COWAN: The way you look, the way you sound, and how you --
STONE: Everything. Like, 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. You’re just gonna be -- then, “Oh wait. Never mind.” Okay, break-up. It’s over. It’s never happening. Okay, I shouldn’t have built that up. (laughs) Next day, “Are you the one? Are you the one?” No. Gone. Wow, you really weren’t the one. And you yelled at me! (laughs)
STONE: It’s a very interesting kind of emotional journey. One of my friends who’s an actor, she told me that they put a heart monitor on, they did some test on actors that were doing a play every night. And their heart rate was akin to someone who’s going through a car crash, on a nightly basis.
STONE: Because you have to get yourself to a place of, like, hysteria.
STONE: Your body doesn’t know sometimes that it’s not real. So that sort of heightened sense of feeling in an audition room which is, you know, like shooting a scene on crack (laughs) because there’s the nerves of a test-taking mentality. It’s a very strange process. And it’s so unlike making a film. I wish audition processes were different, and for some directors they are. They realize that it’s just not even a fair test of a person, to walk in, put them on camera, it feels so different than it does on the day.
COWAN: But you can’t ever, as much as you want something like this, you can’t ever prepare for that level of rejection really, right? I mean, you just sort of have to get a thick skin, I guess, and know that it’s not personal?
STONE: Someone asked me this question five years ago. And it’s one of my favorite questions ever, which was, “How do you keep your skin thin?” Because you have to have a thin skin. As a creative person, you have to. You can’t get a thick skin. Those people that have hardened to rejection or hardened to life in general, it’s pretty hard to feel them. You know, to look at their eyes on screen and feel them. I guess that’s specifically talking about actors, but I think that’s probably [true] in general. You want to keep your skin thin.
I’ve realized more and more that from the very beginning the only way to get through that is the people around you, the people that do not care whether you are the most (laughs) celebrated actor of all time, Meryl Streep, or, you know, working at the dog bakery, or doing anything.
[Editor’s note: “Dog bakery”?]
STONE: I mean, it doesn’t matter what you do. It matters who you are. And I think that realization that I have been so deeply, profoundly lucky to have friends in my life that have always just loved me exactly as I am no matter what time period I’m in. That’s the only way I’ve gotten through it.
COWAN: Well, listening to you talk, you’ve been pretty open about the anxiety that you had growing up when you were younger.
STONE: Oh, I still have it. (laughs)
COWAN: Do you still have panic attacks now?
STONE: Not as acutely as when I was a kid, because now I understand it a bit more. But yeah. No, I still get -- all my synapses flood. (laughs) I definitely get a flooding sensation.
COWAN: But when you were a kid, I mean, this wasn’t, like, teen angst. This was serious, right? I mean, it was debilitating.
STONE: It wasn’t angst. Yeah, it was a disorder. (laughs)
COWAN: Like, from what? Where was it coming from?
STONE: I mean, it’s probably partially just wiring, just sensitivity, being a sensitive person. I mean, it was basically since I was a baby. So I think just a predisposition and, I don’t know, a combination of factors.
COWAN: But I think people would think if you’re anxious, the last thing you’d do is go up on stage or do a film and have everybody looking at you. If you’re an anxious person, that would be the one thing it seems like you would avoid. (laughs)
STONE: Yeah. But, I mean, there are really shy people -- to me Beyonce seems pretty shy. And yet Sasha Fierce is a badass! (laughs) There is something to the fact that when you’re on stage or when you’re playing someone else, you’re able to transmute all the things inside you that maybe get a bit blocked by the wall of shyness, or the wall of anxiety, or [by] overthinking. They sort of fall away in that moment and channeled into something else.
COWAN: ‘Cause being on stage has to take all of your attention.
STONE: It forces you into the present. And, you know, that’s anxiety’s kryptonite. So (laughs) if you’re present, you won’t be anxious. It’s all about past and future with that.
COWAN: ‘Cause you’re not having that inner dialogue in your head of, “Am I good enough?”
STONE: If you’re truly in it, there is no inner dialogue. You’re getting to sort of be free while lightly steering something. It’s an incredible feeling when you’re really in that.
And that’s not obviously possible all the time. There are some days where I just am dissolving into a puddle of, “I don’t know what the hell I did with that scene. I clearly ruined the movie. We can’t ever go back. That’s forever. (laughs) Good God!” You know, that’s definitely not always the case.
COWAN: Was there a time or a moment that you remember that this clicked for you? When you had that moment on stage, or in front of a camera, that it was all coming together and you were hitting it? Do you remember when that first happened that made you think --
STONE: I mean, in my --
COWAN: It’s kind of a stupid question, but some --
STONE: It’s not.
COWAN: People have moments.
STONE: No, it’s not. I mean, I was put in my first grade play. And that was the first time I had ever been on stage. And I did a little song and dance. And I just remember it feeling like so much fun and so special. And I thought back about it. And I wondered if it was the feeling of being on stage or if it was acting. And then I remember doing the spelling bee the next year, being up on stage, and having to be perfect. You know, I love spelling.
COWAN: You’re a champion, right?
STONE: I did win the second grade spelling bee. Yes, I did! (laughs) Yeah. I think the final word was “microfinance”, which is really just those two words combined. But that didn’t feel good. And I was like, “Oh, no. So it’s not standing up on a stage and just doing anything.” That perfection element gets me, I think, probably because of my kind of anxious nature. That perfectionism. Anything that can be perfect is very damaging (laughs) for my psyche.
And the great thing about acting and singing and dancing is, it really can’t be perfect. It’s such a subjective thing.
COWAN: There’s no single right way.