Interview of Emma with Indiewire
Her Broadway debut marks another astonishing achievement for the 26-year-old, who at this point in her still young career has already worked with Woody Allen (twice), hosted "Saturday Night Live" and been nominated for a Golden Globe. If the awards prognosticators are to be trusted, she'll likely earn her first Oscar nomination for her fiery performance as Michael Keaton's troubled daughter in "Birdman."
You must be in crazy rehearsal mode for "Cabaret."Yeah, I start Tuesday. The show starts Tuesday.
I caught you at a really exciting time, I'm sure.
Yeah. [Laughs.] Yeah, an overwhelming and exciting time. How are you?
Good. I'm, I guess, a little delirious. It's not even exhaustion. It's just kind of delirium. I feel like I'm hallucinating all the time. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Why's that?
It's probably good for Sally. I mean I guess because the process of it is so—you come at it at so many angles. Like I'm about to leave and work with a speech teacher to keep working on getting to the back of a theater and there's all these different facets that I'm working on and there's always something else to do. But, it's so great. I'm having the time of my life and it's been really positive. I'm just—I feel like I'm on acid. [Laughs.]
What's surprised you about the experience of taking over for Michelle Williams in an already-opened production?
Well, the thing that's probably been most surprising is how not challenging they've made it feel for me because obviously I am coming in and they've been incredibly sensitive to that. But, they also have been—I don't know if this company is just spectacularly nice or warm, but they have sort of been going out of their way to make me feel welcome. That's been the most surprising thing because I thought I was gonna come in and just keep my head down and start on Tuesday. But, they've been—we had a few put in rehearsals and they did a full show with me on Friday with 25 people from the house staff watching in the audience because they won't have any previews. And then they did a show that night and two shows on Saturday. It's been really—everyone's been really welcoming. It's been really crazy.
I love that I just saw you in "Birdman" and now you're on Broadway. It's ironic!
[Laughs]. I know! I think it's been the running joke. We did a Q&A and someone in the audience was asking if any of us now as actors that do movies would dare to do theater and I was sitting on the end of the panel. I was at the end of the line of all the actors and everybody's head turns toward me and Michael Keaton just goes "‘Em? Wanna answer that?" [Laughs.] I was like "oh shit, well I guess I really am my father's daughter." I am Riggin Thompson or something. Although, it doesn't really feel like I have half the balls that character does because I'm not Kander and Ebb -- I don't have to write or direct it.
You're also not a washed up actress by any means.
[Laughs.] Well, that depends on who you ask. But, yeah it is pretty hilarious though. The timing could not be better.
For "Birdman," you and the cast underwent an intensive rehearsal process to map everything out given how it was shot to look like one long, continuous take. Did that experience in any way prepare you for your first Broadway show?
I've done a few interviews with Edward Norton so far and everybody asks the question 'Did making it feel like theater?' And he always says 'No' and I always bite my tongue because I don't like to argue in the midst of an interview [Laughs.] But, it did feel like theater because the rehearsal process was so—not that that would be an argument since it's an opinion and no claws would come out. He'd probably be fine with me feeling differently. But, now, being in rehearsal, I think this sense that you have of relying on the whole company, on relying on the cast and crew to put their prop in the right place so you have it for the next scene, or for the emotional logic to make sense to lead you into the next thing where a bunch of people are going to come onto the stage -- you need to pick up where you left off. I think that was really really -- that was a huge resonating factor of "Birdman." No one could drop the ball and if someone did we had to go back to the very beginning, which in some ways was more pressure-filled than doing theater.
The other day, we went through the run-through and I went to Linda Emond's dressing room, one of the amazing actors in the play, and I said ‘I get to do this again tomorrow.' [Laughs.] I fucked up in this one moment and didn't do what I was hoping I could have explored and tomorrow, I will get to do that and if it doesn't work, then the next day I'm gonna try a different angle. There's that sort of gift in theater that you get to do it again and again. With "Birdman" we did it again and again, but then there was always gonna be one that was permanent and that couldn't be cut. So, it was this strange -- what's the word I'm looking for? What's something that lasts for all eternity? What's something that's kinda permanent? I was looking for a word. Basically, you didn't get back and do it again. Once it was over, it was over.
Everlasting! There we go. It was everlasting.
You have this amazing scene in "Birdman" where you just tear into your father in an extended monologue. The sequence had me on edge not just because of your intensive delivery, but because of how Alejandro chose to shoot it. If you flubbed it, the entire arc of the long sequence would have suffered. How nerve-wracking was it to shoot that scene?
Well, I think less nerve-wracking than it was if I came in and just had a little line in the end of a scene.
Yeah. I think the things that were most pressure-filled were if you weren't in the scene and then you had to come in just at the very end and bring someone into another room and that was where the stitch was made. Because then you were in the kind of unique position of not really being in the scene, but having the chance to screw it up for everybody else. [Laughs.] At least if you're in the middle of a monologue, you know there's a little more time and you're not just this rogue person coming in needing to deliver one thing. We did it a lot. Every day was complicated. Every day was hard, but it also is the best feeling ever whenever you get to the end of any day. So, I don't know if that monologue scene was any harder than any other day really. But yeah, it's a pretty intense scene.
I've seen the film twice and that's the scene that kind of leaves the audience's jaws on the floor. You can't hear a pin drop after.
[Laughs.] Oh boy. That's probably just because my eyes make me look like a strange alien. ‘How is that a person?'
[Laughs.] Well, before coming onto something like "Birdman," you were more well-known for your comic timing. Ever since you kind of broke out in "Superbad" everybody's been labeling you as this generation's answer to Goldie Hawn.
Oh my god! I could only wish. Please.
In "Birdman," you got to play a pretty troubled character, something that you hadn't really been able to do before just given the projects you were in. Did you feel totally confident that you had the ability to get under her skin?
No, never. It was wonderful and it was really hard. There were times where -- because you're right -- I have done comedies for the majority of time that I've been working, which is 652 years now. [Laughs.] No, it was hard and one of the things that was probably the most striking about it was that there would be time when I thought ‘That was really good and that was true and that felt authentic' and Alejandro would look at me with this look in his eyes and tell me to go again -- and I was realizing that this person has the world's greatest bullshit meter and there was no fooling him at all, which was sort of infuriating until you can break through to something that's really true. And then you go home and you're like 'Oh, I just told the whole truth and that felt really incredible and really scary.'
So, I think because of working with somebody like him, that dramatic or whatever you would call it -- although it doesn't really feel that different from comedy in the moment that you're doing it. It doesn't feel like this is drama or this is a different genre or anything like that. But, working with a director like that who doesn't let anything slide and doesn't let you rest on your laurels in any way was scary and ultimately -- there's no way I would be doing something like I'm about to do really with the kind of enthusiasm that I'm about to do it, if I hadn't worked with somebody like Alejandro or on a movie like "Birdman." So, it just sort of propelled me into wanting that scary truthful feeling daily, rather than as like a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Am I making any sense?
Sorry, I sound like an insane person! [Laughs.]
No, you're making total sense.
I feel like maybe I am half asleep right now.
Have you expressed to Alejandro what you just said? How working with him kind of propelled you to take on challenging stuff like "Cabaret" on Broadway.
I don't know if I've ever said it in so many words. It might be a good time to write a thank you card.
Did you make "Birdman" immediately following working with Woody [Allen] on "Magic in the Moonlight"?
I made it immediately prior to working with Woody.
How do you compare their two working styles? They sound totally different from what you're saying about Alejandro and what I've read about Woody.
Yeah, they're pretty much the opposite in personality, other than the fact that they are both incredibly disciplined when it comes to work. They both like to do a lot of things in one shot. [Laughs.] With Alejandro, there was extensive rehearsal and discussion. With Woody, there is little to pretty much none, there is no rehearsal and really almost no discussion. But, you will show up on the day and be told you're shooting a five or six page scene in one take with Woody. For Woody, it was equally important to prep like I did on "Birdman." Making "Birdman," it felt like I had been shot out of a cannon no matter how well rehearsed the scene was. It definitely feels like that with Woody. But, in terms of their personalities, they're pretty dissimilar.
Saying those two names out loud, do you ever have "pinch me" moments anymore?
Oh my god. Yeah. I'm obnoxious with "pinch me" moments. I think I'm always crying and babbling on about how excited I am about things. There are big moments where I feel very overwhelmed by opportunities and chances to do things that I really love and really care about. Especially in the last couple of years, it's just been surreal what's happened in the last couple of years. That's probably the reason why I feel like I'm hallucinating a lot of the time. [Laughs.]
I think I also have this kind of non-stop neurotic awareness that it won't always be this way -- and it hasn't always been this way. There have been periods of time throughout it where it felt like sort of... the nature of being an actor is you finish something and you feel like you're never gonna work again and that doesn't ever go away. It doesn't really matter what it is that you last did. It always feels like your fingers are crossed and you're just waiting to see what's gonna happen next. So, I have a healthy amount of not believing that anything will continue past the next six months or something. Maybe that sounds horribly negative, but it's probably, I don't know. I am just sorry. [Laughs.]
Why are you apologizing?
[Laughs.] I feel like I'm just saying words at you. And then I trail off at the end. Good stuff.
Well, I'm not gonna keep you much longer.
That's fair! You probably aren't getting much.
Stop, stop! For somebody who is working with Woody Allen, Alejandro, on Broadway, so many things are going so well for you -- you still seem so grounded as a person. How do you do it? What keeps you grounded?
Wait grounded? How do I seem grounded? I feel like a loopy cloud. Do you mean in terms of not thinking like I'm a precious gem or something?
Yeah, that's easy to do. [Laughs.] You just have to actually look at the reality of being a human being. I don't know. That's a tough question to answer I think because I don't really know. I guess I don't know the difference. But, no, I don't know. I feel like there have been very amazing opportunities and that's been work. Work has been really amazing, but there's this whole other side of life that has nothing to do with work. I don't think work has ever really defined who I am, it's just what I do. That's been really exciting over the past couple of years, but it doesn't feel like that's all that I am. So, I guess the other side of things. Remembering the other side of things is hugely, if not more important in many ways, that's probably it. I don't know. These are really special answers. [Laughs.]
That they are. So have you had time to have a life? How do you make time? You're so busy.
That's a good point. Yeah. I'm talking about how there's life outside of work and yet all I've been doing is working, so I'm completely bullshitting you. It's all front. It's a complete visage. [Laughs.] That's a really good point. No, I haven't actually been able to do that much outside of -- especially for "Cabaret" because it was like I was saying before, it seems like there's always something to be working on for this, just in terms of getting stronger. So, I also just stay home a lot. A few people come over and I watch movies and I read and that's pretty much all I got outside of work. That's the life thing I was telling you about. Pretty great. [Laughs.]
Well, thank you so much and have an amazing opening on Tuesday.
Thank you so much.
Go read a book!
Ok, I will!