A Brief History Of Emma Stone's Rise To Hollywood Prestige

Emma Stone in "The Favourite" (Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

By Marialexa Kavanaugh with Jonathan Shifflett & John Horn

After her Oscar win for La La Land, her nomination for Birdman, and now both SAG and Golden Globes nominations for her role in 18th-century drama The Favourite, it's hard to remember Emma Stone as the 20-year-old breakout star playing Jonah Hill's love-interest in Superbad.

Over the past decade, we've watched her balloon from comedic side-character to one of the most critically acclaimed actresses in Hollywood. Judging by her interviews talking about her Academy-recognized roles, she hasn't let it get to her head.

"I'm still trying to come to terms with realizing that I potentially can do it," Stone told The Frame's John Horn at a Telluride Film Festival panel.

Stone said that her career really began long before Superbad.

"When I realized I wanted to do it, I was 6 and in the first grade," Stone said. "There was a part for one first grader in the school play, where everybody else was fifth graders."

From that point on, it was basically history. When she was 11, she started taking improv classes. (Hear that, L.A. twentysomethings?)

"I think that because I was so anxious as a kid, it gave me a really special outlet," Stone said. "It's been just a really incredible thing to get to do and learn more about myself and people."

Her career turning point as Olive in Easy A wasn't just handed to her, according to Stone.

"That part, I went after that like a mad woman," Stone said. "I had gotten the script from someone I think a year before they started auditioning people, and I read it and thought, 'If I don't do this, then I don't know what I'm doing.' And then I begged to be the first person to audition when they were auditioning people."

It came together, giving her a new challenge as she received more screen time than she'd ever had before.

Easy A gave her the power to decide which roles she wanted to do since.

"At the beginning, when you're auditioning, if you're auditioning and someone is going to cast you in something, you do it," Stone said. "Because you need to work. And then it sort of shifted into filmmakers that I'd admired growing up and working with them. And then it shifted into filmmakers and the script and the character all coming together. That gut instinct."

She credits the opportunities she's been given — and luck. That being said, learning the power of the word "no" and how to refuse projects respectfully still feels like a hurdle she hasn't fully cleared.

"I don't know if it's societal, or just the way I am, but saying no is a very difficult thing when you're going to let people down," Stone said. "I'm still learning the lessons of what that really feels like. To say 'No, I need to take care of myself in this moment,' whatever it may be."

In 2014, Stone came full circle and returned to the theater, where she starred in a Roundabout Theatre production of Cabaret. It felt like a steep learning curve for her, thanks to how much theatrical acting happens without the director present.

"You have to rely on your actors in such a huge way," Stone said. "And just yourself, eight times a week. And I think that is a big gift to an actor. To learn, at least for me, to break through myself and not have someone saying, 'I think this is how it should be done' on a daily basis. Which, with a director - it's so nice to rely on your director to help guide you if you feel lost. You can't do that as much in theater, except with your other actors."

Another full-circle landmark: returning to the small screen (laptop screen?) and creative collaboration with Jonah Hill in Cary Fukunaga's Maniac for Netflix this year.

Which leads us to now. Stone's latest is The Favourite, Yorgos Lathimos' absurd, rule-breaking period piece. She stars opposite Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman. The film breaks ground with its defiance of genre conventions, as well as by centering around the lives of three powerful women — a rare move for Hollywood.

"It's a complete unicorn, it's a unicorn in a corset," Stone said. "I mean, these women are not only complex, but they're also kind of detestable in their own ways, lovable in their own ways — they're human. They're women that are completely human. And there's three of them interacting with each other. It's hard to see three men on screen that are that fully formed, much less women. I've seen this one a couple of times, which has been a journey, and each time I'm just more and more struck by how multifaceted these characters really are."

Stone made sure to credit both the writing and the direction. She's been nominated as best supporting actress for her role in The Favourite by multiple organizations, including Golden Globes, Critic's Choice, and SAG nominations. Now we wait to see what awards season brings.

A version of this story aired on the radio — you can listen to it here on KPCC's The Frame.


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