In the last decade or so, as the big top Hollywood circus has seemingly consolidated itself around the tent poles of the scatological comedy and the superhero melodrama of teen-boy dreams, even the most talented leading ladies have to make do with slight, sexy tomboy parts or girl-next-door roles. It’s slim pickings—repeatedly demonstrating how down to hang and talk sports or make toilet jokes with the fellas they are, but also, oh wait, she is actually a fiery sex pot if and when we care to take notice. But, at only 26 years of age,Emma Stone has become one of the most singular and dynamic stars in movies by shaking the dust off of these traps and filling them with a magnetism and verve all her own.
In dude-heavy fare, from her first part in Superbad (2007) to the brain-eating comedy Zombieland (2009) and the basso profundo noir Gangster Squad (2013), Stone lights up her scenes with where-the-party-at ebullience. Interrupting the regularly scheduled bro fest, she arrives—all Catwoman eyes and loose limbs; so restless she seems to blur at her edges—like someone expecting to hear a punch line and ready to roar in appreciation. Playing Gwen Stacy, across from her real-life (former?) flame Andrew Garfield, in the most recent Amazing Spider-Man movies, Stone cuts through the noise and CGI, and the underwrittenness of her part, with a warmth that could power Electro. Playing, essentially, the Great Man’s Daughter in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of outsize theatricality, Birdman, Stone provided much needed ballast with a candid, quick-focus performance—and was justly nominated for an Academy Award for her troubles.
When given a little more room to roam, as she was in the underrated coming-of-age comedy Easy A (2010) and in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (2014), or as part of a well-matched ensemble (2011’s The Help and Crazy, Stupid, Love; and in what looks to be director Cameron Crowe’s return to greatness, Aloha, out this month), Stone is still more winning. To see her live, whether hosting SNL or in a lip-synching contest with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, is perhaps to understand why. In real time, in front of real people, Stone’s seemingly fearless appetite for the stage and unaffected embrace of the spotlight is utterly disarming. Where other “personalities” can seem to be playing themselves, Stone’s presence lacks pretense altogether. Her gleeful ready-and-willingness doesn’t come from desperation, doesn’t plead for approval; her performances are infectious and affecting precisely because they so clearly communicate how much fun she is having in giving them.
As the Scottsdale native, and star of the forthcoming Woody Allen movie Irrational Man, tells her hero, and the ultimate Allen muse, Diane Keaton, that will to perform has always been with her, ever since she was a little girl being baked to death in the Arizona heat.
DIANE KEATON: So, Emma.
EMMA STONE: Yes …
KEATON: I was on the cover of Interview magazine [January 1987] for this movie Crimes of the Heart , with Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange. And in that interview, I said, “The best way of getting something is not to let anyone know you want it—including yourself.” Do you say things like that to yourself in order to just not feel guilty about being so successful and ambitious?
STONE: [laughs] Well, you know what? What’s strange about the way my brain functions is that the only thing that has ever made me feel calm is knowing clearly what I want. You don’t admit to yourself what you want?
KEATON: Well, I tried not to because I felt really guilty about wanting them.
KEATON: Because it just seemed like it was asking too much. And if I admitted that I wanted it, it would go away. It would be punishment, you know, for having the want.
STONE: I feel the opposite. Isn’t that weird? But that just has to be some psychological mechanism that keeps you safe, somehow, in yourself. I feel safer when I know what I want. When I don’t know what I want, I feel like I’m flailing through the universe. I need to get better at the not being clear about things.
KEATON: Well, maybe not. Maybe you’re fine the way you are. Now, your 2012 cover photograph for Interview is startlingly sexy. You seem to stare out at the world unafraid. And you seem to be ready for everything an actress can play. Is that the way you feel?
STONE: God, no.