Emma Stone’s star will soon shine on Broadway when she debuts in “Cabaret,” but the actress’s latest projects have been darker than her previous roles in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Easy A” and, earlier this year, “Magic in the Moonlight.”
In the film “Birdman,” directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, she plays Sam, a young woman fresh out of rehab and furious at her father, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Sam agrees to be his assistant as he obsesses over staging his Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, but then feels neglected and relegated to menial tasks like getting his coffee.
Ms. Stone, 25 years old, filmed several of her “Birdman” scenes on the rooftop of Broadway’s St. James Theatre on 44th Street, just 10 blocks from where she will star in her own show, “Cabaret” at Studio 54, starting Nov. 11.
In “Cabaret,” she is set to take over the role of Sally Bowles, the despairing singer at the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin. Directed by Rob Marshall and Sam Mendes, this Roundabout Theatre Company revival stars Alan Cumming as the Emcee and, currently, Michelle Williams as Sally.
Sally is a tragic figure, for whom love is fleeting—and a role Ms. Stone has wanted to play ever since she watched Natasha Richardson sing “Cabaret” as a 9-year-old girl.
Ms. Stone spoke with the Journal about “Birdman” and “Cabaret,” navigating social media as a public person, and redirecting paparazzi interest. An edited transcript follows.
In “Birdman,” Sam is often on the periphery of things, then becomes the center of some key action. Were you able to use that to your advantage to play her?
It’s a good question, because she is lurking and sitting on her phone on the outskirts of scenes a lot of the time. It was one of those always-watching kind of feelings. I feel like a lot of people distract themselves when they’re on their phone, but they’re sort of aware of what’s happening around them, which gives them more insights than maybe it seems.
In the scene when Sam lashes out at her dad, it’s intense when she yells, “You don’t exist!” but also kind of funny because she’s criticizing him for not caring about Twitter and Facebook.
Because it’s such a tangent, I thought it was probably something she had written down in a journal when she was in rehab, as something she had felt about him and had probably said to herself a million times, and was activated enough to say it to him the first time. Which I think felt different than what she expected it to feel. I don’t think I saw it as comedy or tragedy, so much as just this little truth bomb that she was finally getting the chance to throw at him.
Sam tries to show him the power of YouTube and social media. How do you negotiate your own power on the Internet as a public person?
I don’t have a public social-media account—Twitter or Instagram or anything—but I have apps on my phone of Huffington Post or the Guardian. I look at people’s Twitter.
Because I don’t really engage with it on a personal level, I don’t see comments personally directed at me or respond to anything in that way. I think maybe it’s easier to stay removed in some sense. I don’t feel at the mercy of whoever’s “@”-replying me, you know?
But it is interesting because there’s just so much of it now. There’s just so many websites and so many different forums. I grew up loving the Internet so much and building websites. I had an e-zine that I would send to three people who would subscribe, who were probably all my mom under different screen names, before blogging was really a thing. I think now there’s an overwhelming nature that’s sort of inherent to social media—all the tweets and the constant-ness of it is a little much for me.
What was your e-zine like?
It was called Neptune. It was a pretty hip e-zine. I had an advice column which featured questions from me and answers by me, which was great for working things out in a strangely therapeutic sense for a 10-year-old. I was really into fonts and layouts, so I worked hard on that. I sent it to my subscribers, who adored it, just adored it.
I also had this newsletter that I made for the third-graders every Wednesday. I would put this newsletter on all the girls’ desks, and it was called Girls’ Locker. I don’t know what my deal was, but I really wanted to be a journalist.
When the paparazzi have shot photos of you, at times you held up signs that highlighted charities and causes. Is that an effort to shape or control the experience?
The nature of that thing is that you feel totally out of control and like you’re in a different reality where it’s OK for people that you don’t know to be taking pictures of you with a long-distance lens.
It’s a violating feeling a lot of the time. The times when we’ve done the signs, it’s been groups of people outside, and it just felt like there was a chance in that moment to redirect. Because otherwise it was just going to be walking down the street and just another picture of me holding a damn coffee cup since I’m always drinking coffee, wearing the same scarf [laughs]. But that’s not me.
So it felt like an opportunity. At the same time, that felt like a more effective way to bring attention in that direction even than Twitter maybe would, because it doesn’t feel like a faceless link that you’re sending out.
You’re about to play Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” on Broadway. What emotions do you feel with Sally’s song “Maybe This Time”?
I just went through the scene the other day and worked out that scene with Bill Heck, the guy who plays Cliff. I mean, I just yesterday for the first time got on stage and sang that song, which is really surreal.
Theater is always an evolving idea, but right now that song seems to me the most optimistic we ever get to see her. I feel like that’s in some ways the most hopeful point of the show until the very end of the song. So I’m sort of thinking about that right now. She has a respite from all of the things that are racing through her mind all the time.
How about her final song, “Cabaret”?
I could sing that all day, every day. That’s just my favorite thing in the world. I’m still in rehearsals, so everything is always changing, and I’m trying things for the first time, in that capacity.
I’ve been singing it in my bedroom or in my head for 16 years but never actually on stage at Studio 54. I don’t really know yet where it will land or how it will all end up, but it’s just the coolest, coolest thing, and I’m really happy and excited.
How are Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall guiding you?
My first official week of rehearsal was last week, so when I go back we’ll be able to dive in a little bit deeper. I’ve gotten to talk about the character a lot with them. It’s been something I’ve been mulling over for about a year and a half so it just feels like I’m learning how to take all that stuff—the singing in the bedroom, all that’s been happening internally—and externalize it.
They’re helping me through that. They just know the show very well and they have for a long time, so that’s incredibly helpful.