Ladies and gentlemen, Emma Stone has come out of the “Amazing Spider-Man” fire and survived.
After almost three years of pretty much filming the Sony franchise flicks back to back, she's finally getting to stretch her wings again. The latest reminder of her incredible talent is her performance as Sam, Michael Keaton's big screen daughter in Alejandro González Iñárritu's “Birdman.” The drama, centered on a former Hollywood superstar (Riggan Thompson) attempting to revive his career on Broadway, is one of the most acclaimed films of the year. Stone brings an unexpected depth to Sam and she's generated serious Best Supporting Actress buzz for her work.
The second reminder is her upcoming stint as Sally Bowles in the Broadway revival of “Cabaret.” Stone was originally supposed to star in the new production last spring, but had to take a mental break for a few months after being in a 24/7 “Spider-Man” world. She bowed out and none other than Michelle Williams substituted for her at the last minute. While other actresses would be afraid to replace someone else in a current show, Stone is karmically making this right by stepping in after Williams' run ends this week.
Stone took some time on Sunday to talk to HitFix about “Birdman” and, specifically, that final scene she'll be asked about for years.
HitFix: I was moderating a Q&A with your “Birdman” producer John Lesher this weekend and he mentioned something I was unaware of, that you were shooting this movie and “Spider-Man 2” at the same time.
Emma Stone: Well, since “Spider-Man” was a six-month shoot I had like a month of downtime in the middle of the shoot so “Birdman” was in that month.
He actually sounded like he was afraid there were days they were going to steal you away and it was going to affect the production.
This is less exciting, but I feel like I had the full month off guaranteed, but maybe I didn't. Honestly, my mind is like the mind of 116-year-old person that has bad memory. I do not remember what has happened in my life as a whole. [Laughs.] So I don't remember how it went back then. I do remember it was during “Spider-Man 2.”
Do you remember how different this was compared to some of the other things you've done in the past?
Oh, yes. That I remember. Just not the scheduling stuff. It was completely different than any other shoot and what I learned on it has been applicable to everything I've shot since. And not just shot. Right now I'm doing theater and the feeling of [“Birdman”] has been, definitely, ever present while I'm working on the play. I think the fact we had that sort of extensive rehearsal period and the fact that, along with the script they wrote, Alejandro himself is just an incredibly passionate, no bullshit, truth detector who just doesn't let you rest on your laurels at all and pushes and pushes until he finds the most truthful version of everything. All of that, I think, has sort of propelled me forward to want to have similar experiences. Nothing will ever be like “Birdman” again. It definitely changed the way I look at everything.
Zach Galifianakis has joked during interviews about his fear of screwing up one of those long single takes while you were filming. Did you have those concerns? Or did the rehearsal just make it more comfortable?
I was definitely concerned in a big way. We had a lot of rehearsal so we knew what the basic choreography was and what the blocking was going to be. And where the scene started emotionally and where it needed to end up, because there was no chance to cut away, so that made it feel like a play. But the actual shooting of it in the actual theater? This is permanent. “This take is going to forever. No, no it's not. Now, this take is going to be forever. No, no it's not. Now this take is going to be forever.” So there was this sort of cemented everlasting quality to it that's constantly scary.
The scene that was scariest for me was the one where Michael and I work well on the stage and Edward has this amazing, I'm sure you remember it, unbelievable scene with Michael and I had to come in at the end of the scene. And I went too fast around the corner and the whole thing was ruined and I hadn't even been in the scene. So, that feeling wasn't part of the rehearsal process. We didn't have the permanent aspect quite yet.
Were there any moments that weren't supposed to happen, but Alejandro used that take anyway because it seemed more natural?
I think that Alejandro — I didn't realize it at the time, but a take was more likely to get used if there was something that happened that somebody overcame midway. If there was some laugh or forgetting what you're saying for one second and re-remembering or a mispronunciation. It seems like there was a lot of those little moments peppered in through the movie and I think because it had to be so technically perfect that he must have wanted to see these imperfections all along the way because they're human. And, also, all of them are flawed characters. I think everyone has a moment where they trip up in some way.
Sam is a much more complex character than she initially seems. I know it's a cliche question, but did you relate to her in any way?
I related to some aspects of her. I relate to her sense of rebelliousness. As you can see, I'm a huge rebel. [Laughs.] It's pretty obvious. There are certain aspects emotionally that I could relate to, but I don't think I've ever acted out that way. I'm sure in moments I definitely have. There were pieces of her I took from people I had met or people I had seen. And there is also that sort of overarching feeling of being the child of somebody. Your name being the most second most important in any conversation. You being the daughter of somebody else.
Is that your “in” to her? She's the daughter of a famous actor and she'll never live up to him? Her life really didn't seem that bad…
The thing that for whatever reason struck a chord with me — and I don't have this association personally — the idea of her whole life no matter what, she's not in the shadow of her father because she doesn't want to be an actor or be in the same line of work that he does, but she will always be Riggan Thompson's daughter. The feeling that would come with that no matter how much he's around…he's not around, but he's constantly telling Same how great she is. And sort of blowing her full of hot air and that creates resentment, too, where you're just worshiping your kid from a distance and not really following through. Riggan is so obsessed with what everyone thinks of him, yet she never had any real attachment to him in a meaningful way. It's what it looked like. Yeah, I think that was a big way in.
Alejandro and I also talked a lot about what she looks like, too. She's created a lot on the outside. She now has her own version of what Riggan is doing. “When you look at me this is what you'll think.” So she's covered in hand tattoos and these really permanent things at a really young age. Alejandro's biggest thing was that he wanted her to be dressed in a way that would just instantly piss her father off. The more it would piss Riggan off the more he wanted to dive into it more. If the tights were on he wanted them ripped. It was just anything that would make your father crazy. Any attention that wasn't real, but just some pat on the back B.S.
Is that why she's attracted to Edward's character in the first place? To piss her father off? Or is there something else there?
I think it's both. I think the initial draw, the reason why Sam of all people would say, “You don't really care what anyone thinks about you? God, that's cool.” If you think something is cool it's pretty vulnerable to Sam, I think. To not be rolling her eyes at something is already a real big opening. But she also senses that this guy is rebellious so there must be something within him that understands why she would be so sort of disenchanted with the world already at a young age. They have this sort of neutral moment on the roof and this sort of kindred spirit thing where they are both really vulnerable people who have created these masks for the world and it makes them look like they are stronger than the other people we are seeing.
So, I have to ask you a question I expect you'll be asked often for the next 30 or 40 years of your life.
The last scene in this movie. What do you think Sam is actually seeing?
Well, has anyone else given an answer?
(SPOILERS) John thinks that Michael is flying, but he said Alejandro has said he wants people to get their own take from it. I thought it was pretty obvious, but I started talking to other people who'd seen the movie and some of them think he's died or something else happened. Do you have your own idea what she's seeing?
Yes. I do. But I don't want to say it because Alejandro's favorite thing about this movie is trying to keep the rabbit in the hat as much as possible and I think it's a good idea to keep the rabbit in the hat because I love the ending so much and it's probably better just to say, “Yes, I feel like I know what she's doing, but…” I definitely know what she was thinking in that moment, but the takeaway should be ambiguous.
I've seen that scene a few times and your eyes are specifically looking in specific places. Again, this is something people will come and ask you about 10 years from now.
I feel like Bill Murray with “Lost in Translation” now.
Yes, you will! [Laughs.] Did Alejandro say, “Do this, do this, do this” or was it just go out and improvise?
I will say this. Alejandro definitely…that was a directed moment. He was vocal throughout that whole thing.
Before we end I have to ask you about “Cabaret.” You haven't gone on stage yet, have you?
I'm about to leave for my last rehearsal.
Are you excited?
Oh my God. Excited doesn't even come close to how I feel. I don't know what I feel, but I think it's like akin to hallucination. I feel like I'm having a fever dream or acid flashback or something. I feel totally confused and so excited.
Are you having fun?
Honestly, I'm having the time of my life. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's the most fun I've ever had. So it's one of those. I guess this is what being a parent might be like but without the child part [Laughs.]
Thank you for taking the time. You are fantastic in the movie. And trust me, you'll be in an airport in some random city 10 years from now and someone will come up and ask you about that ending. Trust me.
[Laughs.] I'm going to check back with you in 40 years. I'm going to keep a running tally.
“Birdman” is now playing in limited release.