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.”
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.”