Monday 21 January 2019

'La La Land is my so-picky mum's favourite film, so it must be good'

Emma Stone Picture: PA
Emma Stone Picture: PA

Emma Stone has just spilled coffee on the lush carpet of the hotel suite. It's a moment reminiscent of a scene in La La Land, where her character, aspiring actress Mia, is rushing from her job as a barista to make an audition and ends up with coffee all down her front.

It's this goofiness, both on and off screen, which is part of Stone's great appeal and what makes her so accessible. That said, her talent can never be questioned.

She is currently riding high with a Golden Globe win, a Bafta nomination and very likely an Oscar nod too for her role in La La Land.

The film, directed by Whiplash's Damien Chazelle, has already proved a phenomenal critical and commercial success, but Stone says the "real test" is the fact that her mother has declared it her number one choice from her daughter's back catalogue.

"If it's my mum's favourite, it must be okay - she's so picky," says the 28-year-old, whose red hair and wide green eyes are accentuated by her emerald outfit.

She admits she couldn't have predicted the movie would get such a reaction.

"Reading the script, I definitely felt inspired and struck by it in that way," she says. "You always hope when you're making a movie, or telling a story, that it will affect people in the way it affected you. It's very exciting, it's wonderful."

Set in the City of Angels, La La Land is the timeless tale of boy-meets-girl, with Ryan Gosling playing the boy in the equation, the ambitious but frustrated pianist Sebastian.

A love letter to Hollywood, it harks back to the song and dance triumphs of yesteryear and is beautifully poignant in its depiction of unabated dreams and those moments in life when decisions set fate into motion.

Stone, whose debut movie was 2007's Superbad before she came to prominence in 2010's Easy A, admits she's had something of a love-hate relationship with Tinseltown.

"It's an interesting place and definitely an interesting industry," she says in her characteristic husky voice.

"There are a lot of ups and downs and your experience with it ebbs and flows depending on the time period, but this film made me appreciate the parts of Los Angeles that I hadn't really experienced in quite a while."

Early on in the process, Stone met with Chazelle, who talked her through his ideas for the musical numbers.

"It was intoxicating," recalls the actress, who is from Arizona. "The idea of telling this really modern story of two struggling artists, but in a 1950s-style musical version of today's Los Angeles, became something really exciting to me very quickly."

Her character is yearning for something beyond the ordinary too.


"Mia's driven by something that maybe she doesn't completely understand. She wants to be an artist in a city of so many people who seem to be just like her. She feels there's something special inside her, but she doesn't quite know what it is," says Stone, who has also appeared in The Help, The Amazing Spider-Man (where she met former boyfriend Andrew Garfield) and Birdman, for which she received an Oscar nomination in 2015.

Just like Mia, Stone has experienced "some particularly garbage" auditions over the years.

"I think what sits with me more than anything is the feeling Mia has a little bit later, one of feeling very shut down and kind of ignored," she says.

"It brought to mind the times I wasn't being sent on auditions, my agent would stop sending me because I wasn't getting enough call-backs.

"That was almost harder than the rejection in the audition room, because when you're not even getting the opportunity, it can be really challenging."

Two years ago, Stone fulfilled a childhood dream when she sang on Broadway, as Sally Bowles in a revival of Cabaret. Despite her evident vocal skills, she doesn't deny she felt vulnerable singing her heart out on the La La Land set, particularly in a pivotal audition scene.

"We did it live, so I had an earwig where I could hear Justin Hurwitz, our composer, who was playing the piano live with me, but I realised everyone else in the room was just hearing me sing a cappella. That's not very fun," she says, laughing.

Recalling the intense preparation period, she adds: "For two months we rehearsed every day. It was so much fun because I've taken some dance in the past, but this was learning tap and jazz and ballroom dance - whole new languages of dance."

Stone points out that Chazelle was never looking for perfection.

"Our characters are struggling artists, so we were never asked to be incredibly brilliant dancers and singers," she says.

"Damien wanted our relationship to feel alive and raw in a certain way, even though we're part of these incredibly cinematic dance numbers, so little flaws and natural flubs were welcomed with open arms."

The film marks the third time Stone and Gosling have collaborated, following 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love and 2013's Gangster Squad.

"Honestly, it's just easy to work with him," she says of their palpable on-screen chemistry.

"I don't have any fun or exciting description of what that means, he just makes it fun."

There's plenty to celebrate with awards season in full swing, and the actress intends to enjoy every moment.

"I see it mainly as an honour and lots of fun," she says. "I try not to take it as too much pressure or turn it into something negative.

"It's just a lovely thing and very exciting."

La La Land is in cinemas now

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