Emma Stone Has Changed Her Whole Style of Acting. It’s a Wonder to Behold. (2024)

Wide Angle

The Kinds of Kindness star has changed her whole style of acting. It’s a wonder to behold.

By Sam Adams

Emma Stone Has Changed Her Whole Style of Acting. It’s a Wonder to Behold. (1)

When Emma Stone won her first Academy Award, for La La Land in 2017, she took the stage with an open mouth and a sideways glance that seemed to say, Can you even believe this? But when she won again last year, for her performance as the childlike Bella Baxter in Poor Things, she seemed to be the one in disbelief. Although Stone was widely considered the favorite for Best Actress, the look on her face as Michelle Yeoh read out her name wasn’t the carefully rehearsed who, me? of a foreordained winner but a shock so intense it verged on physical discomfort. By the time she got to the microphone, Stone had collected herself sufficiently to breathlessly utter her list of thank-yous, but for a moment, she seemed to be experiencing something a little less like gratitude, and a little more like dread.

Stone’s victory might have been dampened by the fact that it prevented a historic win by Lily Gladstone, the first Native American to be nominated for Best Actress—especially given the backlash Stone faced for taking the role of a character with Chinese and Native Hawaiian ancestry in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha. But that wave of criticism, nearly a decade in the past, is remarkable for being the only substantial pushback Stone has received in her nearly 20-year career. Much, if not most, of her largely unblemished record can be chalked up to the reputation-management apparatus that surrounds the Hollywood elite. But it’s notable that, despite being every inch the theater kid, Stone never suffered the post-Oscars opprobrium of, say, Anne Hathaway, let alone the slings and arrows directed at her longtime friend Taylor Swift.





Stone is arguably one of the most talented, and inarguably one of the most lauded, actors of her generation, but that stardom doesn’t sit comfortably on her shoulders. As an actress and a celebrity, she has a knack for undercutting big moments that verges on a compulsion, turning her expressive face into a rubbery mask or sending her limbs flying out at impossibly odd angles. Winning her second Best Actress Oscar by the age of 35 put Stone in an exclusive club that includes Bette Davis, Jodie Foster, and Meryl Streep, but she’s the only one who celebrated her membership by spinning around to show an audience of 21 million the broken zipper on her dress.

The regular-gal act wore thin when Jennifer Lawrence tried it, mainly because we’re not willing to accept that the prom queen can also be the class clown. But the further Stone ascends, the more determined she seems to be to express her inner weirdo. She’s found an ally in the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose seriocomic grotesques have allowed her, in The Favourite, Poor Things, and their latest collaboration, Kinds of Kindness, to see just how far an audience will follow her.


As it turns out, not only will that audience accept her as a venomous 18th-century courtier or an adult woman with the brain of a newborn baby: They’ll embrace her, as will her awards-voting peers. And that success has emboldened Stone to push even further, past goofball exaggeration into a deadpan style that flirts with overt alienation. At the same time, Stone and her husband, Dave McCary, have been proving themselves to be some of Hollywood’s most adventurous producers, putting their muscle behind such out-there projects as Julio Torres’ Problemista and Jane Schoenbrun’s I Saw the TV Glow. We are blessed to be living through Emma Stone’s Freak Era.


After years of supporting parts, beginning with an ill-fated 2005 attempt to reboot The Partridge Family, Stone broke through with 2010’s Easy A, a comedic riff on The Scarlet Letter set in a Southern California high school. Directed by Will Gluck, last seen spinning Shakespeare into box-office gold with Anyone but You, the movie is such a delight that it’s easy to overlook what a high-wire act it must have been transforming a 19th-century novel into a breezy morality play about teenage slu*t-shaming. But Stone, in her first leading role, holds it together with a performance that toggles, precisely but without apparent effort, between slapstick and pathos.




Although Stone was barely into her 20s, Easy A instantly established her ability to carry a movie, to balance conflicting tones with the confidence of a seasoned professional and yet maintain a sense of spontaneity and vulnerability. It also established her as an actor who wasn’t afraid to look silly. The movie’s most memorable sequence has nothing to do with sexual mores. It’s a montage in which, over the course of a couple of days, her character resists and then succumbs to the charms of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful of Sunshine.” By the time she’s belting the chorus into a showerhead, you know you’re looking at a movie star.

After a few years of romantic comedies and a brush with franchise fame as Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Stone tried to break out of the normie rut with 2014’s Birdman, where she plays the recovering drug addict daughter of Michael Keaton’s fading movie star. But though the role got Stone her first Oscar nomination, she comes off as a regular person’s idea of a weird person, her damaged blond hair artfully mussed, her wide eyes bulging and rimmed with black. (The distortion of the movie’s wide-angle lenses occasionally makes her look a tad amphibian.) She’s meant to be a burnout, a flaming wreck of a person, but the movie gives away the game when Edward Norton’s self-absorbed thespian tells her that despite the false modesty of her “fragile little f*ck-up routine,” he sees how special she really is. “You’re anything but invisible,” he tells her. “You’re big. You’re kind of a great mess.”




Neither the greatness nor the messiness keys into what Stone does best, which is playing just-this-side-of-noteworthy people who are barely keeping it together. Take La La Land’s Mia, an aspiring actress whose dreams of stardom are rapidly dashed on the rocks of her modest talent. Although the movie eventually grants her professional success, it comes off as an almost ironic gesture, a vision of the perfect life—fame, husband, kids—that’s missing only the passion of her doomed love affair with Ryan Gosling’s jazzbo. It’s not Mia’s eventual ascension that makes her intriguing, but the struggle it takes to get there (a quality Stone’s middling singing and dancing only work to heighten). Nonetheless, Mia’s rise assured Stone’s, lifting her all the way to a Best Actress win.


Then came the movie that changed everything: The Favourite. While many actors use Oscar wins to mount vanity projects or command bigger paychecks, Stone used her newly acquired clout to take a meeting with Lanthimos, then best known for the warped romantic allegory The Lobster. The role of Abigail, a fallen aristocrat whose father gambles her away in a card game, isn’t even the lead, but it gave Stone a chance to try out what was, at least for her, a radically different kind of acting, as cold and calculated as her earlier characters were spontaneous and outgoing.



It’s as if she’s spun the magnet of her movie-star charisma 180 degrees, repelling as forcefully as it attracts, just to see if we’ll still try to getclose.

When she arrives at the court of Queen Anne, played by Olivia Colman, Abigail is a babe in the woods, her pale face splattered with mud from the cramped carriage ride. Despite the fact that her cousin Sarah, played by Rachel Weisz, is the queen’s closest adviser, Abigail is immediately put to work in the scullery, where the washerwomen trick her into burning her skin with lye. Regarding the downtrodden specimen before her, Sarah remarks, “You are perhaps too kind for your own good.”



That kindness doesn’t last. In The Favourite, as in many of Lanthimos’ movies, a person gains power by learning to master their emotions, whether it’s within a romantic relationship or the world at large. As she gains Queen Anne’s confidence, and eventually makes her way into her bed, Abigail becomes increasingly remote, almost robotic, never betraying a feeling that someone might turn against her. In a rare moment of weakness, she starts crying in front of one of the queen’s chief opponents, who orders her to “Turn off the tears.” In an instant, she complies. But that brief glimpse is enough to remind us how much Abigail has had to snuff out in order to secure her place among the heartless schemers of the ruling class.



Over the course of three features, Stone and Lanthimos have already staked a claim as one of the great actor-director pairings. Lanthimos has given Stone the freedom to explore, and she brings a mercurial humanity to his acidic fables, preventing his clinical abstractions from shading into outright misanthropy. There are a thousand ways that Poor Things’ Bella could go wrong, shading into softcore fantasy or parable, but as a woman with the brain of a rapidly maturing infant, Stone navigates the development of Bella’s sexual urges with a remote curiosity that defies a prurient leer. Bella doesn’t learn to bring herself to org*sm; she discovers “happy-when-she-want.” She’s fascinated by lust, not controlled by it.


In Lanthimos’ movies, bodies are inconvenient when they’re not outright humiliating, pulsing with urges that mock our attempts at nobler thoughts. Although Stone, who did the first nude scene of her career in The Favourite, is frequently naked in Poor Things, the movie’s sex scenes draw less on her looks than her talent for physical comedy. Because the body she inhabits is not her own, Bella approaches sex like an anthropological experiment, studying her own compulsions and the inexplicable pleasure she derives from mashing her body against another’s. It’s as if she can’t get over how something so awkward and gross can also be so satisfying.




Poor Things feels like an experiment for Stone, too, a test to see just how much leeway 20 years of playing the genial goofball has bought her. She narrows her expression to a sliver of its normal range, a choice that has all the more impact because of how dramatically it jars with what we’re used to seeing. It’s as if she’s spun the magnet of her movie-star charisma 180 degrees, repelling as forcefully as it attracts, just to see if we’ll still try to get close.


Stone pushed the experiment even further with the TV show The Curse, where she plays a brittle white liberal trying to launch her own home-improvement show. Whitney might be the most outwardly repellent character of Stone’s career, an edgy manipulator whose plans to build eco-friendly housing in a New Mexico exurb reek of gentrification and unconscious privilege. (The scenes where she tries to curry favor with a Pueblo artist may be the most painful thing I’ve ever watched.) It’s a merciless performance, almost brutal in its resistance to softening Whitney or making her sympathetic in any way. And it’s an unbelievably bold thing to release in the middle of the six-month charm offensive that is an Oscar campaign.



Kinds of Kindness almost feels like a lark by comparison, a three-part anthology film whose stories are loosely tied together by Lanthimos’ belief in the transactional nature of human relationships. Along with the rest of an ensemble cast that includes Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, and Hong Chau, Stone plays a different role in each part: a woman in thrall to a businessman who dictates every aspect of her life, down to what she eats and what time she has sex; a scientist marooned on a research trip, who returns home unplaceably different than she was before; a member of a cult obsessed with the purification of bodily fluids. But her characters share a fixation on self-control, and a flat, almost affectless bearing that only cracks open in the movie’s final moments. (If you’ve seen Stone dancing in the trailers, arms flailing in a slim-fitting pantsuit, you know what that looks like.)



Stone’s deadpan is so extreme that at times it’s almost zombielike—she walks as if her spine is a steel rod, turning her head like it’s on a swivel—but it’s also what makes Kinds of Kindness register as an exhilaratingly morbid comedy rather than a miserabilist horror show. (She reserves her driest delivery for the line “There, dogs were in charge.”) Because she accepts this world as it is, with its sharp-edged cruelty and absurdist flourishes, we do too. She’s taking her audience to darker and darker places, and we keep trusting her to lead the way.

Stone hasn’t abandoned the limelight: Among her upcoming projects is a sequel to 2021’s Cruella, where she plays a punk-lite version of the classic Disney villain. (Imagine Birdman’s sullen twentysomething donning Vivienne Westwood.) But she’s also signed on to her fourth movie with Lanthimos, as well as the next by Ari Aster, another director known for pushing his audience, and his actors, to extremes. Sally Field, who fulsomely recapped Stone’s career as part of the Best Actress presentation in March, famously accepted her second Oscar by exclaiming, “You like me!” But it seems as if Stone is starting to feel a little unnerved by all that liking, and curious about what else she can make people feel.

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Emma Stone Has Changed Her Whole Style of Acting. It’s a Wonder to Behold. (2024)


Why did Emma Stone change her name from Emily? ›

The Oscar winner said Emma became her professional first name to avoid having the same credit as another actor. "(Emily Stone) was taken at Screen Actors Guild. It's sort of like when you register a business and you can't have the same name as someone else," she said.

What movie made Emma Stone famous? ›

Easy A (2010) This teen riff on The Scarlet Letter was Stone's first starring role, and she later admitted that the stress of making it led to many sleepless nights. You'd never know from watching the breezy, sneakily emotional Easy A, which is the epitome of Stone's sweet-and-spiky persona.

What ethnicity is Emma Stone? ›

She lived on the grounds of the Camelback Inn resort from ages 12 to 15. She has a younger brother, Spencer. Her paternal grandfather, Conrad Ostberg Sten, was from a Swedish family that anglicized their surname to "Stone". She also has German, English, Scottish, and Irish ancestry.

How old was Emma Stone when she started acting? ›

Emma Stone is an American actress who aspired to an acting career from an early age. She had her first role onstage at age 11, and followed with parts in sixteen plays in a regional theater in Arizona.

What did Andrew Garfield call Emma Stone? ›

In a special feature on The Amazing Spider-Man's Blu-ray/DVD release, Andrew Garfield is seen talking about Emma Stone and describes him as a “shot of espresso”. He says, “She was like a shot of espresso. She's like being bathed in the sunlight.

Are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling friends? ›

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone may not be each other's love interests in real life – but they do have a very close friendship. Gosling and Stone met during the audition for 2011's Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Who is Emma Stone's husband? ›

Emma Stone's husband Dave McCary stands by as she gets her Oscar engraved.

Does Emma Stone have GREY eyes? ›

Emma Stone

Known for her versatility and expressive performances in hits like "La La Land" and "Easy A," Emma's eyes are a fascinating play of gray and green. Depending on the light, they can shift from a stormy gray to a vibrant green, adding depth and emotion to her every look.

What personality is Emma Stone? ›

Emma Stone, the American actress known for her roles in La La Land, The Help, and Easy A, could be an INFJ personality type based on her on-screen and off-screen persona. INFJs are known for their creativity, empathy, and intuition, which aligns with Stone's acting style and philanthropic efforts.

When did Emma Stone get anxiety? ›

Stone had her first panic attack at age 7. She says acting helps with anxiety, because it draws on her "big feelings." She's nominated for an Oscar for Poor Things. Originally broadcast Jan. 31, 2024.

Is Emma Stone married with a kid? ›

Louise Jean

And then I got older and I was like, I really want to get married, I really want to have kids," Stone said at the time. After they married, Stone and McCary welcomed their first child, a daughter named Louise Jean in March 2021.

How did Emma Stone and Taylor Swift meet? ›

Swift and Stone initially met on April 27, 2008, at Hollywood Life magazine's Young Hollywood Awards in Los Angeles. At the event, the duo posed for a series of sweet photos in coordinating purple dresses.

Why does Emily Stone call herself Emma? ›

Stone previously admitted that she once wanted to be called Emma due to her fascination with Spice Girls member Emma Bunton (Baby Spice). “Growing up, I was super blonde, and my real name is Emily, but I wanted to be called Emma because of Baby Spice.

Why did Emma change her name? ›

Explaining why the two-time Oscar-winning star changed her name, the Poor Things actress said it occurred when registering with the actors union SAG-AFTRA and she discover there was already a member named Emily Stone.

Why is Emily called Emily? ›

Emily is a girl's name of Latin origin. Derived from the Roman namesake "Aemilia," it has several meanings, including "rival," "laborious," and "eager." Emily is a popular choice for girls worldwide and regularly features among the top-ranked names.

Is Emma a form of Emily? ›

The name is etymologically unrelated to Amalia, Amelia, Emilia, and Emily, all of which are derived from other sources, but all of these names have been associated with each other due to their similarity in appearance and sound.


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