Emma Stone: Dancing among the stars, firmly planted on Earth

Emma Stone has earned an Oscar nomination for her role in the movie “La La Land,” which means that, when they call for “The Envelope, Please...” at the Academy Awards, her star could shine even brighter. Our Lee Cowan paid her a visit:

Emma Stone may be the toast of Hollywood, but she rarely hogs the spotlight. You’ll often see her sharing the red carpet with her younger brother, Spencer.

To our interview, she brought along her two best friends.

“I need friends, because that’s more relatable, right?” she laughed.

Years ago the three were roommates -- struggling actors, sometimes auditioning for the very same parts.

Cowan asked, “How’d that go?”

“We would fist fight to the death, and then she would get all of them and we’d call it a day,” laughed Martha Macisac.

Even in their mac-and-cheese days, both Macisac and Sugar Lyn Beard had a sense that “Emily” (as they call her) might just own this town someday.

“She’s always known exactly where she wants to go in her career, and who she wants to work with,” Macisac said.

“She was that focused?”

“Always.”

Beard added, “I think if anything ever did go a little bit south or it didn’t go as well as she wanted it to, I feel like you would come home with more fire for the next one.”

If you’ve seen “La La Land,” you know it could almost be Emma Stone’s own story, put to music.

She plays Mia, a wanna-be actress who comes to Hollywood with stars in her eyes; toils for fame and fortune; and finds love along the way. Arm-in-arm with frequent co-star Ryan Gosling, they are a chemically-proven formula.

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Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in the musical “La La Land.”

Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

Stone said she watched a lot of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies while going through the process. “’Top Hat’ was huge for us, yeah. The energy between them, emotionally, was something we were inspired by.”

The film is a love letter to Hollywood -- and Hollywood loves it back. Stone has already sung and danced her way to a Golden Globe and a SAG Award, which has a lot of people guessing she’ll have a good shot at an Oscar, too.

But until a few years ago, Stone was happiest with just a simple plastic blimp -- the Kids Choice Award she swooped in to snag for her role in “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

“I grew up watching the Kid’s Choice Awards and people getting slimed, and I was just like, can you imagine having a Blimp?!’” she said. “And then, I got a blimp, and I was like, ‘Well, that’s it for me. I’m signing off. Back to Arizona I go!’”

Born in Scottsdale, Stone had a passion for acting that she put before almost everything else.

Which is why perhaps she takes her younger brother Spencer to all those red carpets -- she owes him, big.

“When I was little, we did our own little shows, and she was the director and bossed me around, tremendously,” Spencer said.

Emma concurred: “He went through so much, you have no idea.”

“And she would be the star of the show, and I would be everyone else!”

“Makes me sounds like a crazy person!”

To assure us she isn’t crazy, she brought Cowan to the place that she says made her sane -- the Valley Youth Theatre in downtown Phoenix.

Bobb Cooper, who has been the artistic director there for years, first met Stone when she was 11 -- and even then saw a sparkle, and not just because of her braces.

“She could project very well,” Cooper said.

“Because I was loud beyond belief!” Stone added. “That means that I always talked over Bobb and got in trouble.”

“She was willing to take any part; it didn’t matter what the character was, how big the character was,” Cooper said.

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A young Emily Stone in children’s productions of “The Princess and the Pea” and “Cinderella” at the Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. 

Valley Youth Theatre

She was a acting machine, appearing in almost 20 productions before she was 15. At that point, she convinced her parents -- using an admittedly geeky Powerpoint presentation -- that it was time to move to Los Angeles.

Was it a tough sell? “My dad instantly said yes,” Stone said, “and my mom was like, ‘Whoa whoa whoa whoa, We’re going to go in another room and have a discussion and we’re probably not going to get back to you for a couple of weeks,’ because my dad was like, ‘Sure, yep, yes.’”

Her mom, Krista, relented, and actually moved to L.A. with her, guiding her through the sometimes crushing auditions.

“It’s a strange sort of combination of a job interview and a first date and a break-up, on a daily basis,” Stone said. “You know, you walk into a room, and this could be the next seven years of your life, and you could buy a house and you can travel, and then, ‘Wait, oh never mind,’ break-up, it’s over, it’s never happening. Okay, well, I shouldn’t have built that up!  Next day, are you the one? Are you the one? No? God, wow, no, you really weren’t the one … and you yelled at me!”

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Mia (Emma Stone) suffers through a degrading audition process in Hollywood in “La La Land.”

Summit Entertainment

To focus herself entirely on acting, Stone was home-schooled, getting her GED right about the time she was cast in her first movie, “Superbad.”

Cowan asked, “Was there a part of you that missed some of those experiences in school?”

“I didn’t think I did until I turned 22,” she replied. “And then all of a sudden, everybody that I’d grown up with graduated from college, and I was really hard on myself -- ‘I’m not an educated person, I didn’t take that path.’ And then I realized I took my path. This was my story, this was how my story went.”

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Emma Stone in “Birdman.”

Fox Searchlight

A story that really took off after landing her first leading role, in “Easy A.” Her portrayal of a snarky virgin who invents a bad reputation was met with rave reviews. And yet, behind the scenes Stone was struggling.

Her mom had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. It looked so bad Stone almost bailed on the part altogether.

“I said I wanted to not do it, and she said, she was very dramatic about it, she was like, ‘Well, you know, if you’re not doing your thing, then I’m not doing my thing.’ And I was like, ‘Oh you know how to get me, wow, what a rascal. So I did. And she did.”

“And you succeeded, and so did she.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Her mom is now celebrating six years cancer-free -- and in that time she’s watched her daughter become the darling of Hollywood -- from the society girl-turned-journalist in “The Help,” to the Hollywood brat in “Birdman,” the role that got Stone her first Oscar nod.

Despite all the success, she still gets starstruck, especially by anyone from “Saturday Night Live,” a totem of her youth.

When Cowan met up with Stone just before she hosted “SNL” for the third time last December, she was still positively giddy about just being given the chance. “I really just show up, and then they tell me where to go and what to do,” she laughed.

Cowan asked, “Do you sort of pinch yourself?”

“Yeah, I don’t think it ever gets normal here!”

She may have captured that timeless Hollywood dream, and yet Emma Stone hardly lives with her head in the clouds.

“I think maybe there is that notion that if you have a dream and then it comes true, everything will just be great now and you’ll just be coasting, but that’s not how it goes,” she said. “If anything, it just makes we more and more want to get closer and closer to those I love, and get closer and closer to the Earth, you know, like staying as firmly-planted on Earth as possible because that’s really it. That’s it, you know? That’s the real stuff.”

To watch a clip of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling dancing to “Lovely Night,” from “La La Land,” click on the video player below.

LA LA LAND - Official Film Clip [Lovely Night Dance] HD by JFID JaguarFilmInternationalDistribution on YouTube

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