Telluride: Emma Stone Reveals Her Acting Breaking Points

Five years ago, Emma Stone was asked if she’d use a two-week break in the middle of shooting The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to play a role in Birdman. She accepted, but with misgivings.

“I wanted to [do it] very badly but was nervous about what that would be [like],” she told an audience at the Telluride Film Festival on Saturday, shortly before a screening of her new movie, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. “My nerves were confirmed because it was so hard and so technical and challenging and I felt like I was going crazy.”

One night, she said, “My character doesn’t smoke, but they gave me these herbal cigarettes, and I had reached a breaking point and I went to the dressing room for my lunch break at midnight and chain-smoked these fake herbal cigarettes that give you nothing except for a sore throat. Then we went out to do the scene and I was spitting angry with myself — and Alejandro [Inarritu] just looked at me like, ‘There it is!’ I was like, ‘OK!’ ”

The revelation that she could use her own anger, she said, “changed something for me, not to be afraid to let parts of myself break open, in a way that I was afraid [before]. I was 24. I’m 29 and still learning. Since that [movie] I have found joy and challenge in such a new way. All I ever want to do now is reach that breaking-point, because the other side of it is so incredible.”

Stone, who was presented with one of the festival’s Silver Medallion Awards, said her role in The Favourite had its own challenges — perhaps not with any such breaking points, but being the only American actor among a British cast, and coping with being strapped into a corset.

“It’s 1705, which was about 300 years before any period I had ever done. It was pretty daunting on a few levels — having to be British and not stick out like a sore thumb; and [b] to breathe!” she said to laughter. “After about a month, my organs shifted and I realized my whole body-shape had changed — and not for the better. But it all goes back. And that’s the great thing about human bodies!”

The movie tells the fictionalized story of England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her favorite courtier, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), whose relationship is interrupted by the arrival of an ambitious newcomer in court, Abigail Masham, a servant played by Stone, who becomes the queen’s new favorite. Much of the film, said Stone, was lit with natural light, including night scenes illuminated by “trays of candles.”

During the shoot, Stone kept a low profile, as is her wont. She added that she avoids social media at all costs. Even after an Oscar win, she said: “I’m essentially a bundle of nerves that are outside my body a lot of the time. Doing interviews [is] insane to me because any opinion you have can be reverberated back – that scares the shit out of me. Two a.m. tweeting, that’s not for me. But I respect anyone who doesn’t [have] this level of self-doubt.”

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