Ahead of Cruella, we revisit our TIFF cover story on Emma Stone's breakout moment with Easy A
By Norman Wilner
May 24, 2021
Some of our favourite NOW covers took weeks to come together. NOW’s 2010 TIFF cover with Emma Stone took about 48 hours. It’s a fun story now, though at the time it was anything but.
Stone – at the time a rising comic actor who’d popped in movies like Superbad, Zombieland, The Rocker and The House Bunny – was a last-minute replacement for another promising young actor we’d been chasing for a full month. We liked the other’s movie and I’d already had a great interview with the film’s director, but the actor’s team kept dragging their heels on connecting us with their client. Day after day, we were told the call would happen tomorrow… and because everyone else was so enthusiastic about making the story happen, we fell for it every time.
Finally, just before the Labour Day weekend, we had to admit to ourselves that it wasn’t going to happen – and find someone else to grace the cover that would be on stands for seven of the 10 days of TIFF, when the entire film industry would see it on every corner. I had seen Easy A about a week earlier, and was delighted to see how well Stone’s whip-smart energy served her in her first leading role; it’s a really sharp movie, filled with engaging performances and unexpected laughs, and the biggest takeaway from it was that Emma Stone was going to be huge.
So I pitched this to Glenn Sumi and Susan G. Cole, neither of whom had seen Easy A, and both of whom made the leap of faith that we’d even be able to get Stone for an interview in time.
I should explain just how much of a leap this was. Interviews with the star of an American studio picture take a very long time to set up, with multiple levels of approval required. (This is why any sensible writer would have a Plan B ready to go the moment things start to feel hinky.) Sometimes an actor’s agent will hold things up by demanding to approve the photography you’re planning to use; that itself can take days. We had hours – literal hours – before everyone’s offices closed on Friday.
But we had two things on our side: the press junket for Easy A was happening in Los Angeles that weekend, and Sony’s Toronto publicist, Natalie Amaral, knew how important NOW’s TIFF cover could be for a rising star.
I still don’t know how it happened, but Natalie got us a 10-minute call with Stone in the middle of a busy press day. The time difference made it even more of a nightmare: I couldn’t talk to her until mid-afternoon on a Sunday, for a cover story that should have been put to bed the previous Thursday.
Everything went just fine. Even at 21, Stone was a pro, peppering our conversation with production anecdotes and related observations, never letting a thought trail off. And reading the interview now, you can see her entire career in there: the love of sketch comedy that led her to become an invaluable guest host of Saturday Night Live, the theatre-kid enthusiasm that led to her Oscar-winning performance for La La Land, the admiration for her character-actor co-stars Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson that led her to balance disposable studio work like the Amazing Spider-Man movies and Gangster Squad with more challenging projects like Crazy Stupid Love, Battle Of The Sexes and The Favourite.
I haven’t seen Cruella yet, so I don’t know where it falls in her career. But whatever Disney paid to cast her in that role, it was worth it. She’s Emma Stone. She’s a movie star.
You saw her steal scenes in The Rocker, The House Bunny and Zombieland. Now red-hot redhead Emma Stone riffs on the scarlet letter in her breakthrough lead
By NORMAN WILNER
This is a very good year for Emma Stone – and she’s earned it.
The talented redhead’s spent the last few years establishing herself as an invaluable supporting player in a string of comedies. She was Jonah Hill’s dream girl in Superbad and a sardonic guitarist forced to endure Rainn Wilson’s naked drumming in The Rocker. She played one of Anna Faris’s charges in The House Bunny and held her own opposite Oscar nominees Woody Harrelson and Abigail Breslin in Zombieland.
And now, at the ripe old age of 21, Stone is coming to the Toronto Film Festival with her first leading role, in Easy A.
She plays Olive Penderghast, a high school student who finds herself living scenes from The Scarlet Letter after a white lie about losing her virginity boosts her popularity – and her infamy. But it’s not just another teen movie Stone is surrounded by TIFF veterans like Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow, and director Will Gluck aims squarely for the self-aware sweet spot carved out by the movies of John Hughes in the 1980s.
As it happens, those are Stone’s favourite films, too.
“I was lucky enough to have a dad who was absolutely crazy about them,” she says from Los Angeles. “The first movie I remember seeing is The Jerk, followed very closely by Planes, Trains & Automobiles and Ferris Bueller. I’ve seen them probably hundreds of times. We used to watch them every day. I actually had the ‘fuck’ monologue from Planes, Trains & Automobiles memorized by the time I was, like, nine – to the dismay of my mother and the delight of my father.”
When the chance to play a female Ferris Bueller type in Easy A came along, Stone was understandably eager to get involved. Olive even directly references Matthew Broderick a couple of times. But the challenge of creating the character was one the actor didn’t take lightly.
“The greatest thing is that Olive is playing a part,” she says.
“It’s not like her personality changes. Even though she’s lying this whole time, and all these things are happening around her, she always comes from a place of good intentions. She has a good heart, as sarcastic and obnoxious and diarrhea-of-the-mouth as she can be.”
Olive’s character is grounded in her relation-ship with her parents, who are played with considerable glee by Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. Stone jumped at the chance to goof around with the two vets.
“It was so incredible,” she says. “Those two have been friends for such a long time that they already had a rapport and a nice relationship to play off, which was all the more beneficial. It made me understand why actors want to work with the same people multiple times. You kind of form a family and a shorthand and an understanding. I want to be able to do that as well.”
Stone credits her childhood work with an Arizona comedy troupe for giving her the skills to knock lines around with experienced actors.
“I think every kid should have access to something like that,” she says, “because it’s not only great training for acting, but for life. Learning improv skills is kind of like being on the debate team, you know? You learn life lessons.”
Next year she’ll be seen in Crazy, Stupid, Love, and she’s currently shooting The Help, based on the book by Kathryn Stockett, in Mississippi. Set in 1962 against the convulsions of America’s civil rights struggle, the film gives Stone her first dramatic role.
“There are some light moments, because real life always has some funny things happening, but, yeah, for the most part it’s a pretty serious story,” Stone says.
If the timing works out, she’ll be back at TIFF 2011 with The Help. For this year’s festival, she’s just hoping to get some time to wander around town. Back in 2007, she was here to make The Rocker but didn’t really get to experience Toronto.
“We were shooting six-day weeks,” she says. “We were on night shoots and it got all turned around. I really just went to Pusateri’s and ordered Pizza Pizza.”
A life-long Torontonian, Norman became the senior film writer for NOW in early 2008. Previously he had reviewed films for Metro newspapers across Canada and covered every video format imaginable (yes, even Beta).