From Woody Allen to Yorgos Lanthimos: Emma Stone’s 10 best film performances
“Drama is hard for me. Crying is much harder for me than laughter.“- Emma Stone
American actress Emma Stone has worked her way towards the apex of the film industry over a career spanning 16 years and counting, establishing herself as a household name. Her performances have brought her critical as well as commercial success and, with it, she has earned multiple accolades to her name, including an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, and a Golden Globe Award. Stone was the world’s highest-paid actress in 2017 and was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world that year.
Stone has been acting since she was four years old and made her debut at the age of 11 in a stage production of The Wind in the Willows, playing the part of Otter. Initially, the actor wanted a career in sketch comedy but she shifted her focus to musical theatre and took voice lessons for several years. Her feature film debut came in 2007 with Superbad, co-starring Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.
In an interview, Stone said, “I think I connected with being able to bring to life what I wanted to more with acting. Performing helped me as a kid to channel my energy somewhere else, to put it out instead of turning it inward. Acting is therapy, especially as a kid, it was nice to have an outlet like that when I was really struggling with panic attacks. Being on stage early on made me less afraid to try things that are challenging and scary.”
She added, “When I was in Cabaret a couple years ago, my character communicated through performing, that really took me into this new place, standing in the spotlight, singing the final song. It’s funny because I would never want to stand there and recite a monologue, but with that song, the audience was completely gone and it’s you in this guttural way — I was screaming the song. It transported me like I was being alone in my bedroom, but I was on this stage in Studio 54.”
On her 32nd birthday, we revisit some of the best film performances in the highly successful career of Emma Stone.
Emma Stone’s 10 best film performances:
10. Magic in the Moonlight (Woody Allen – 2014)
Set in 1928, Stone stars alongside Colin Firth who plays an arrogant and talented conjurer Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen’s 2014 film. It features Stone as Sophie, a young medium who claims to have the gift of clairvoyance. Although Stanley does not believe in pseudo-spiritualists, he is left surprised and shaken by evidence that Sophie’s gifts may be real.
While speaking about her character, Stone said, “I had seen elements, I think, of my character in a few. Elementally, there are bits and pieces that are kind of an amalgamation of characters. Because I guess every character plays a different part of Woody’s psyche.”
9. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa – 2011)
This 2011 multi-generational romantic comedy is primarily a vehicle for Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling as the latter teaches the recently-divorced Cal (played by Carell) how to pick up women at bars. Although Gosling’s character is an accomplished womaniser, he has trouble impressing Hannah (played by Stone) who later turns out to be Cal’s daughter.
Ficarra recalled, “We had narrowed down to a few incredibly talented candidates for Emma’s part. They all read with Ryan, [who] was off screen, and I think in most cases they were a little taken by Ryan’s presence, so nervous at the sight of Ryan. When Emma came in, she sat down, she was ready to go; Ryan walked in, immediately flubbed his first line, and she just laid into him, like, ‘Oh, you’re killing this buddy.’
“She was the only one not to be intimidated by him, and in that moment John and I knew, ‘All right this is it, she’s right for the part.’ She continued that, and they just got along really well. They have a very similar sense of humour… they riff off each other really well.”
8. Superbad (Greg Mottola – 2007)
This iconic coming-of-age teen comedy marked Emma Stone’s feature film debut. An investigation of friendship, the melancholia of puberty and peer pressure, it stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill as two high school best friends who indulge in a night of debauchery before having to go to separate colleges. Stone plays Jules, a classmate who invites Seth (Johan Hill) to a party, triggering a night of fun misadventures.
The director praised screenwriters Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, “The two of them are disgusting because the writing comes easy to them and they started really young. They were literally 13 or 14 when they did the first draft. I think very little survived that first version, but I do know one of the first things they wrote was the name McLuvin. It’s perfect that that joke was written by a 13- or 14-year-old.”
7. Easy A (Will Gluck – 2010)
Yet another funny teenage comedy in Stone’s portfolio, she stars as Olive in this high school transposition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter. Olive lies about her own promiscuity to gain social status, revealing the hypocrisy of the inherent double standards. For her performance, Stone received her first Golden Globe nominations as Best Comedy/Musical Actress.
“It’s so different and unique from anything I’d read before,” Stone said of the script. “There are so many messages throughout it, but it’s not speaking down to anybody. It’s not a message movie. It’s funny and sweet. I thought Olive was such an amazing character and Bert (Royal) really had fleshed her out so much in the script that just trying to bring her to life was the only challenge.”
She added, “Sometimes you read a character and you think ‘Oh, I could go a million different ways with this,’ but that wasn’t the case with Olive because she ‘was’. It was just fantastic from the first read.”
6. The Help (Tate Taylor – 2011)
Based on Kathryn Stockett’s beloved 2009 novel of the same name, Stone plays a young white aspiring journalist Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan who decides to write a book on African-American maids and the struggles they face on a daily basis. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Viola Davis), and Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Chastain), winning Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer.
The actress revealed, “I felt from the very beginning that there was a little bit of pressure because it’s my mum’s favourite book and she made that very clear at the very beginning. So, at home there was pressure. You always figure that your mum would be like: ‘I’m so proud of you!’ But no, she was: ‘I don’t see you as Skeeter but maybe you’ll surprise me!’”
5. Battle of the Sexes (Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton – 2017)
This 2017 sports film chronicles the historical tennis match which was called the “Battle of The Sexes”. Carell plays the role of ex-champion and proud misogynist Bobby Riggs who challenged World number one Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone). For her portrayal of King, Stone scored a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
“Billie Jean is so inspiring and has done so much for equality on every level and so that was a huge draw in wanting to be part of this story,” Stone said. “I want to show my generation, who maybe didn’t watch the Battle of the Sexes, the history of this incredible woman and all she’s achieved. And why we still need to continue the fight.”
4. Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer – 2010)
A fast-paced and witty zombie-infested pop-culture romp, Zombieland features Jesse Eisenberg as an anxious shut-in and Woody Harrelson as a veteran zombie slayer. Abigail Bresin and Stone play sisters who are also looking for a safe refuge from the post-apocalyptic world. The film was a critical as well as commercial success, helping establish Stone’s on-screen persona.
Stone said, “I’m shockingly terrible at action movies. I tore my muscle three days in just running, and then I was limping around everywhere… We’re running from zombies, and I’m limping in the same fashion that they limp. It was just awful. I just had to try and rally, and I don’t know that I did it that well. It’s been really fun and really different to learn to shoot guns and to try and look tough.”
3. Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu – 2014)
Iñárritu’s 2014 film remains one of the best films of the last decade, winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. A meta-fictional take on the process of artistic creation, it stars Michael Keaton as a faded star who is struggling to put on a Broadway production. Stone plays his daughter Sam, a recovering drug addict working as his assistant. For her performance, she received her first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.
“It was hard and one of the things that was probably the most striking about it was that there would be time when I thought ‘That was really good and that was true and that felt authentic’ and Alejandro would look at me with this look in his eyes and tell me to go again,” the actress reflected.
“I was realising that this person has the world’s greatest bullshit meter and there was no fooling him at all, which was sort of infuriating until you can break through to something that’s really true. And then you go home and you’re like ‘Oh, I just told the whole truth and that felt really incredible and really scary.’”
2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle – 2016)
Damien Chazelle’s 2016 musical dominated the Awards season because of its modern interpretation of the genre. Stone stars as Mia, an aspiring actress and playwright who falls for a brilliant jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) in Los Angeles but the perils of ambition threaten to get in the way. Stone received Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA Best Actress wins while the film won prizes for directing, cinematography, production design, score, and song.
Stone explained what drew her to the project, “It was the ambition of the project. What he [director Damien Chazelle] was going for was really exciting and enticing, because I love the originality of it and what it was paying homage to.
“It was really cool and interesting to be a part of, and equally scary—because if the tone wasn’t cohesive from the smaller scenes into these big cinemascope musical numbers, I didn’t know how it would turn out. But that’s also the most exciting thing—equal parts, ‘Who knows?’ and ‘Let’s do it!’”
1. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos – 2018)
This brilliant tragicomedy by Yorgos Lanthimos is set in the 18th century and features Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as two cousins who are vying to be Court favourite of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Stone received an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category and the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten films of 2018.
“I worked on the dialects; I took some etiquette lessons,” Stone said of her preparations. “I tried to research a bit of the history that didn’t really matter too much, because the actual history was combined with the fiction. I spent a lot of time with the cast. I spent a lot of time with Yorgos.”
Adding, “I had a really, really good dialect coach. It was hard because when I first was practising the British accent to audition for Yorgos, I was working on RP which is like the Queen’s type of English. That was too English next to Olivia and Rachel who are much more modern and obviously British themselves. So Yorgos asked me to change it to make it sound more like theirs.”