Ten years on, and Emma Stone knows just how crucial that turning point was. “I was very lucky,” says the 24-year-old, her voice low and husky. “There was no way I’d be here now if it weren’t for that.” Her father, “a very self-made man” who runs his own contracting business, was impressed by his daughter’s acumen. But it was her mother who sacrificed her life in Scottsdale, leaving behind her husband and younger son Spencer to move to California with Stone, who leapt onto that giddying carousel of auditions, call-backs and rejections that so typify a budding actor’s life.
Bright, bubbly and utterly charming, Stone bears none of the scars that gruelling process can leave. Nor does this girl with the almond-shaped green eyes and Cheshire-cat smile have any idea where her “loud, ballsy, hammy ridiculousness” comes from. Certainly not from her soft-spoken parents, she says. “I think the nice thing that happened was they didn’t see me as an extension of themselves, which is the greatest gift a parent can give to their child – let them be who they are. Even though I’m very different from both of my parents, and I have very different dreams and goals, they allowed that. I was just lucky they always let me be an individual.”
Judging by Stone’s incredible rise over the past few years, their strategy has more than paid off. She is, in the best sense of the word, a comedienne – the Goldie Hawn for her generation, boasting a string of side-splitting turns in films like Easy A, which won her a Golden Globe nomination, The House Bunny and Crazy, Stupid, Love. “For a long time, I didn’t get worried about being boxed in, and then I started thinking about it too much, and then it scared me,” she says. “And now I’m just trying to let go of it, and realise that whatever my path is going to be, it’s going to be. I’m not going to try to control what people think of me.”
That easy-going attitude has served her well; the past 18 months have seen Stone break away from the comedy scene and ascend the A-List, starring in the much-loved, Oscar-nominated drama The Help; going toe-to-toe with Sean Penn in 1940s mob drama Gangster Squad; and playing comic book heroine Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man, alongside her current beau, Andrew Garfield. Now she’s back with The Croods, a delightful animated cartoon set in the stone age, in which she plays Eep, the spirited daughter of the family who is constantly at odds with her overprotective father (voiced by Nicolas Cage).
In many ways, this DreamWorks-produced ’toon takes her back to her roots. “I was raised on animated movies and comedy,” she says, citing films like The Jerk, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Caddyshack that dominated her formative years. “That style of comedy is my favourite to this day. I wish that there was more of that happening.” She also spent her childhood at the Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix, making her debut in a stage production of children’s classic The Wind In The Willows before taking on such perennials as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Alice in Wonderland.
Stone began working on The Croods in mid 2010, six months before the release of Easy A and long before films like The Help sent her into the Hollywood firmament. “It’s just a wild experience to be working on something for so long and not really know how it all comes together,” she says of performing in the very different world of animated film, “and then have it come together in such a beautiful way. I thought the movie was so fantastic.”
Today, she’s also gone back to her roots in another way – returning her flowing locks to their natural blonde colour. When she was first in LA, “I was getting sent out for a lot of cookie-cutter-blonde TV roles,” she recalls. She even auditioned for the role of Claire Bennet in the hit sci-fi show Heroes; “a rock bottom” experience, as she has dubbed it in the past. Her lowest ebb came when she overheard producers compliment Hayden Panettiere, who eventually won the part, with the words, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, you are an 11.’
Getting nowhere fast, Stone dyed her hair brown – and won her first TV role within a week. It was as a brunette that she swung her first film role, too, as the girl-next-door Jules in 2007 geek-chic comedy Superbad, only for producer Judd Apatow to tell her to colour her hair red – proof that blondes don’t always have the most fun. Co-starring with rising stars Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, the film took US$121 million in America and made a star of Stone overnight. Financial independence in one fell swoop, she notes with a smile. “That was a sheer stroke of luck.”
For all her goofy charm on screen and off (yes, she plays the ukulele), part of Stone’s evolution has been her growing fashion sense. As a teenager, she didn’t spend her days craving designer-wear. “I wasn’t into the fashion world. I just tried to dress like I was in different parts of the ‘60s, throughout my teenage years. There was about a year where I dressed like I was in 1968 – bohemian. I burned a lot of incense. I had a poster of John Lennon in my room. And then it went into a little bit more Mod ‘60s and I was wearing a lot of black and white.”
Now, her slender 5ft 6in frame sports more contemporary attire; in Berlin [at the Berlin Festival in February?], where The Croods had its world premiere, Stone effortlessly slipped from a Stella McCartney orange and white sleeveless shift dress for her afternoon engagements, to a stunning Gucci Spring 2013 black dress, complete with puffy silk sleeves, to wow the red carpet crowd. Ask her about her favourite designers and she talks enthusiastically about spending time with Alexander McQueen Creative Director Sarah Burton (who designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress) and Alber Elbaz at Parisian fashion house Lanvin.
She’s also become an ambassador for beauty giant Revlon – and the face for their Nearly Naked make-up line. But it’s the company’s philanthropic work, supporting breast cancer research, that has impressed her. “That is more what I think about when I think about that association – what they’ve done for women, and what they continue to do.” Stone points out that Revlon help fund Gilda’s Club, a series of cancer wellness centres across North America. “That’s unbelievable to know you can have a hand in that. I got to do a PSA [screening test] with my Mom, who is a breast cancer survivor. To be able to speak to women about early detection in a major way is really touching.”
For the past three years, Stone has lived in New York. “I really miss my friends in LA a lot and the weather. But my lifestyle is really different in New York. People there work in lots of different industries, whereas in LA everyone is kind of related to entertainment – you know what you’re going to get if you go to that city.” She can also be anonymous in Manhattan in a way she can’t in the City of Angels. “You can walk around with a coat on and a hood over your head.”.
She began filming the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man there in February, which means getting to spend more time with Garfield, who will reprise his role as the spandex-wearing superhero. After dating musician-actor Teddy Geiger, her co-star in The Rocker, and fending off rumours about her and Ryan Gosling, her time with the Spider-Man star is the real-deal. He calls her ‘Em’; she refers to him as ‘Garfy’; they’ve even adopted a golden retriever called Ren from an LA animal shelter.
Beyond that, Stone is stone-faced when it comes to questions about her man. “I don’t talk about that,” she winks. “You know that.” For a self-confessed media junkie who loves to chat, keeping her counsel can’t be easy. But then nor can being the centre of attention of the gossip pages. Does it bother her? “You know what? I’ll just speak for right now. It hasn’t happened today.” Has she felt the need to protect herself? “Yes, I have. I have. And if I read it, it’s not good for the brain. It’s not a helpful thing.”
Having recently signed on to star in Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe’s latest love story opposite Bradley Cooper, she’s also in talks to star in gothic horror romance Crimson Peak, by Pan’s Labyrinth creator Guillermo Del Toro. Step by step, she’s on her way – and there’s not a trace of regret in her voice. “I don’t regret anything, because everything that I’ve done has got me to where I am now and obviously it couldn’t have been any other way, and it wasn’t any other way. That’s how it happened. So I don’t regret a thing, but I’ve learned. And now I’m trying to grow.” Project Hollywood is about to enter a new phase.
The Croods opens March 28th.