All comedy, as somebody very wise once said, comes from pain. If this is true, then Emma Stone just might be a comedy genius.
Ms. Stone, making her feature film debut in 2007’s Superbad, was essentially introduced to the world with a drunken head-butt. During the movie’s final touching moments, as Jules (played by Stone) tried to reassure Seth (played by Hill) that she wasn’t repulsed by him, the exceedingly rotund and intoxicated leading man passed out, falling directly onto the object of his affections. His face brushed against hers like a piece of shrapnel, and the hitherto self-possessed young lady loudly exclaimed, “What the fuck!” It was, without a doubt, the funniest teenage romance ending with a black eye ever committed to celluloid.
Getting bloodied and bruised by Jonah Hill was apparently a big career move. When Superbad become one of the biggest comedy blockbusters of last year, Stone, whose resumé included a few failed TV pilots (The New Partridge Family and Crash) and bit parts in sitcoms (Malcolm in the Middle and Lucky Louie) was suddenly a hot commodity. This summer, she’s returned to the silver screen with not one but two new comedies. First there’s The Rocker, where she plays a bassist in a rock band formed by Rainn Wilson. And then in August, she’s appearing in The House Bunny, starring Anna Faris as a former Playboy Playmate who moves into a college sorority.
One might be inclined to think that Stone, at the tender age of 20, is an overnight success. You wouldn’t, however, be correct. “The universe blessed me with years of rejection,” Stone tells us, which isn’t something you expect to hear from a woman not yet old enough to drink legally. But truth be told, Stone has been immersed in the business of show for many years. Her very first audition was, by her own estimation, “probably when I was crowning.”
Born (or, as the case may be, cast) in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1988, Stone’s premiere performance was in a Valley Youth Theater production of The Wind in the Willows, at a precocious (and one can only assume, adorable) 11 years old. She went on to appear in dozens of shows, including The Princess and the Pea, The Wiz, Little Mermaid, Schoolhouse Rock Live!, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. At the ripe old age of 15, she knew it was time to make the leap to Hollywood, and somehow convinced her parents that this was a good idea. (More on that in a minute.)
Success didn’t come easily, but nothing could dissuade Stone, who’d known that she wanted to be an actress when she was just 7 or 8 years old. “I was too young to judge my dreams or find the flaws in it,” she says. “As you get older, you shut out the possibilities. It’s like how little kids can see ghosts and adults can’t because they’ve just blocked their mind to that.” Either she’s a really big fan of The Sixth Sense or she’s speaking in metaphors. But the more you talk to Stone, the more it seems like the truth is somewhere in between.
“What kid can’t see ghosts?” she asks with a mischievous grin. “When I was growing up, comedy was my ghosts.”
<span style=”font-size: 110%;”><strong>I. PowerPoint and The Perfume of Desperation</strong></span>
Eric Spitznagel: Is it true that when you were 15, you used a PowerPoint presentation to convince your parents to let you move to Los Angeles and become an actress?
Emma Stone: Yes, it’s true.
Wow. Most people just sit down with their parents and have an honest conversation. But you snazzed it up with some charts and graphs.
That’s right. It was pretty spectacular.
Do you remember what was involved?
Basically everything I could figure out how to do with PowerPoint. There were cartoony pictures of cameras and the Hollywood sign that would swipe across the screen. Oh, and I put in a few diagonal fades, because that’s always classy. It was really quite impressive.
Did you get an adult to help you, or were you already something of a computer whiz?
I did it myself. I taught myself HTML as a hobby. There was a time when I was making websites just for fun.
Are you kidding?
I’m afraid not. It all started because I loved to write and I decided that I wanted to be a journalist. So the most obvious way to start was to make my own magazine. I think I was in third grade, and I was printing out this monthly newsletter on my mom’s computer. Pretty soon I became obsessed with the details. I wanted to figure out how to make the words look cool and add all of these fun images. And those skills sort of parlayed into designing websites.
Has anybody ever seen these sites, or were they just for your own enjoyment?
I did one of them for a class. I think it was in the eighth grade, our assignment was to make a travel brochure or something like that, but I got ambitious with it. I took the entire class to our library so they could sign onto the school computers and see the website I’d made. It was really fancy. There was a drop-down menu and all kinds of features.
Aside from the technical wizardy, do you remember anything else about your “Mom and Dad, Let Me Go To Hollywood” PowerPoint presentation?
I used some alliteration. I did the five Cs, which all had to do with California. Oh, and I made popcorn. It was a movie-like experience.
Did it have a soundtrack?
Definitely! There was a Madonna song in there somewhere. I went with “Hollywood”, for obvious reasons.
Well of course. It’s thematically perfect.
I put so much thought into it.
It’s difficult not to imagine you as a teenage girl, carefully going through your record collection and looking for the perfect song, thinking, “What’s really going to sell this to my parents? Material Girl? No, that’s no good. Papa Don’t Preach? No, too slutty.”
(Laughs.) Yeah, that was pretty much it. “Wait, what about Hollywood? (Sings.) ‘Everybody goes to Hollywood!’ That’s it!”
She was obviously speaking to you. Madonna wouldn’t have said “everyone” if she was being exclusionary. It’s not like the lyric ends “except for you bastards in Arizona.”
(Sings.) “Everybody goes to Hollywood… except for Emma Stone!” Yeah, that totally wasn’t in the song.
In the end, all of your hard work paid off. Your mom moved with you to Los Angeles that same year. Do you owe your career to PowerPoint?
I think it might’ve been my eagerness that really sold it to them. I was very, very raring to go, and so passionate about it. The PowerPoint helped, but they were probably more convinced by the perfume of my desperation. My parents were just so cool and supportive. I was so lucky.
Do you still have a copy of that PowerPoint presentation?
My computer crashed not long after we moved, but we’re trying to extract the files.
I hope so, if only for the sake of hundreds if not thousands of future Emma Stones who’ll need it as a template.
I think they’ll do fine. Future generations probably won’t have any use for PowerPoint. They’ll all be working with holograms.
You’re right. Your future daughter and/or son will likely be sitting you down and using a hologram to explain why they want to take a jetpack to Mars.
And I’ll have no choice but to sit back, eat my popcorn and let them go. It’s the circle of life.
After persuading your parents to let you move to Hollywood, did you feel like you could get away with anything?
Not really. That was my one big ask. It’s not like they gave me free reign. I couldn’t just ask for anything I wanted.
Not even a pony?
(Laughs.) Especially not a pony. They took me to LA. I used up all my favors.
At this point in your career, would you get a pony?
That’s a great question. I don’t know. I guess it really comes down to space. There’s really no where to stable it. Maybe in the future, if I get some land, it’ll seem more practical.
But just think about all the attention you’d get with a pony. Not many people show up for a movie premiere with a pony. You’d really stand out.
That’s right. Everybody would be so jealous. They’d say, “Look at that girl with a pony. I wish I had a pony.”
But they don’t. You have a pony. They’re all walking the red carpet, talking about their dresses and jewelry. But you’re the only one who thought to bring a pony.
You may be on to something.
But then the pony takes a dump on the red carpet. And nobody wants to see that, not even the paparazzi.
See, that’s when it gets into tricky territory. I don’t know if it’s worth the hassle.
<span style=”font-size: 110%;”><strong>II. Whatever Happened to Jivin’?</strong></span>
One of your very first acting experiences was in a high school musical production of Schoolhouse Rock Live.
That’s right! And oh my god, did it help me in school.
I was in a history class and the teacher asked me to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. And I just went right into it. (Sings.) “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”
Did you sing the entire thing?
I think I did. (Laughs.) That might’ve given me away, huh?
You seem pretty cocky. Do you mind if we test your knowledge of Schoolhouse Rocks?
Absolutely. Challenge accepted!
You have four categories to choose from. American Rock, Grammar Rock, Multiplication Rock, and Science Rock. Please choose your category.
I’m going to start with Grammar Rock because I am a grammar freak.
Please complete this sentence: “Conjunction Junction/ What’s your function?/ Hooking up… blank.”
Oh, oh, oh! Phrases and… and… clauses. Clauses, right?
Yes! You missed “words” but you were so close!
Oh man, yes. It’s “words and phrases and clauses.” How did I forget that?
Don’t worry, we’re going to give you the full point. Next category?
I’m not sure. I’m outside of my comfort zone. What’s left?
Let’s try Science Rock.
Oh god, here we go.
“Sometimes I think I’m runnin’ out of energy/ Seems like we use an awful lot for/ Heatin’ and lightin’ and drivin’/ Readin’ and writin’ and… blank.”
This is terrible. I don’t know that song at all!
Just take a guess.
Like diving into a pool?
Yeah? (Laughs.) Am I close?
Not really. You’ve got a good instinct with the rhyming scheme, but readin’ and writin’ and divin’? Those are three things that don’t belong together.
Okay, okay, fine. What is it?
Oh my god, yes! I like that. I’m okay with losing that point. Jivin’ is very funky. I love jivin’. Whatever happened to jivin’? Nobody says it anymore.
It’s a tragedy, isn’t it? We need to bring back the jive.
So what’s my score?
You’re one and one. Care to try your hand at American Rock?
“I’m just a bill/ Yes I’m only a bill/ And I’m… blank.”
Sittin’ here on Capitol Hill!!
I’m getting far more excited about this than I probably should be. I’m a big fan of Schoolhouse Rock. It was such a huge learning experience. Pretty much everything you need to know about life comes from Schoolhouse Rock in some form.
That’s very true. Okay, that leaves us with Multiplication Rock.
I’m not going to do well with this, I can just feel it.
This comes from the ditty “I Got Six.” Ready?
I guess so.
“See that prince over there/ The one with the fuzzy hair/ He’s got six rings on every finger/ He don’t wash no dishes/ … blank.”
I have absolutely no idea.
Just make something up.
Okay, uh. “But he’s a great wedding singer.”
That’s pretty good.
No, wait, I can do better. “But that multiplication’s a zinger.”
See how I tied it back into the multiplication theme?
We’re extremely impressed. If they were still making the Schoolhouse Rock shorts, you’d be a shoe-in to write them.
So what was the correct lyric?
I don’t even remember anymore. Your version is so much better. Forget it, you win.
Three out of four isn’t bad, right?
It’s very respectful.
<span style=”font-size: 110%;”><strong>III. Verbal Sparring as a Life Philosophy</strong></span>
Many of us have wondered what happens after the credits roll in Superbad. Did your character and Jonah Hill’s character live happily ever after? Meaning, was there a gratuitous sex scene we never got to see?
I don’t know. I’d rather leave that to the imagination. I prefer to let viewers come to their own conclusions. Kind of like at the end of No Country For Old Men when Javier Bardem goes to kill that woman, and then he leaves the house and you’re not sure what happened. Did she die, didn’t she die? We don’t know.
That’s a perfect comparison.
(Long beat. We both burst into laughter.)
I’m so not kidding. It’s exactly like Old Country.
I believe you. When I think of Superbad, I think of creepy guys with goofy haircuts.
You think of Javier Bardem in a bowlcut, right?
That’s right. He had the bowlcut and Jonah had the Jewfro.
Two distinctive haircuts that you can’t forget.
Several times while watching Superbad, I’d turn to my wife and say, “The Coen Brothers directed this, right?”
Is that Tommy Lee Jones or Michael Cera? I don’t really know.
Because those are two actors who share a lot of the same aesthetics.
They both have that mysterious vibe. So masculine and unpredictable.
But seriously, let’s get back to your fictional relationship with Jonah Hill.
If we must.
In a purely hypothetical sense, what would their sex be like?
I don’t follow you.
Okay, uh, how do I put this delicately?… Not to get all prison slang on you, but who would be the woman in that sexual pairing?
That’s a very good question. I guess if you mean in a biological sense, if only because I possess the female attributes, I’m the woman. But in a less clinical sense, I like to think it’s a balance, like with every good relationship.
Well, except for that time he gave you a black eye.
That was an accident.
Did you study a lot of stage combat preparing for that scene?
We used crash pads and there was a stunt guy and we went over the stunt again and again and again. I kept falling backwards onto the crash pad. It was a lot of fun. It got me into stunts. I am so crazy about stunts now.
You don’t seem like a violent person, but if you were out at a club and somebody got up in your grill, how would you defend yourself?
With verbal sparring.
Really? Can you give me an example?
I would depend on the situation. You’d come at me and then I’d go with whatever wit I could muster in that moment to defend myself. I’m weak. I eat a lot of grilled cheese, my bones aren’t so strong. I need to verbal spar, at least in the beginning. But then if that didn’t work, I’d probably go for the groin.
Or you could always bring out the PowerPoint again and use some graphs and diagonal fades to explain how you meant no harm.
(Laughs.) That’s definitely what I would do. It’s just a matter of finding the right Madonna song. No, seriously, I probably wouldn’t do anything. I’m kind of a pacifist. I avoid violence whenever possible. My only hope of survival is maybe I’ll come up with some crazy rhetoric and make them laugh and they’ll leave me alone.
I think some well-placed irony will get you out of almost every hostile situation.
That’s it exactly. That’s my whole life outlook.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the September 2008 issue of Mean magazine.)