Emma Stone made her feature film debut in the 2007 comedy Superbad, which instantly established the natural blonde as a redhead. Other films include The Rocker, The House Bunny, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Paper Man, Zombieland, and Easy A. With anticipation high for Stone's role as Gwen Stacy in next year's The Amazing Spider-Man, Summer 2011 sees the release of three Emma Stone films within weeks of each other: the rom-coms Friends with Benefits and Crazy, Stupid, Love, and the '60s-set race drama The Help. I talked to Stone as she promoted The Help, at San Francisco's Four Seasons Hotel.
Emma Stone: Hello. How are you?
Groucho: Good. How are you doing?
ES: I’m good. Thanks.
G: I think what was interesting to me about your character is that she has one foot sort of reluctantly in the establishment and one foot tentatively in this counterculture she's creating.
G: How did you see the character, and what was sort of your “in” to the role? Or did you have a sort of breakthrough moment where you thought, “Okay, now I really get who she is”?
ES: I could relate to that feeling, I think probably in general. There’s that truth, there’s that feeling at your core that you really want to access. I mean, you're brave enough, and you see clearly—in every human being, I think. And you know, we all have our own perspectives. We are the center of our own “show.” And then there’s also that “I really want to be accepted,” “I really want to be liked,” “I really want to get along with my peers,” “I don’t really want to start anything too crazy.” Because what happens once you do that? Well then you’ve gotta really kind of go full throttle, or else you’re, you know. So it’s—I could relate to that struggle just from childhood.
G: Now, did you meet Kathryn Stockett before starting to play the character?
ES: Yes! Mm-hm.
G: I would think that you might have gleaned something from her that you might end up using in the role, since it seems somewhat of a surrogate character for her.
ES: You’ve seen Kathryn Stockett?
G: I have, yeah.
ES: She is, like, hottie-tottie.
G: Yeah. (Laughs.)
ES: She’s like, I don’t know. That’s not Skeeter. I thought I was going to meet her and see Skeeter. You know what I mean? She is—it was just so—I think Kathryn is such an incredible writer, because—I mean, she didn’t give me—if you mean if she gave me tips on playing the role, she was so hands-off and letting Tate kind of take the reins, and was just, you know, "What you’re gonna do is what you’re gonna do and more power to you. The book and the movie are different." It was very—she was so amazing about it. And I felt so supported by her, but I didn’t feel like she was giving me any particular advice, but yeah. She was the furthest thing from Skeeter. It’s so amazing that she wrote such an amazingly fleshed-out character for Skeeter.
G: You know, shooting in the South I would think would be enormously helpful. I would also imagine you probably, over the course of the shoot, start to collect personal stories from people who want to share—
G: You know, their remembrances. Was that the case and did you find that useful?
ES: Everybody is right there to tell you stories in the South. In my experience. They would in Greenwood at least. You know, that’s kind of a Southern tradition, I think, is storytelling about their lives and wanting to hear your story, and so yeah, absolutely. I've heard a lot of stories from a lot of different families and a lot of people who had upbringings similar to Skeeter or upbringings similar to Aibileen. You know, it was—we went to houses where they still had housekeepers that lived there year-round, all the time, in uniform. I mean, we saw some really interesting things and met some really interesting people.
G: It also occurred to me that, you know, Hollywood is sort of an industry that has a lot of “help” around, you know?
ES: Yeah. Absolutely.
G: A lot—you know, entourages and so on and so forth.
ES: We were talking about this yesterday.
G: Yeah, and I wonder if it sort of makes you a little more sensitive to that. You know, when you’re going from hotel to hotel and that sort of thing.
ES: Right? It really kind of heightens your—I think anyone who’s read the book can kind of—it heightens your awareness of the different—like, to this day the different social—
ES: Strata, and it’s really interesting because the entire point of this book is that every human being is born completely equal, and any of that is just put on us by some outside force or some ignorance. So it’s odd, but there’s also that feeling of there are no laws anymore dividing people in that way, and it becomes a bit more—you know, as long as your perspective is able to see everyone as the exact same “height” as you, then I think it, you know, ends up being a little more palatable or something. I don't know.
G: Right. And it always comes down to just a matter of personal respect.
ES: Personal respect! As a fellow human being. With the exact same wants and needs. You know. I don’t know. Anyway.
G: (Laughs.) Now, how would you describe the character of the South? You know, working there for a few months…?
ES: Yeah. It was really—I can’t imagine making this movie anywhere else. That would have been—and you know, I felt personally, selfishly lucky to be informed as Skeeter because Greenwood is a really, really small town in the South, and I’m from Phoenix, Arizona, which is a pretty urban city. And I didn’t understand the level of secrecy needed.
ES: It was—there is a certain level of privacy that leaves immediately when you set foot in this small town, y'know? Everybody heard what you had for dinner last night and who you had over. And I really understood just how life-threatening this situation that Skeeter and Aibileen and Minny were getting themselves into was. It was the first time in my life I’d ever understood, you know, the depth of that secrecy, and (whispers:) just how much everybody knows. And everybody can hear.
G: Yeah. That’s really interesting. It’s—there’s the paparazzi, and then there’s, y'know— (Laughs.)
G: There’s the small town gossip.
G: But both have, you know, something you have to deal with.
G: React to. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about The Amazing Spider-Man.
G: I’m sure you’ll hear about that more today, but Gwen Stacy the character’s been around for forty-five years, and I wonder, you know, if any of the material that’s come before was useful to you at all, or if you just stuck to the cues of the script?
ES: No. The material that came before was definitely useful to me. It was kind of the same with this movie. It was the first time I had ever done a movie based on a book, and then I went straight into Spider-Man, and that was based on a comic. And it’s almost like having kind of a cheat sheet, but you’ve got, all of a sudden—you know, usually you have a hundred and twenty pages of script; now you've got all this material where your research is done for you. You can just read the book or read the comics. And so, yeah, I definitely looked back through that, but I think this Gwen might be a little—I don’t know. I don’t know what she’ll be like in comparison to the comic. I am desperate to live up to people’s expectations. (Laughs.)
G: Well, what is your Gwen like?
ES: My Gwen—you'll have to wait and see.
G: (Laughs.) Aahh! No fair! You won’t be coming back, I’m sure.
ES: Yeah, exactly! I’m never going to see you again, right?
ES: No. I—we’re going to Comic-Con soon, and I think they’re going to show some stuff from the movie. So that’ll be fun. I’m sure that’ll be on the internet thirty seconds later. (Laughs.)
G: Well, I take it she's a more modern—a little more like the tougher version of—
ES: Well, yeah, it’s set in modern day, and there’s also that different element of, you know, '70s Gwen...
G: And I was also going to ask you—I assume you saw some action. You know, blue screens and rigs. I’ve heard you talk about it.
G: Is that—that must be entirely new for you.
ES: It is. It is, yeah. There was—I mean there’s a little bit of green screen in Zombieland, but, you know, not on harnesses, so…
ES: That was new and really cool and interesting and giant.
G: You had extensive wire work training?
ES: Mm-hm. Not so much for me, but for Andrew, yeah, absolutely.
G: You know, I heard that Paul McCartney designed your blackbird tattoo by request.
ES: He did. He did.
G: Can you explain how that came to be?
ES: That was—oh, it’s such a long story, but basically he’s really, really good friends with Woody Harrelson. And Woody and I are friends from Zombieland, and so I had this idea for a "Blackbird" tattoo, and it has to do with my mother. It’s her favorite song, and we were going through—as a family we were going through this interesting time. So we all decided to get the tattoo, and I wrote a letter to Paul through—and Woody sent it to him. And then he sent back this beautiful letter and three different drawings of bird feet. So we all picked one of them, but I’ve got two other drawings in case anyone wants a Paul McCartney-designed tattoo. (Laughs.) But yeah, now my mom, dad, brother, and I all have it on our wrists. So, it’s pretty great.
G: And lastly, I just have to ask about—I know you really started your career thinking sketch comedy—
G: Was where you’d be. And you had done, sort of, I guess during your high school years, improv? Right?
G: And so, Saturday Night Live was sort of that shining beacon.
G: Yeah. Did it live up to your expectations?
ES: My God. And exceeded them above and beyond. And everyone is like, “So is it all downhill from here?” And I’m like “No. I’m literally coasting through the rest of my life. I’m fine. I am just"—it was the best week of my life, for sure, because it was fun and for sentimental reasons too.
G: Right. All right, I think I have to cut it there.
ES: All right.
G: Thank you very much.
ES: Thank you so much.