In less than a decade, Emma Stone has risen from a familiar face in romantic comedies like “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and a superhero’s girlfriend (in “The Amazing Spider-Man”), to a two-time Oscar-nominated star (for “Birdman” and this year’s “La La Land”). With her tantalizing beauty, the gifted actress burns the screen with emotional intensity and easily commandeers the camera (and the audience’s) attention away from more experienced co-stars; they are no match.
In this expanded interview the Oscar-nominated star of “La La Land” talks with “Sunday Morning” correspondent Lee Cowan about anxiety, auditions, her love of Chaplin, and her special bond with frequent costar Ryan Gosling.
COWAN: I know you’ve talked about this a gazillion times. You’ve been doing so much press for this. But as improbabilities go in the movie business, this one has got to rank near the top of the list - this movie even being made in the first place, right?
STONE: Damien would probably be a better person to answer that question (laughs) because he was the one that was trying to get it made for, I think, six years. Once I got involved and Ryan was involved, we were in the lucky phase of just getting to go along with the motion of the movie. But Damien definitely fought hard to make this.
COWAN: Did it feel like because it was sort of such a long shot that it was a gamble for you?
STONE: I guess everything is risky in a way. But you know, it’s not like a life-or-death risk. It’s a creative, fun risk hopefully. (laughs) So, worst-case scenario, something’s a complete failure. And then you keep your head down, and try to keep working, and move on.
I always think with things like that, gambles are the most fun because it’s part of being an actor or being a creative person. It’s risky only in the vulnerable sense. And then outside of that, no one gets too hurt by it.
COWAN: You were struck, it sounds like, between the fact that it was sort of a throwback but it’s also very contemporary. And it’s that blend that you found interesting.
STONE: Yeah. I loved the idea that it was set in modern day, that the touches felt very modern, but the feeling of the film was this anamorphic sort of Cinemascope celebration of the musicals that Damien and Ryan and I, and many, many people, have fallen in love with through the decades.
The combination of it was definitely a tricky balance, but [also] what made it so inspiring. I think if it had been set in the ‘50s or something, it wouldn’t have been quite as intriguing. The marriage of those two time periods was what was so fun about it.
COWAN: But it was kind of the love story that got you hooked first, right?
STONE: Yeah. And the ending.
COWAN: Before the dancing and the singing?
STONE: Yeah. I mean, I got through the whole script, and I thought it was beautiful. But getting to the ending. ‘Cause my favorite film of all time, which I’ve talked about probably way too frequently (laughs), is “City Lights.” And that ending -- you know, you watch the movie, and you appreciate so much what’s happening in the story. But once you get to the ending, it becomes, at least for me, your favorite movie just because it all led to this beautiful culmination. And that’s what really got me.
COWAN: Obviously the challenges of this were the dancing and the singing. And it all came to you when you were doing “Cabaret.” So you certainly had a certain level of confidence. But was that challenge of having to do all that kind of what inspired you to do it? It was pushing yourself a little bit to see if you could pull this off?
STONE: Yeah. I loved the idea of getting to dive in to rehearse something like this. Because it’s so rare for a movie that you have months of a rehearsal process. There’s always an opportunity to learn new skills as an actor -- the film I did after this [”Battle of the Sexes,” in which she plays Billie Jean King], I was learning to play tennis, gaining a bunch of muscle. There’s all kinds of things that I’ve gotten to learn for parts. But with this, to tap dance, and ballroom dance, and sing each day, work on the character stuff with Damien, and for Ryan playing piano, it was really a special, long process that we got to embark on. And that alone was a huge draw, that rehearsal period.
COWAN: I read that you and Ryan at first, when you were learning the ballroom stuff, you weren’t dancing with each other; you were dancing with your teaching partner. So what was it like when you and Ryan actually got a chance to dance together for the first time?
STONE: It was a little messy! (laughs) As you would expect. Because we were dancing ballroom dancing pros. And then we got into the firm, learned embrace of each other. It’s a tricky thing to learn to ballroom dance. But it was fun because I’ve known him for such a long time. And it made us laugh more than anything. So you know, that makes it easier.
COWAN: So much has been written and said about the chemistry that you guys have together. But you said it’s less chemistry and more just a friendship. That you like working together in part because you know each other so well.
STONE: Yeah, I think there’s just, like, a sense of ease with him and working with him. There is a natural rhythm that we fell into right away in our first audition together. And we’ve always improvised. We’ve had the opportunity to improvise in each of the films we’ve done. And that adds something to your connection as actors.
COWAN: Did you improvise in “La La Land”?
STONE: Yeah, we got to improvise sometimes.
COWAN: Like what? What was improvised?