'Poor Things' actor Emma Stone turns her anxiety into a 'superpower' The Oscar-winning actor experienced her first panic attack at age 7. But Stone says acting helps with her anxiety, because it draws on her "big feelings" and forces her to live in the moment.

How 'Poor Things' actor Emma Stone turns her anxiety into a 'superpower'

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Emma Stone, is nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Poor Things." She won an Oscar for her performance in the movie musical "La La Land," starring opposite Ryan Gosling, and was nominated for Oscars for her performances in "Birdman" and "The Favourite." She co-stars in the new streaming series "The Curse." She's been acting since she was 11 and was so determined to make acting a central part of her life, she convinced her parents to let her be home-schooled so she could devote more time to acting, and then convinced them, at the age of 15, to go to LA so she could go to auditions. Although she did not have a conventional high-school experience, she first became known for two movies about high-school kids - "Superbad" and "Easy A."

In addition to her nomination for "Poor Things," the film is also nominated for best picture, which means she is nominated for a second Oscar because she is a producer of the film. She plays Bella, a woman who has died by suicide, jumping off a bridge. She's brought back to life by a weird surgeon played by Willem Dafoe. Dafoe's experiment is reanimating Bella and giving her the brain of an infant. She's trained and taught over time by the surgeon's assistant, but she never quite grasps the rules of society. When she discovers her genitals and pleasures herself, she demonstrates this discovery to her trainer. And when her brain develops into a young adult brain, she leaves the surgeon and her mentor to go on an adventure while traveling with a man who has become obsessed with her, played by Mark Ruffalo. He claims to be a prosperous sophisticate who can't be tied down. But in Paris, when his money is gone, Bella decides to earn money by working in a brothel where she can learn what other men are like sexually.

In this scene, she's just left the brothel with some money after her first sexual encounter there. She meets up with Ruffalo, and he's in despair because he's now broke and he's appalled when he learns what she's just done.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "POOR THINGS")

EMMA STONE: (As Bella Baxter) I took his money, I thanked him, I laughed all the way to buy us these eclairs and I thought so fondly, remembering the fierce, sweaty nights of ours.

MARK RUFFALO: (As Duncan Wedderburn) You [expletive] for money.

STONE: (As Bella Baxter) And as an experiment, which is good for our relationship, as it gladdens my heart toward you. My heart has been a bit dim on your weak and sweary person lately.

RUFFALO: (As Duncan Wedderburn) You are a monster. A whore and a monster. A demon sent from hell to rip my spirit to shreds to punish my tiny sins with a tsunami of destruction. To take my heart and pull it like toffee. To ruin me. I look at you and I see nothing but ugliness.

STONE: (As Bella Baxter) That last bit was uncalled for and makes no sense, as your odes to my beauty have been boring but constant. And this simple act erased all that.

RUFFALO: (As Duncan Wedderburn) You whored yourself.

STONE: (As Bella Baxter) Which you are now going to explain to me is bad. Can I never win with you?

RUFFALO: (As Duncan Wedderburn) It is the worst thing a woman can do.

STONE: (As Bella Baxter) We should definitely never marry. I'm a flawed, experimenting person, and I will need a husband with a more forgiving disposition.

GROSS: Emma Stone, welcome to FRESH AIR. I love this movie and your performance in it. And the film, it's, like, really interesting and also really funny, which I hope people got a sense of from that clip. So, you know, the movie is in part what women's lives would be like if they weren't socialized to have shame about sexuality and if people weren't taught that it was impolite to talk about sex in public. And I'm wondering what it got you thinking about in terms of your life and how you were brought up about your body and sexuality and independence?

STONE: That's - well, thank you for having me, first of all.

GROSS: My pleasure. Yeah.

STONE: This is lovely to get the chance to be here. I'm from Phoenix, Ariz., and I was born in 1988, so the majority of my childhood took place in the '90s. And I definitely didn't think the way that Bella does. I didn't have that sort of freedom and acceptance in the same way around sexuality. But as time has gone on, I think that it's been very illuminating to me.

I mean, one of the conversations that I've talked a lot about, having worked with quite a few European people or people that were raised in cultures where nudity and sexuality is not as shame-filled, I guess, it's been very interesting, you know, and also talking to Yorgos, who's Greek, our director, it always kind of startles him how much violence is acceptable in sort of American media, but sexuality is, you know, really looked down upon, like, as if watching someone die on screen is less challenging than watching someone experience pleasure. And yeah, it's definitely expanded my mind more as I've gotten older, too, and sort of broken out of, you know, religion and things like that that I was exposed to at a younger age.

GROSS: What religion were you exposed to?

STONE: Lutheran. We were Lutheran.

GROSS: So what did that mean in terms of your upbringing?

STONE: It wasn't - there - it was not super dogmatic. I went to a - for the one semester that I went to high school before I moved to LA and was homeschooled, I went to a Catholic all-girls high school. And Lutheran is, in a way, kind of diet Catholic or Catholic lite. It's like many of the tenets of Catholicism, but you don't pray through the saints and there's not purgatory and you don't go to confession. But there still is that sort of viewpoint, I guess, around certain things.

And it, you know, I have great respect for religion and I find theology really fascinating. I think also because, you know, the stories that take place in religion can teach you a lot and all different religions can teach you a lot of things about, you know, ways to live or to approach other people or - the golden rule is, you know, extremely applicable to me to this day. But I very early on realized that religion didn't resonate for me. And so I guess the sort of relationship I had to it was a more of a guilt and a sort of self-judgment rather than, you know, focusing on the wonderful things that it can teach you, at least at a young age.

GROSS: So what did it make you feel guilty about?

STONE: I think all kinds of things. I think, you know, there's guilt around sexuality. There's guilt around your body. There's, you know, different stories about womanhood and what it means to be a woman and to be of service to a man or to not ever be jealous or not covet and, you know, all these things that are just sort of human and live in the shadow side. I went from religion into Jungian therapy, obviously.

(LAUGHTER)

STONE: So, you know, learning that being complex and complicated and female was OK, you know, that took me a while, I think, to unpack in myself. And I actually - I don't - it sounds like I'm blaming religion for that. I really - I don't mean to. I think it is so cultural and deeply embedded in a lot of American sort of values that we're raised in.

GROSS: So it sounds like making "Poor Things" was a great antidote to the kind of religious constrictions and guilt that you felt growing up 'cause your character is so uninhibited 'cause no one has ever told her what she's supposed to be inhibited about. Which leads me to the sexual scenes. I mean, because your character is sexually uninhibited, you had to be uninhibited portraying her, and you were offered an intimacy coordinator. And at first you rejected the idea and didn't think you needed it 'cause you knew the director so well, but then you reconsidered and had an intimacy coordinator. How was it helpful?

STONE: Beyond useful. Well, first of all, I don't think having an intimacy coordinator is even a choice anymore. I think in the past five years, the industry has changed a lot for the better. And, you know, I did think, OK, well, Yorgos and I have made three films together. I feel very comfortable with him. The DP, Robbie Ryan, and I, we did "The Favourite" together, feel comfortable with him. Our first AD is a woman, Hayley, who's incredible. Our focus puller is a woman. You know, I felt like I'll be fine in this circumstance. And these are my friends, and I know everybody well.

But when Elle McAlpine came in, our intimacy coordinator, I could not - I felt so stupid that I thought that that wouldn't be a necessary situation because she was so - having her there felt like having both a safety net and a choreographer and a hand to hold. And, you know, she and I would text after a day of doing some of these scenes and just sort of say how we were feeling and what was going on. And it was just this really beautiful relationship that I found extremely, extremely meaningful.

GROSS: What do you think she protected you from?

STONE: I don't think it was protection from any of the experiences that I was having on set. I think it was almost like an emotional protection. It was like a - you know, a safe place and someone who really has not only done this as a job for a long time, but who has studied what psychologically happens to your body when you're in these circumstances. Like, I remember reading something once, that an actor on stage doing a very, you know, dramatic scene and having meltdowns and doing monologues for 90 minutes a night just in theater, your body feels like the - it's the equivalent of going through something like a car crash because your heart is racing. You're having these, like, big, physical reactions to these emotions that you're kind of asking yourself to go through.

And I think even when you know you're acting, when you know none of this is real - there's no real sex happening; this is all choreographed; everyone here is a very safe place - you sometimes underestimate what your body is going through separately. And so I didn't even really give credence to that before I had been through this experience, and Elle and I being able to kind of talk about that, washing the day away, taking a shower at the end of the day and sort of releasing that for my own body was extremely helpful.

GROSS: My guest is Emma Stone. She's nominated for two Oscars for producing and starring in the new film "Poor Things." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Emma Stone. She's nominated for two Oscars for the film "Poor Things" - one for her starring role in the film and one for producing the film. She plays Bella, an adult woman who died by suicide and is brought back to life but with the implanted brain of a child.

So Bella, your character doesn't understand emotions like jealousy and anxiety. You suffered from anxiety and panic attacks as a child, starting, I think, at age 7. Can you describe what a panic attack feels like physically and emotionally when you're 7 years old?

STONE: Yeah. For me - I mean, people have different experiences of panic attacks. I know a lot of people feel like they're dying or that the walls are closing in on them. And I certainly have had those types of panic attacks. I've had probably hundreds throughout my life. So my very first one, when I was 7 - I was at a friend's house, and all of a sudden I was just sitting in her room, and I had this deep knowing that the house was on fire. I believed the house was on fire, despite all evidence to the contrary. And I - my chest just started tightening, and I was like, we have to get out of the house. The house is burning down. The house is burning down.

And I ended up calling my mom, who didn't understand what was going on and confirmed there wasn't a fire but came to pick me up. And then it just - it kept going. I just kept having panic attacks relatively frequently. And I started in therapy, I think, around age 8 because it was getting really hard for me to leave the house to go to school. I sort of lived in fear of these panic attacks.

GROSS: What were you afraid of about going to school?

STONE: I think just - I had massive separation anxiety from my mom. That was a large part, I think, of what was setting off my anxiety. I, for some reason, had convinced myself that if I wasn't watching out for her, that something terrible could happen to her. So anxiety as the interesting beast that it is, it's - it feels like intuition, even though it's irrational. And it's a hard age to be able to sort of reason with yourself at 7 or 8 and tell yourself these things aren't true; this is just a - you know, a situation, a condition that you're going through or the way your mind works. So it was very hard to convince myself otherwise. So going to school meant that I would have to be away from her for hours in the day. And if I couldn't keep an eye on her, what could happen? - as if I was the parent and she was the child.

GROSS: No. Exactly. Like, what were you going to do exactly to help her when you were 7?

STONE: No idea. No idea. But that's that, you know, strange thing that happens with kids when, you know, you sort of - it's irrational. These things are irrational. It's just this - you're convinced of certain things with anxiety. And it's a tough one to unpack until you have sort of the tools to do it or the understanding of it through therapy, which - I was so grateful that, you know - I didn't want to go to therapy. And my mom had to walk back-and-forth in front of the window when I would sit in with the therapist 'cause I didn't want her to leave. So she would just sort of walk around outside for the hour. But I found it really, really life changing.

GROSS: Therapy is a very private experience, so I don't want you to share things - I'm not asking you to share things that are too private to be shared, but if there are any, like, tools or approaches that you were taught in therapy that you felt like sharing, I'd love to hear it. And they might be helpful to others to hear.

STONE: Yeah. So as a kid, I mean, one of the things that my - the child psychologist had me do was - you know, there's a lot of drawing pictures and playing games and things like that when you're that age in therapy. And one of the things that I did, which is really fun because my mom still has it - when I was 9, I wrote a little book in therapy called "I Am Bigger Than My Anxiety." And it was, you know, a bunch of drawings that - I've never been an artist in that respect. So they're very, like, crude drawings.

But the idea was externalizing the anxiety as this little green monster that lives on your shoulder. And so it's this little monster that sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear these things that make you afraid, to simplify it - you know, obviously, I was 9 - things that make you afraid. And the more you listen to this, the bigger this monster grows, the more power it has. But as you feel the fear and kind of do it anyway and continue to push through, the monster kind of shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. And I think that externalization, that making it that it's not you - it's a part of you, but it's not you - was very helpful.

GROSS: Where does acting fit into this? Like, when you are acting - when you started acting as a kid - you were 11, I think, when you started performing - do you feel like you were escaping yourself and therefore out of your anxiety and escaping your body 'cause your body became controlled by the character?

STONE: No. If anything, the opposite. I felt like I - and I've understood it more over the years because I think - I've heard a lot of actors talk about - and maybe that's because they're doing these big, dramatic, kind of cathartic roles. And I'm drawn much more to comedy, or now, dark comedy. I felt like every reaction in my body is permitted. All of my big feelings are productive. And presence is required, so it's like a meditation because anxiety lives solely in the past or the future - you know, either future tripping or past tripping - you know, things you can't control on either side. And acting requires you to be so present, to listen, to be looking at the other person, to be living in the experience and living in your body, and that was the huge gift of it to me and remains the huge gift of it to me to this day.

It's - this - I mean, no offense to you, Terry. I think you're fantastic. But this can stoke my anxiety much more than acting can because, you know, publicity or press or these things that sort of move around the promotion of a project that you've made, I'm myself, and I'm thinking back about the past or I'm thinking about the future, but when I'm acting, I can't. I can't, or I'm not doing my job.

GROSS: But that's the thing, because it's, like, your job...

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...It gives you permission. It makes it obligatory to be in the moment.

STONE: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: It's like, you can't say, well, I can't control it 'cause I'm worried about the past. It's like, your job is to focus on now.

STONE: Exactly.

GROSS: So you've got to pass.

STONE: What a what a gift. Exactly. It's a productive use of it. And I - you know, I've told a lot of younger people that struggle with anxiety that in many ways I see it as kind of a superpower because I think that you - you know, you have a lot of big feelings if you're anxious. You have a certain level - and I say this to kids. I don't mean this about myself 'cause I'm a dodo with anxiety. But I do think that it requires a certain level of intelligence about the world, you know, 'cause who looks at the state of the world and really is taking it in and really feels a lot of empathy and no anxiety comes with that?

And so just because we might have a funny thing going on in our amygdala, you know, and our fight-or-flight response is maybe a little bit out of whack in comparison to many people's, you know, brain chemistry, it doesn't make it wrong. It doesn't make it bad. It just means we have these tools to manage. And if you can use it for productive things, you know, if you can use all of those feelings and those synapses that are firing for something creative or something that you're passionate about or something interesting, anxiety is like rocket fuel 'cause you can't help but get out of bed and do things, do things, do things because...

GROSS: Right.

STONE: ...You've got all of this energy within you. And that's really a gift.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you 'cause it's time for another break. My guest is Emma Stone. She's nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in the new film "Poor Things." We'll be right back. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Emma Stone. She's nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in the film "Poor Things." The film is also nominated for best picture, which includes an Oscar for her 'cause she's one of the producers, best director for Yorgos Lanthimos and best supporting actor for Mark Ruffalo. She won an Oscar for "La La Land" and was nominated for the films "The Favourite" and "Birdman."

So you lobbied your parents when you were - what? - 11 or 12, to pressure them to home-school you so you could focus on acting and you prepared a presentation for - can you tell us what was in the presentation?

STONE: So the first one was just about how home-schooling can be really beneficial and could be really helpful. And, you know, this was year 2000. And so there was kind of a - you know, a beginning of internet being available for schooling. And I was doing play after play after play at this place called Valley Youth Theatre, which - I was just obsessed. And it was something I wanted to focus kind of all my time and energy on. And then the second presentation, when I was 15, was a PowerPoint to move to LA for pilot season to try to be an actor professionally.

GROSS: Were there, like, graphics and photos and...

STONE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And it was...

GROSS: What were the photos?

STONE: I don't even remember now what the photos were. I tried to put in people who had started, you know, their acting careers young, the only one of which - I was talking to my mom about it last night - the only one of which I can remember is Sarah Jessica Parker, who had, you know, done Broadway at a really young age. And then it was, you know, reasons that this is a good idea, how we could accomplish this, you know, LA is a six-hour drive from Phoenix, and that we could come back after pilot season was over and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Crazy, crazy stuff.

GROSS: They bought the idea.

STONE: They did, which is also crazy, crazy stuff.

GROSS: Your parents sound like really cool people.

STONE: They are. I mean, I - yeah, I know that none of this, obviously, would be possible without their support, especially at that age. I mean, it wasn't like I had graduated high school and I said, OK, bye, I'm taking a plane or taking a bus or driving myself out to LA to try to do this, it was impossible without their support.

And my dad is - my dad started his own company in his 20s and was very much an entrepreneur and a - you know, a guy that takes the bull by the horns. And my mom's father, my grandfather, died when she was 22, very suddenly of a heart attack. And so her mentality had kind of always been life is very short. We don't know what happens tomorrow. So when we have these kind of - this kind of deep knowing about something, let's do it. So I think the combination of those personalities and the way that they were and the fact that we were financially able to do something like that because that's nothing to glaze over. I think that that's obviously hugely important that they were able to do that, and I know an uncommon thing. So I was extremely, extremely lucky to have the opportunity to do that.

GROSS: I'm thinking your gut gave you really true and really false information.

STONE: Terry, the story of my life. I mean, you got to - this is what I talk about in therapy on a weekly basis.

GROSS: Well, 'cause it gave you really false information about the house burning down and all...

STONE: Right.

GROSS: ...The panic attacks about things that weren't really happening. And it gave you true information that you're calling was to act and you should go audition.

STONE: I know. It's a really - it's interesting because over the years, it's - I've been trying to understand that if it feels like my heart is racing and there's a fire inside me, that might be false information. If it feels calm and like a knowing and like a warmth, that might be true information. But they both come out of the same place. That feeling right in the middle, you know, just below your breastbone, right in the top of your stomach, like, the same place that when you go down a roller coaster, your stomach drops.

GROSS: Oh, yeah, yeah.

STONE: You know, it feels like intuition and anxiety both come from that same spot, so it's a tough one to work out.

GROSS: What do you feel right before a shoot or right before walking on stage? And I'm thinking of "Cabaret." You were in the Broadway revival of "Cabaret"...

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...In the role that Liza Minnelli made famous in the movie. So, like, right before you step on stage, are you feeling anxious or like I'm about to go to my safe place?

STONE: A combination, but that's actually my sort of sweet spot because I'm not trying to kill off the fears, and I'm not trying to just feel all confidence all the time or like I'm in a safe place. I think my favorite feeling is a combination of both high stakes and low stakes. And that's what acting does for me. The high stakes is that you're either in front of an audience or you're, you know, this is being committed to film and will eventually last forever. But the low stakes is that you're acting, you're storytelling. Nobody's going to die...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STONE: ...And you're not saving any lives. You know, they're not on the operating table. So that feeling of, you know, fear mixed with joy is - that's my favorite combination.

GROSS: My guest is Emma Stone, star of the new film "Poor Things." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERRY VOSBEIN'S "BOUM")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Emma Stone. She's nominated for an Oscar for her lead role in the film "Poor Things." She's nominated for a second Oscar for producing the film.

So you had a very unconventional set of high-school years. Part of it you were auditioning in LA and part of it you were being home-schooled so that you could spend more time acting. But the two movies that were kind of breakthroughs for you, "Easy A" and "Superbad" - and "Superbad" was, like, a super famous film - those are about, like, high-school students. So in "Superbad," you were cast by Allison Jones, who is now, like, one of the top casting directors. She gave a lot of great people their start. And this was your first film, so you were not well known. What was your audition like that for Allison Jones? And I'm proud to say she was recently a guest on our show.

STONE: Oh, incredible. Allison - I give Allison Jones pretty much credit for all of this. I - there was so much - it - I got to audition for her multiple times over the sort of three years that I was consistently auditioning when I had first moved to LA and, you know, for pilots that never went or going and testing for network and not getting the part. And I had gone in for her quite a few times, and she ended up calling me and asking me if I could come in on a Saturday to put myself on tape for this movie, "Superbad," because she just had this feeling that I might be right for this role having seen me do these other auditions for things that didn't work out. And so I did. And had she not done that, I mean, that was - it was huge for me and I still, you know, am in awe that that could happen.

And that's also something. As an actor, you know, when you go to audition after audition after audition, things don't work out or you don't get the part, you, or at least I, would start to forget that all of this could potentially be leading to people remembering you or calling you in for something else or...

GROSS: For people who see you more...

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...As you really are...

STONE: Yes.

GROSS: ...And what you're really capable of...

STONE: Definitely.

GROSS: ...'Cause one of the things she said on our show is that she tends to cast people who, like, networks don't get it. Networks...

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Don't get what their real gift is.

STONE: Right. And she gets to know them because she sees them play all these different roles. And, you know, throughout the audition process of - she saw me, you know, play different parts just in those auditions. And so it can feel like such a sort of meaningless venture to put all of yourself into these auditions and then not get it and not get it again and not get it again but then something like that happens and you're reminded, like, oh, that all amounted to something. Yeah. So I'm very, very grateful to Allison.

GROSS: So in "La La Land," which is such a great musical with you and Ryan Gosling playing opposite each other, was your audition for Damien Chazelle, the director of "La La Land," the audition song in the movie? 'Cause in the movie, in one of the last scenes, in your audition, you're asked to tell a story, and what you end up doing is singing the story.

STONE: Right. Yes. I mean, that was part of what I - I actually think I may not have been a song, it may have been a couple of the songs from the...

GROSS: But that was one of them?

STONE: ...Film. But yeah.

GROSS: Let's hear some of that song.

STONE: Oh, God.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: OK. So this is a story that you're telling through song about your aunt who had told you about how she jumped in the river.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LA LA LAND")

STONE: (As Mia, singing) The water was freezing. She spent a month sneezing but said she would do it again. Here's to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache. Here's to the mess we make. She captured a feeling, sky with no ceiling, the sunset inside a frame. She lived in her liquor and died with a flicker. I'll always remember the flame. Here's to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache. Here's to the mess we make. She told me a bit of madness is key...

GROSS: So that was Emma Stone singing the "Audition" song in the film "La La Land."

So I've read that you don't think you have a very strong voice in terms of singing over a long period of time. That your voice gets weak easily. So...

STONE: Yeah. I don't think that, I know that for a fact.

GROSS: What do you do to protect it?

STONE: Oh, God. I mean, everything under the sun. I mean, this was especially an issue during "Cabaret" just because eight shows a week and five songs per show, including the title song that Sally Bowles sings that is a real belting extravaganza. And the way I did it was sort of like Sid Vicious tearing up...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STONE: ...My vocal chords. So it was a combination of I had a really amazing ENT in the city who I would do glutathione IV infusions twice a week.

GROSS: What is that?

STONE: Glutathione is an antioxidant that he actually kind of spearheaded some research as an ENT in the city. His name is Dr. Benjamin Asher. And it was for people who had vocal polyps or nodules on their vocal cords. He tried this sort of interventional therapy with this antioxidant that - and I'm not a doctor, so this is not me condoning this to anyone but this was from my doctor - that was, you know, a nonmedicine and nonsurgical approach to helping you with nodules and polyps on your vocal cords, because that's not an easy surgery to get. And so I definitely didn't want to get that. And I'm - I've had pre-nodules for my whole life since I was really young. So he would scope me once a month to check the state of my vocal cords. I would do these infusions twice a week, and then multiple times I got sick and got to go on steroids, which is like a dream come true...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STONE: ...Because it's like you are (laughter) literally a superhero, and you can do anything with your vocal cords on steroids, which can really mess you up. And you have to be careful 'cause all of a sudden, you're just, like, better overnight.

GROSS: So one of the first things that you auditioned for was, like, a reboot of "The Partridge Family"...

STONE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...The TV series about a family that makes music together. So there was a - it was called, like, "The New Partridge Family," but the auditions were - there was a VH1 show that was kind of like a reality singing competition, but the winner would get a part, this is the way I understand it, anyways, would get a part on the new "Partridge Family," and so there's a couple of clips on that on YouTube...

STONE: Oh, God.

GROSS: ...Which I watched, and it's really funny, like, you seem so unformed. Like, it's so easy to recognize you now. I mean, there's something really distinctive about you. And it didn't - it hadn't really emerged yet.

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: Or maybe 'cause it's like the YouTube clip is so blurry.

(LAUGHTER)

STONE: It could be a little bit of both.

GROSS: Yeah. Were you told who to be? Were you told, like, what to wear and what to sing in that VH1 show?

STONE: No. No, no, no. They were very that - I regret to inform you that I picked all of that look myself, which at the time was extremely low-rise - for those of you who have not seen it, A, I implore you not to watch it, but, B, you might remember the 2003 era of fashion, 2003, 2004 era of fashion. It was 2004 - super, super low-rise ripped jeans, a lot of stomach showing, a spray tan, hair extensions, you know, the whole thing. I thought that was just the coolest look ever.

GROSS: Spray tan - whoa.

STONE: A spray tan - I was very into spray tans in that time. Again, being from Arizona and being as deeply pale and lacking pigment as I am, having a tan just made me feel like I really fit in. So I was very into spray tanning in my teens.

GROSS: You have a very expressive face, which is obviously really good for an actor. I feel like I can watch, like, sadness, like, slowly wash over your face and then maybe confusion or upset, like, cover that right up. And is there a way to perfect that? Like, have you looked in the mirror to see what's happening, or do you just feel it and it happens?

STONE: No, I really try not to be staring at myself, emoting in the mirror. The only thing - this is disgusting, but the only thing that I've really actually, in a moment of experience, gone please try to remember what this feels and looks like for a role - this is so disgusting, but - is vomiting (laughter).

GROSS: What? How does that figure into it?

STONE: So I'm emetophobic. I have been since I was very young, and I have a lot of fear of vomit, seeing people vomit, hearing people vomit. And so when I've had to throw up in a movie, which I do have to in "Poor Things," I'm so, like, allergic and terrified of the experience that I physically don't do it well. Like, I - you know, in acting it, I'm like I don't remember, but I can't watch a video of it, again 'cause I'm emetophobic, so I can't listen to someone doing it or watch it on YouTube. So I do remember I had the stomach flu, like, six years ago, and I was just in hell, as you can tell, as - because of my phobia. And I was like, OK, try to use this for good. Try to really remember what this feels and sounds like so you can use it for work because you can't watch videos of it. So that's the only time I've really kind of forced myself (laughter).

GROSS: That's hilarious.

STONE: It's disgusting.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Emma Stone. She's nominated for two Oscars for starring in and producing the film "Poor Things." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Emma Stone. She's nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in the film "Poor Things." She won an Oscar for her performance in "La La Land" and was nominated for "The Favourite" and "Birdman." So in "Birdman," for which you were nominated for an Oscar, you play Michael Keaton's daughter, and he's an actor who became famous in a kind of superhero movie called "Birdman." And he was Birdman, but his kind of star has declined, and he's trying to make a comeback in theater, you know, directing and starring in a play based on a Raymond Carver story. You're his daughter who recently got out of rehab and is working for him as his assistant. And you're in, like, your late teens, maybe - the character - or early 20s.

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: And so you've just gotten out of rehab, and he goes into your office and smells marijuana, finds a joint and starts, you know, hollering at you for basically interfering with his attempt to be meaningful again and to, like, be in the cultural dialogue again. And then you get really angry with him. And I just want to play that scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BIRDMAN")

MICHAEL KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) This, this - what is that?

STONE: (As Sam Thomson) Relax.

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Relax. You can't do this to me.

STONE: (As Sam Thomson) To you?

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Oh, shut up. You know what I'm talking about.

STONE: (As Sam Thomson) Oh, yeah, you're talking about you. What else is new?

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) No, don't do that thing where you...

STONE: (As Sam Thomson) The thing where I make it about me?

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) Look, I'm trying to do something important.

STONE: (As Sam Thomson) This is not important.

KEATON: (As Riggan Thomson) It's important to me, OK? Maybe not to you or your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral. But to me, this is - my God, this is my career. This is my chance to finally do some work that actually means something.

STONE: (As Sam Thomson) That means something to who? You had a career, Dad, before the third comic book movie, before people started to forget who was inside that bird costume. You are doing a play based on a book that was written 60 years ago for a thousand rich, old white people whose only real concern is going to be where they go to have their cake and coffee when it's over. Nobody gives a sh** but you. And let's face it, Dad, you are not doing this for the sake of art. You are doing this because you want to feel relevant again. Well, guess what? There is an entire world out there where people fight to be relevant every single day, and you act like it doesn't exist. Things are happening in a place that you ignore, a place that, by the way, has already forgotten about you. I mean, who the f*** are you? You hate bloggers. You mock Twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist. You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't. It's not important, OK? You're not important. Get used to it.

GROSS: OK, so that's Emma Stone in a scene from "Birdman." One of the things - it's a great scene. It's a great film. But one of the things that strikes me about that scene is that you're berating your father in it for not really getting social media and the importance of it and how, like, he really doesn't mean anything 'cause he doesn't even know social media exists and that's where the cultural dialogue really is. But my understanding is you don't even have a computer.

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: You have a phone, and you do email, but you're certainly not on social media. Can you tell us why?

STONE: Well, I will say I'm not outwardly on social media. I look at things on social media.

GROSS: Oh, me too.

STONE: But I don't - yeah.

GROSS: I lurk. I call it lurking.

STONE: Yes. Oh, we're lurkers. OK, so we're a lurking pair. I - yeah, no, I see it, but I don't have any desire to have a social media presence myself or have my own kind of account. Yeah, it's not for me. It's...

GROSS: Well, why isn't it for you?

STONE: ...Not for my brain. I think it would make me spiral. I think any time any event occurred anywhere in the world, I would be afraid that I need to write something, and then I would be afraid I wrote the wrong thing and that I'm being reactive and that I'm not thinking enough. I think I would see too much targeted stuff. I just don't think it's good for me mentally. But I respect people that have a good relationship to it because, you know, much like Sam, my character in that movie - he's screaming about relevancy and...

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

STONE: ...You know, meaning something, and I don't think she's making a bad point. I think she's saying, you know, you're living in the past. I don't know what world you're talking about, but that's not the world that we exist in anymore, and that's definitely clearly a reality.

GROSS: One short final question - in your early years, like, when you were a teenager trying to audition, you had a job at a dog treat bakery.

STONE: (Laughter).

GROSS: OK, so I've seen those, like, doggy cookies and, like, you know...

STONE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...With icing on top...

STONE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...Or what looks like icing, and I always wondered, like, what are they made of, and what do they taste like? Did you taste one?

STONE: Yes. The Three Dog Bakery, where I worked, was really priding itself so much in the fact that these are all human-safe ingredients. Like, this is great quality stuff for your dog, but it's - you know, it's safe for them. It's carob instead of chocolate because, you know, dogs and chocolate do not mix well. But it was basically - I'm trying to remember what the sweetener was. I want to say it was either agave or honey in this sort of, like, nondairy frosting. But - I am really serious about this - there was a mom that came in to buy these kind of puppy Oreos for her kids...

GROSS: (Laughter).

STONE: ...Because they were healthier, and they were, you know, carob and sweetened with not sugar. And they tasted pretty good. I definitely did try some of these things. I mean, they're - none of them were, like, dog food ingredients. They were just ultrahealthy ingredients.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: That's great.

STONE: So I did witness a mother buying them for her child.

GROSS: Emma Stone, it's been so great to talk with you. Thank you so much, and good luck at the Oscars.

STONE: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Emma Stone is nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Poor Things." She's nominated for a second Oscar as a producer of the film because it's nominated for best picture.

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be Kai Wright, host of the podcast "Blindspot: The Plague In The Shadows." He describes it as being about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when so little was known about HIV and so much was misunderstood. Throughout his journalism career, he's covered HIV and AIDS and its impact on his communities as a gay man and as a Black gay man. I hope you'll join us.

To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram @nprfreshair.

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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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