie roles, a Spider-Man beau, fashion-world heat—but, as Jason Gay discovers, she's just as down-to-earth and devilish as ever.
It is a quiet Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles, and Emma Stone and I are at a mall, eating hot dogs on a stick from Hot Dog on a Stick, sitting with our teddy bears from Build-a-Bear Workshop.
I can explain all of this. Let me back up a bit.
It’s the night before, at a restaurant called the Hungry Cat in Santa Monica. Maybe around 8:30 p.m. There have been oysters. There has been wine. Don’t get the wrong idea: not a lot of wine. One glass each. There has been polite and expected conversation about Stone’s career and Stone’s childhood and Stone’s newest movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which is in 3-D and comes out in early May. Stone is dressed in a plaid red-and-black A.P.C. shirt and Rag & Bone jeans, and she is being funny and gracious, even if sitting for long interviews with magazines occasionally freaks her out. It’s “a self-editing thing,” she says. Invariably, she gets home and thinks about something she said, and wonders if she could have put it differently, and the anxiety just gets exhausting.
“The permanence of it is what’s nerve-racking to me,” she says. “And the intimacy of it.”
Then there’s the matter of the activity: the ruse that happens in many magazine stories, in which the writer and the subject agree to join up in a shared diversion. Sometimes the activity is a walk or a trip to the museum or an amusement-park ride. Activities can be helpful, but they’re a bit of a contrivance, a device to create motion in a story, so it’s not just chatter in hotel lobbies and forks picking at salads. Weeks before, Stone had suggested a trip to Griffith Observatory, but here at dinner, that activity starts to sound like, you know, a trip to an observatory. No disrespect to observatories, which are fantastic. It’s just that it might not be representative of who Stone is, which is a little devilish and unpredictable.
Then Emma Stone has an idea: “Can we go to Build-a-Bear?”
And this is how I find myself, the next day at 1:00 p.m., meeting one of the most successful young actresses in Hollywood on the second floor of the Westside Pavilion in Rancho Park. An eager Stone gets there before me and texts: I’m sitting outside Forever 21. They’re playing “Love Shack.” We are going to build a bear.
For the uninitiated: Build-a-Bear is a store in which customers can . . . build bears. I guess the name says it all. Bears are stuffed, hearts are inserted (not as creepy as it sounds), and then the fun really starts: dressing the bear. This is the sine qua non of the Build-a-Bear experience, during which Stone, star of The Help and Superbad and Easy A, is overheard saying, earnestly, “I want to give my bear skinny jeans.” There are rigorous conversations about bear accessories, and then there are bons mots from Stone like “exhi-bear-tionism” and “bear-ing all.”
“This is bear-nanas,” she says. “I can’t stop making bear jokes!”
To think that Stone and I could be at an observatory, pondering the essential questions of the universe. But this is the unpretentious madness that happens when you leave the activity to Emma Stone, whose movie-star life appears to be based on a likable philosophy of taking her profession seriously, and herself not at all. We will get to the 25-year-old’s rise to fame, the twists in the career of the actress whom Jonah Hill calls “probably the funniest person in the room . . . and so much more than that” and Bradley Cooper claims “has a lot of magic in her” and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer says will be able to work for as long as she likes “because she has the goods.”
We will get to all that. But right now, Emma Stone is going to pick out some bear sneakers, because bear sneakers rule.
The essential (and now-legendary) moment in the Emma Stone Origin Story occurs when Stone is still Emily Stone of Scottsdale, Arizona, an anxious child who combats her anxiety by jumping headlong into theater (she makes her regional-theater debut playing Otter in The Wind in the Willows). At fifteen, she requests a home audience with her parents, where, via PowerPoint, she presents the case that she should be allowed to move to Hollywood. This sounds like a plot turn in a movie Emma Stone might have once starred in, but it actually happened. Stone says she offered examples of successful entertainers who had started young. “Sarah Jessica Parker,” she recalls. “And I think the singer Michelle Branch.”
“It is true,” Stone’s brother, Spencer, says by phone. “There was a Madonna song that played during the whole presentation. It was her basically begging my parents to be able to go to L.A.”
Soon Stone was moving westward with her mom, renting a place in the Park La Brea apartments off L.A.’s Miracle Mile. An agency sent her out on auditions. Then the agency stopped calling. Stone got a job working at Three Dog Bakery—which is indeed a bakery for dogs—in the L.A. Farmer’s Market. This was around the time her mother spotted a commercial for a new Partridge Family reality-show competition. On YouTube, you can find a video of teenage contestant Emily Stone in a rowdy duet of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.”
“I realized why the people on The Bachelor go so crazy,” Stone says now. “You go in there rolling your eyes, thinking, This is just a reality search competition, but then you’re there for seven weeks, and you just really, really want to win.”
The fever was short-lived; Stone made it onto the reality show, but the promised relaunch of the Partridge Family never reached the air. Stone found parts here and there—the voice of a dog on an episode of the kiddie series The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (“Thank you for remembering that”); an episode of Louis C.K.’s HBO sitcom Lucky Louie; a Fox series called Drive. Then came the Breakthrough: the bawdy teen comedy Superbad, in which Stone played Jules, a cool high school student obsessed over by Seth (Jonah Hill), her hapless home-economics partner. Produced by Judd Apatow, Superbad was an unlikely hit, grossing more than $121 million, and will live forever as the film that gave Earth the word McLovin.
“It was weird!” says Spencer Stone. “I was in high school when that came out, and all my friends loved that movie . . . everyone on the football team knew my sister was in it.”
Superbad would provide a launchpad for a string of films including (not necessarily in order) Zombieland (with Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray), Crazy, Stupid, Love (with Ryan Gosling), and, of course, Easy A, a wry Scarlet Letter update in which Stone played a high school student who declined to refute (untrue) rumors of her sexual escapades. Smart and packed with throwback, rat-a-tat dialogue, Easy A announced Stone as a confident leading actress of the moment. She loved making the film but, curiously, has never watched it. “It’s just too much of me,” she says. Not even the premiere? “Went across the street, had home fries.”
Stone’s not being falsely modest. She is the rare person in public life who will straight up tell you that yes, she has Googled herself. “I don’t usually like what I find,” she says. “But some of it is really funny.” Stone mentions Internet comments that referred to her as a “Bland Basic Bitch,” which was probably meant as a dig, but she found it hilarious, to the point that at dinner she now begins to refer to herself as “That Bland Basic Bitch.” Friends claim she isn’t swept up by fame. “She is just a breath of fresh air, she really is,” says Octavia Spencer, who recalls meeting Stone before making The Help and thinking she was a precocious fourteen-year old. (“The coolest little fourteen-year-old I ever met,” she jokes.) Spencer and Stone remain close; she has Thanksgiving with Stone’s family. “What you see is what you get,” Spencer says. “It’s not pretend or a feigned humility, it really is who she is.”
Now comes The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the sequel to the phenomenally successful franchise reboot, which I guess makes this a seq-boot, and I’m sure Sony Pictures doesn’t mind what anyone calls it if it rakes in close to its predecessor’s worldwide $750 million haul.
What’s always striking about these superhero epics is the scale of them, all that technological imagination and elaborate global rollout; as pieces of entertainment, they resemble aircraft carriers. “Nothing matters unless you care about the characters at the heart of the story,” says Spider-Man director Marc Webb, and this is where Stone comes in, playing Gwen Stacy, early love interest to Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker. Stone says she wasn’t sure if she wanted to join the adventure until she auditioned. “I remember I came home after the screen test and was upset about the idea of not being able to do the movie. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Between the two films, Stone estimates, she has spent about a year of her acting life playing Gwen Stacy. The project changed her in other ways: She and Garfield have been a couple since 2011. And while the pair have made it something of a joint policy to keep their relationship private, they can’t disguise their chemistry on-screen. There’s a scene in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in which Peter and Gwen meet up in Manhattan’s Union Square, and there’s a cute tête-à-tête—Parker tweaking Gwen about her laugh; Gwen noting Parker’s brown eyes—that’s impossible to watch without being struck by the undercurrent of affection. “You can’t fake it,” says Webb. “There are so many tiny nonverbal cues that they are issuing each other and picking up on.”
“I think I’ve learned a lot by being around him,” Stone says of Garfield. “And, you know, he is an incredibly important person to me.”
The feeling is clearly mutual. Garfield sounds grateful that Stone has been at his side during the far-flung Spider-Man journey. “I thank my lucky stars that we’ve been able to be on this ride together,” he says in an e-mail. “We all need companions in the mystery to get you out of your head and into your heart, to moan to and to take the piss out of it all with.”
I ask Stone about filming scenes with Garfield. Is that stuff easy? Harder?
“It’s not harder,” she says. “It’s fun. It’s been fun working with him just because of who he is as an actor and person. I think it would be fun no matter what.”
She smiles. Talking about Garfield is a rare moment when Stone shows signs of putting up her guard. As celebrity couples go, they are not terribly public. The wildest paparazzi moment of the two I can find is a recent surfing excursion in Hawaii (this is what counts as an Emma Stone headline on TMZ: Emma Stone Wipes Out Surfing in Hawaii). Stone keeps a low profile in general; the past year has been all about work. She considers New York “the closest thing to home,” but at the moment, she is in L.A., living in a hotel (“L.A.-oise,” she says drily).
Stone has had a commercial relationship with Revlon since 2011, and she isn’t a stranger to fashion shows. She’s been spotted at Paris and New York Fashion Weeks. She considers her curiosity about the spectacle almost journalistic. “I like to look through the glass,” she says. “As I’ve been more exposed to it, I find it interesting. I see what’s beautiful about clothes.” She is close with Alber Elbaz of Lanvin, who made her custom red flowered dress for the 2012 Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and was her date. “I feel about Emma that she’s a close cousin rather than a celebrity I have to dress,” says Elbaz, calling Stone “a great date . . . my mother would have been proud.”
“It’s fun to get to borrow a dress for a night and dress up for something,” Stone says. But she’s not attached to it. She doesn’t consider herself a style influencer; when the idea is raised to her, she finds it funny and waves it off. “No, I’ve never thought about that,” she says. She nods to her yellow shoes. “Though it would be supercool if everyone started wearing yellow leather shoes.”
Besides Amazing Spider-Man 2, Stone has wrapped a flurry of intriguing projects, all of which she is permitted to discuss only in fragmentary detail: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, which revolves around a play staged by an actor (Michael Keaton) who initially found fame as a superhero (Stone plays Keaton’s daughter); an untitled Cameron Crowe project with Bradley Cooper and Bill Murray, filmed in Hawaii, so closely guarded it is currently referred to as Untitled Cameron Crowe Project; and Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight, which Stone can divulge was “filmed in France and takes place in the twenties.”
Stone is eager to shake things up. Jonah Hill, who has gone on from Superbad to be nominated for Oscars for his performances in Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street, says that he’s talked to her about making a similar kind of career transition. (Hill took Stone to see the Who at the Hollywood Bowl for her eighteenth birthday; the two remain close friends.) Hill says he told Stone, “You don’t have to worry about anything. You’ll do anything and everything.”
That includes stage. Stone was ready to make her Broadway debut as Sally in Cabaret—she got the part after auditioning for Sam Mendes in London—but ran into scheduling difficulties with her Spider-Man obligations. She believes she’ll eventually get a chance to play Sally. “Someday,” she pledges. She talks about other theatrical parts, about taking more chances in film. “The thing I gravitate toward naturally is comedy,” Stone says. “But I want to do different things.” Like what? Maybe some “truly bizarre characters,” she says. Maybe she’ll produce. “I would like to see what I can do.”
Here are some other things I learn about Emma Stone: She is not known as a partier, especially by L.A. standards, but when she was seventeen, she went out for a bunch of nights over a two-week period with a friend, drank loads of Red Bull, and somehow ended up at Paris Hilton’s house, twice. She does not have great eyesight: Stone wears contact lenses, but I tried on her prescription glasses. They were so intense, I nearly had to lie down afterward. When she was making Untitled Cameron Crowe Project, Bill Murray made a habit of bringing Stone small gifts: an umbrella hat, slippers, coffee, potato chips, a pie. (“He wants to take care of people. I just love him.”) She offers rides home, which is how I discovered that she drives an environmentally efficient car with large water bottles clinking below the passenger seat. She currently is reading Lolita for the first time, but don’t read too much into that. She would love to star in the second season of HBO’s True Detective. (“That would be amazing. I would do True Detective with Kristen Wiig in a heartbeat.”) Lately she has been listening to Cat Stevens. And Sufjan Stevens. (“A lot of Stevens,” she says.)
“I had a nude selfie come out,” Stone says. “Did you see that one?” Wasn’t her, she says. She says her publicist e-mailed her: I just want to let you know . . . I want to be able to say that this isn’t you, but. . . . Stone reassured her: not her.
A modern rite of passage, it seems. “That stuff rolls right off of me,” she says.
Back at the mall, Stone has moved the conversation from Build-a-Bear to the food court and Hot Dog on a Stick. Two HDOS are ordered, as are fries and a pair of frozen lemonade slushies big enough to house tropical fish. The recently built bears sit on the table in tall boxes, bound by yellow ribbons.
In a few weeks, people in this mall will be on their way to the movies, many of them, presumably, to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Stone says she does not obsess over public reaction, about opening weekends, about box office. “That is so outside of my control,” she says. Soon there will be an international tour to promote the movie, taking Stone to Australia, China, Japan, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome. She is a human component at the center of a franchise, glamorous if needed but beloved for her talent to be relatable on-screen. “People do not feel she’s on a pedestal,” says Webb, the director. “You do not feel like you’re walking around with a movie star.”
Stone takes a sip of her frozen lemonade slushie. “Is there anything I can say more eloquently?” she asks. “Are there any opinions I can state that are cool and groundbreaking?” She laughs. Emma Stone may in fact be a movie star, but right now she’s just another girl at the mall. With a bear wearing sneakers.