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With her role in La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s modern take on the classic musical, Emma Stone emerged as a true Hollywood triple-threat: not only can she act, she can also sing and dance. Here, Stone, who is one of the stars of W‘s February 2017 issue, opens up about her favorite musicals of all time, what it was like to sing on camera, and more.
Lynn Hirschberg: How did you get the part in La La Land?
Emma Stone: Well, Damien [Chazelle, the director] came to see me when I was doing Cabaret, and he saw me on a night that I was on a lot of cold medicine, which was a lot of nights because I was sick a lot during the run. And, I didn’t know that he had come with the composer, Justin Hurwitz. After the fact I heard he had seen it and I was really upset, because I was like I don’t think I was even in my body for that entire show. I think that was my unofficial audition for La La Land, without knowing it. Then we met at a diner and had chicken pot pies and he explained La La Land to me. I hadn’t read the script yet, but he wanted to kind of walk me through what he was thinking. And then I read it and then he came and hung-out in my dressing room and showed me some of the visuals and played some of the score for me. It was pretty special from the very beginning.
LH: Were you nervous about singing in a movie?
ES: I was nervous about it, but I also felt more prepared than I probably ever would have felt before, because I had been doing Cabaret eight times a week and I was able to go a little easier on myself about the fact that I am not, you know, the world’s greatest singer by any stretch of the imagination and he really wanted it to be, you know, very realistic and natural and not technically perfect. So from the beginning he made it a less scary prospect if I need to go on screen and sound like Bette Midler, or something.
LH: Were you in any musicals in high school?
ES: I only went to high school for one semester and I was in Noises Off. I played Brooke, who loses her contact lenses. But it wasn’t a musical, but I did youth theater growing up and I did you know Oliver and Titanic the musical.
LH: Titanic the musical?
ES: Oh, you don’t know Titanic the musical?
LH: Unfortunately no.
ES: It was on Broadway for less than a year, but it is absolutely incredible, it’s so good and I was in that. I played Stewardess Robinson. Stewardess Robinson had no big numbers, but she did survive. Also, I was in Cinderella, I was a stepsister. And there was a song in that. I don’t know if you know the you know the original musical, not the, the Disney one, but it’s like, “Why would a fellow want a girl like her?”
LH: Which sister were you?
ES: It was like a really wacky, puffy-sleeved crazy situation and then there was you know I had a cone-braided hair and big blue eye shadow and red lipstick. I had braces at the time so all the red lipstick would get stuck in my braces whenever I was smiling. I had braces for seven years so any play that I did for the most part I would just have whatever lip color I was wearing in the braces for the whole play.
LH: Why seven years? That seems incredibly long.
ES: It was a very interesting orthodontist. Also, I sucked my thumb until I was 11-years-old. It’s still so soothing to do it, it feels so good. The roof of my mouth is so high pitched that I had this huge overbite and I got this gate when I was in second grade that came down. I had braces and then they put a gate and it was like this and I would lift the gate, I would take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance. Maybe that contributed to the many years of orthodonture.
LH: Which was your favorite number to perform in La La Land?
ES: I did love doing the audition, although that kind of thing, when it’s just you and it’s one shot, is a little tricky, and maintaining my voice is a feat for me. So I loved doing the duet number on the hill with Ryan [Gosling], where I’m in the yellow dress and he’s in the suit and that was also one shot and we had just practiced for so long, I mean for months and months, so to finally do it on that day was really exciting.
LH: Do you now dance differently at parties?
ES: No, I pretty much always dance like that at parties I think.
LH: You put on the shoes and then you start doing tap dancing.
ES: I say I was born knowing how to do a time-step. I wasn’t, but I learned it when I was little, just a kind of simple time step, and that’s actually something that I can remember doing on sets since I started working. It kind of wakes me up to do a little time step, but that was the only tap that I knew.
LH: What’s your favorite musical?
ES: I grew up loving stage musicals, so I went and saw a lot of theater. So the first musical that I heard that my mom played for me a lot was Les Mis. She explained the whole plot of Les Mis and who all the characters were and I listened to the original cast on the soundtrack. And then I went and saw it. She brought me to New York and I saw it when I was eight-years-old sitting on a booster seat and for however long it is, three hours. A woman came up to my mom afterwards and was like, “I was watching your daughter, she really was just riveted by the, by the play.” And my mom was like, “Yes pretty crazy.” But it was nice because I knew the whole story in advance so I knew what was going on on stage the whole time. It was like these characters that she’d explained to me you know came to life. It was a very special moment.
LH: And a big question, and this is very important: Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
ES: Both, for different reasons. Gene Kelly has like a lower center of gravity and he’s really athletic and you know he’s really great on his own, but Fred Astaire is so you know he’s light as a feather and he’s such a great partner dancer because he learned to dance with his sister and he makes all his partners look so great and I think that’s such an amazing quality. It’s really generous and you know it’s nice. I can’t pick between the two of them, it’s like apples and oranges.
LH: Who is your cinematic crush?
ES: Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. He’s so subtle and incredible. I only saw it for the first time like two years ago and I just couldn’t believe what I was watching, he’s amazing.
LH: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
ES: It bugs me when names, like traditional names, are spelled funky. Like Emily being spelled, and no offense if your name is spelled this way, but you know Emily that’s like: E-M-Y-L-E-I-G-H, Emily, that makes me crazy, because all you have to do your whole life is be like, “My name is Emily, let me spell it for you: E-M-Y…,” like they can’t just write the name that it sounds like. You know, my real name is Emily. But it was taken at SAG.
LH: Like Phil Hoffman there was another Phil Hoffman so he became Philip Seymour Hoffman.
ES: Yeah. I had the option of Emily J. Stone and it’s kind of like Michael J. Fox, and I love Michael J. Fox, but I don’t think I could pull off the J.
LH: Was it hard in the beginning for you to answer to Emma?
ES: Well, I was 16 when I found out at SAG I couldn’t have my own name. So to ask a 16-year-old to pick a new name is really an interesting process, because I was like, “I’m going to be Riley.” “My name is going to be Riley Stone.” And so my name was Riley Stone for about six months and I did a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle and one day they were like, “Riley, Riley,” and I had no idea who they were talking to and they were like, “Hey, hey come on we need you on set.” And I was like, “Oh I’m not Riley, I can’t be Riley.” So then I changed it to Emma because you know it’s closer to Emily, but most people call me “M,” that know me well.
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