In the past five years, Emma Stone has gone from playing the goofy sidekick in movies like Zombieland and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past to the serious heroine in The Help and Gangster Squad (in theaters January 11). Her breakthrough role in the surprise hit Easy A, in which she portrayed a high school girl who amps up her popularity by pretending to be promiscuous, introduced Stone as a leading lady. She not only was very pretty but also had a sly sense of comic timing and a knack for physical humor.
Growing up in Arizona, Stone worshipped Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live and Steve Martin in The Jerk—which explains her propensity for giving a slightly loopy twist to even her most dramatic performances. In Crazy, Stupid, Love, she and Ryan Gosling have a cinematic date that has probably encouraged a million real-life dates, and Stone is so convincing that her character believably changes the life of a committed womanizer. Anyone who is able to out-sexy Gosling at his sexiest, with largely improvised dialogue, has true movie star appeal. Last year’s The Amazing Spider-Man prequel, in which Stone, 24, played Gwen Stacy opposite her boyfriend, the actor Andrew Garfield, was a triumph of personal chemistry over special effects and pyrotechnics. Like all the great screwball actresses, Stone knows how to set off her own kind of sparks.
In Gangster Squad, Stone reunites with Gosling, and their love scenes have an intensity that gives the movie an emotional center. Although her part is underwritten, Stone does something new: She channels a glamorous woman of mystery.
Who do you play in Gangster Squad?
Grace Faraday, who moved to Hollywood in the ’40s to become a star and ended up falling in with Mickey Cohen, a very well-known gangster, and his brood. Grace is also having an affair with Jerry Wooters, portrayed by Ryan Gosling. He’s one of the cops investigating Mickey Cohen. Grace is playing with fire—she’s constantly torn, caught in that classic conundrum between good and evil.
Actresses from that era were always so dolled up. Was it hard to be perfectly groomed at all times?
Those undergarments were pretty demanding. It’s time-consuming to put on a bustier and a little corset every day. But you’re immediately more poised than you would be in modern-day clothes. And it makes it easy to get into character.
Do you find it hard not to be funny, even in serious dramas?
In real life, sometimes it’s uncomfortable for me not to go for the joke. I’ve been looking at that in myself lately. Often, joking for me is a way of diffusing the awkwardness of a situation, so it’s kind of exhilarating to be a part of projects where there’s nothing funny or lighthearted.
Let’s talk about last year’s Oscars, where you presented an award with Ben Stiller. Some viewers thought you were the most memorable part of the night.
It was for best visual effects, so Ben and I had all these funny ideas. Planet of the Apes was nominated, so we thought we would bring a chimp onstage and I’d say, “Oh—it looks so real.” And Ben would be like, “It’s a real chimp.” And I’d be insisting, “Oh, my God—the work they do now is so staggering.” And he’d repeat, “It’s a real chimp.” But apparently, you can’t make the Oscar presentation about a particular movie or else the audience thinks you’re swaying the vote toward that movie. So instead, we pretended that Ben had been to the Oscars many times and I was this really overly enthusiastic Oscar presenter. I was very excited, and he was not.
You were extremely convincing.
Thanks. Though a lot of people thought it was something else: When I came offstage, they were saying, “You were so drunk!” And I wasn’t. Not until after…
Did you enjoy the Oscars?
At first, when you go to premieres and award shows, you’re thinking, How the hell am I here? All these people I’ve never met are here, and it’s so cool! And then, as time goes on, it’s a little bit like, Ah…it’s more like work. There are only a couple of events where I’ve truly felt, That was an awesome night—and the Oscars was one of them.
What movie makes you cry?
The end of City Lights makes me cry every time I see it—when Charlie Chaplin walks by the shop window and the once blind girl brings him a flower and pins it to his lapel. She’s always thought that he was a millionaire, but he was really a tramp. She feels his hand and says, “You?” And he nods. He says, “You can see now?” And she says, “Yes, I can see now.” They cut back to his face, and he lights up like you’ve never seen. That last line—“Yes, I can see now”—has so many meanings. It’s echoed in every great romantic movie since then and in every great moment of life.
Hair by Mara Roszak for Wella Professionals at Starworks Artists; makeup by Dick Page for Shiseido.