Hollywood “It Girl” Emma Stone talks about overcoming failure and the constraints of a tight girdle during a chat about her new movie, “The Help,” which opens Wednesday.
Like her native Phoenix, Emma Stone is sizzling hot. You might even go so far as to say that there is no escaping her.
Just look at the past four weeks. During that small crease in time, she’s stolen movies from under the heels of Ryan Gosling (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”) and Justin Timberlake (“Friends With Benefits”).
She’s appeared on just about every late-night talk show in existence. Her impossibly bright blue eyes have graced about a half-dozen magazine covers, including Vanity Fair. And she’s not finished yet.
Starting Wednesday, Stone will begin a serious pursuit of Oscar with a dazzling lead performance in “The Help,” the movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s massive best-seller about three independent Mississippi women shaking up the establishment during the summer of 1963.
And in July 2012, she will likely launch herself into bona-fide superstardom when she makes her debut as Peter Parker’s love interest in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a flick in which she’ll star opposite rumored boyfriend Andrew Garfield.
Yes, it’s good to be Emma Stone. But her meteoric rise hardly happened overnight. In fact, there were times when she was tempted to pack it in; never more so than after her first TV series, “Drive,” tanked and was promptly pulled from the Fox prime-time lineup after only two episodes.
By that time, she was four years into a career that began at age 15, when her parents, Krista and Jeff Stone, sold their home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and moved to Hollywood so their daughter could pursue her acting dream. But Stone says she never entertained the thought of giving up.
“I’m from Phoenix and my favorite bird is the phoenix, and when you rise out of the ashes, you realize you have nothing to lose,” Stone said during a stop in Boston to promote “The Help.” “I’m absolutely spurred on by rejection and failure more than anything else. And it’s just acting. It’s making movies. It’s entertainment. So as long as your friends and family are healthy and you’ve got a good relationship with them, there’s really not that much you could be losing here.”
Like her favorite bird, Stone rose from the wreckage of “Drive” when a producer named Judd Apatow requested that she dye her naturally blond hair a fiery red, a transformation that instantly landed her the part of Jonah Hill’s raspy-voiced love interest in the mega-blockbuster “Superbad.”
Suddenly, her career was on a fast-track to the top, as she followed up her marvelous work in “Superbad” with even more impressive turns in flicks like “Zombieland,” opposite good friend Jesse Eisenberg, and “Easy A,” the raunchy romantic comedy that made her a certified household name.
“I didn’t know what it was going to do for me, career-wise,” Stone said of “Easy A,” “but I knew that if I wasn’t a part of it I would lose my ever-loving mind. I was borderline obsessed with that script, more than any script I’d ever read. It was like someone had handed me a child and I recognized it as my own. I’m not saying it lived up to that, but I just fell in love with (the character) Olive and couldn’t imagine not being a part of it. So that will truly be one of the greatest blessings of my life.”
Stone, who will reach the ripe old age of 23 in November, admits she wasn’t as confident when approached to assume the pivotal role of budding journalist Skeeter Phelan in “The Help.” After all, she had never before appeared in a film adapted from a book. Nor had she played a character in which millions of readers had already formed an opinion on how the onscreen Skeeter should be portrayed. Worse, she had never worn a girdle.
“I don’t mean to get too heady on it, but it was the first time I ever understood the physical constraints of wardrobe and emulating the constraints of the time,” Stone said of her “Help” costumes. “Like being in the girdle, being in all of these garments that they wore in the 1960s. It is a representation of how repressive that time must have felt.”
Stone, who attended an official White House screening of “The Help” with first lady Michelle Obama recently, says she was particularly impressed by Skeeter’s courage to break out of the repressed mold at a time when few women had the courage or inclination to forego family in favor of a career.
“There are parts of Skeeter that I can identify with, like her curiosity and her idealism,” Stone said. “I don’t know if I’m as brave as Skeeter. And also, she’s a very modern woman, which is good. It was much more of a big thing back then. I’m the same age as Skeeter now and I’m not married with children and, unlike her, no one’s given me crap about that. So that’s nice.”
In the film, which was written and directed by Stockett’s childhood friend, actor Tate Taylor, Stone’s Skeeter turns the city of Jackson on its ear after she writes a tell-all book about the racist attitudes of rich white folks who trust their black maids well enough to raise their children but won’t allow them to use their toilets. Doing most of the dishing is a pair of brave and feisty maids played by Tony-winner Viola Davis and character actress Olivia Spencer.
But despite the racial undertones, Stone says that’s not the main focus of the movie.
“It’s a story of humanity and friendship and of three women really coming together to make positive change in the world,” Stone said. “It just happens to happen during that time. But this kind of thing needs to happen all the time, people being honest and coming together to tell their story.”
Stone said she is extremely proud of the movie, which marks her first dramatic turn onscreen. Which raises the age-old question of what’s harder: comedy or drama?
“Sadness and heartbreak and those emotions are without a doubt the hardest thing for me as an actor,” Stone said. “That’s incredibly vulnerable and exposing yourself to things you don’t want to feel as a human being. And having to go to work and say, ‘Today, my heart is going to break a hundred times over and over from a bunch of different angles,’ that’s a hard thing to accept as a human being. And that’s difficult for me. And it’s hard to let go of at the end of the day, too.”
Even harder, she said, is dealing with fame.
“Jesse Eisenberg said in an interview in GQ that sometimes he feels like Big Bird,” Stone said. “And sometimes I feel like Big Bird. But it’s not too bad for me. It’s pretty low-key. I’m not really followed or anything like that. But it is a little bizarre when someone from a distance is taking your picture, acting like you can’t see them.”
That anonymity will likely diminish greatly after “The Help” and “Spider-Man,” but Stone isn’t about to let such annoyances dictate the path of her career.
“I would like to keep as much of my life private as possible, maintain as much normalcy as I can and just be surrounded by friends and family. That is the most important thing to me in the entire world. That is success to me.”