Emma Stone is supposed to be sick, but when she rolls up to Cookshop at Tenth Avenue and 20th Street on a recent muggy afternoon, she looks fine. Her nose is a little pinkish, maybe, and her famously raspy voice is a little hoarser than usual, and she’s sort of pale and thin, but isn’t she always? Then she lets out a gigantic, honking cough. “I feel like I need to eat a little something because I have postnasal drip,” she says, clearing her throat. “Not to brag,” she adds in a goofy-smarmy voice.
It’s a perfect little Emma Stone moment: the spot-on timing, the funny voice, the exhibition of some kind of human frailty that makes you think of her not as a tall, willowy movie star who has made out with Ryan Gosling in not one but two movies but as a normal girl, someone you might like. “The spice-fried hominy is incredibly good,” she says. “Just a heads-up. Ooh, do you want to get oysters?” she asks with great excitement, as though she’s not someone who could have oysters every day, probably shucked by Ryan Gosling, if she wanted. She has a tendency to speak dramatically. Yes! Oysters! “We got them last time,” she adds.
Stone also apparently has a really good memory. When I first met her last year, I was one of probably a million journalists writing about the girl everyone said was going to be the Next Big Thing. For her part, Stone seemed unsure if the two movies she had coming out—the ensemble comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help, her first big dramatic role and the first film to give her top billing since 2010’s Easy A—were going to lift her out of Next Big Thing purgatory, where she’d been lingering ever since a well-timed “What the fuck?” in Superbad put her on Hollywood radar screens, or push her into the summer-movie abyss. It was hard to say which scenario scared her more. She was clearly ambitious—this is a kid who persuaded her parents by PowerPoint to let her move to Hollywood at age 15—but she was nervous about the scrutiny that would come with success. “I’m just trying really hard not to imagine what will happen,” she’d said last year, twisting her T-shirt nervously. “Because the way you picture things are never the way they turn out, really, ever.”
Even if I didn’t know what had happened, the way things turned out is immediately evident when we walk into the restaurant. Last year, the only person I saw do a double take asked about her shoes. Now, even though she’s wearing the garb of the Everyhipster, a denim shirt and shorts, heads discreetly swivel and conversations pause as she walks, clutching a Kleenex, to a back booth. “It’s been a crazy year since I saw you,” she says, propping her head in her hands. “It’s probably actually been the craziest year of my life.”
That makes sense, since she had, after all, a big year. As predicted, Emma Stone became a Big Thing, and with The Amazing Spider-Man coming out July 3, she’s getting even bigger. Critics hailed her as the best part of Crazy, Stupid, Love, and The Help did gangbusters at the box office, but it was at the Academy Awards that she had her real breakout moment. Stone wasn’t nominated, but she managed to steal the show anyway, swishing onstage in a red dress with a bow bigger than her head, out-funnying co-presenter Ben Stiller in a routine that incorporated song, dance, and old-timey voices. “We should have some banter,” she told him breathlessly, playing the wide-eyed newcomer to his old showbiz hand. “You know, where you say I look pretty, and I say, ‘No chance, funny boy,’ and everybody laughs but you seem okay with it?” When it was over, Stiller looked smitten—and so was everyone else.
One aspect of Stone’s crazy year has been her romance with her Spider-Man co-star Andrew Garfield, who moved into her Chelsea apartment when he took a Broadway role in Death of a Salesman this year. “Not too shabby, eh?” she says about the Social Network star, who was named one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive, but that’s as far as she’ll go with that conversation. She wasn’t too forthcoming about her love life last year, either, when she was reportedly dating Kieran Culkin, and now she’s playing her cards even closer to the vest. “I’d tell you everything if that thing wasn’t here,” she says apologetically, gesturing at the tape recorder. “It’s just not necessarily stuff I want the whole world to read and have an opportunity to comment on. I’m sorry, I hate to be that actress who says”—girlish voice—“ ‘I don’t talk about my personal life,’ eeesh. I was such a fan as a kid, and there were so many people I wanted to know about. I understand it; I just can’t bring myself to do it. I freak out having a Facebook.” But a pair of movie stars dating is not something tabloids can just ignore. One morning, an editor at Us Weekly saw her and Garfield at brunch at this very restaurant and alerted photographers, who swarmed the place and followed them to their apartment, where the paparazzi set up camp and refused to budge for over a month. “One guy told me, ‘This is my job. I’m going to be here every day now,’ ” Stone says. “I cried in front of this guy. When you hear this at eight o’clock in the morning, you’re like, Oh my God, my life as I know it is gone.”
They were relieved when the swarm suddenly moved on. Stone suggests that her and Garfield’s relatively sedate activities—shopping in the West Village, going to see Woody Allen at the Carlyle—bored them. “I think Lea Michele moved to New York or something.” Stone laughs. “Someone more exciting.” But the weird stuff was still happening. “You start to notice just, like, little things,” Stone says. “Like the people next to you taking sneaky camera-phone pictures, and you’re like, Okay, this is a thing now.” She catches herself: She doesn’t want to sound like she’s being too self-serious. “You know, like this guy is like, so aggressive with his staring,” she says, indicating the booth behind us. I turn around to see a middle-aged guy in Eugene Levy glasses focused on taming an unwieldy plate of frisée. He’s not even paying attention to his companions, never mind the movie star in the next booth, who is at this point lying sideways in the booth cracking up. “Like, ‘Back off, dude,’ ” she says, holding up her hands as if to ward off his gaze. “ ‘What is your problem?’ Ha ha ha. I’m sorry.” She gasps. “Oh my God. I don’t mean to be like—clearly I’m at the very low end of the spectrum. It’s not like I get recognized by—”
A waiter comes over and deposits a plate on the table with a flourish. “Fava-bean hummus,” he says. “On the house.”
I give her a look. “I swear, this is the first time I have ever gotten free fava-bean hummus,” she says. “I think it’s you, actually.”
For the most part, the attention she’s received has been positive. She doesn’t seem to have a lot of haters, not even on the Internet, unless you count the poster on Wikifeet, “the collaborative celebrity foot-fetish website,” who finds her toes a little bony. “Is this grounds for retirement?” she deadpans. “Be really, really, brutally honest.” She still has the No. 1 feet on the site, so it’s a wash.
For creepy fandom, though, not much beats the YouTube video in which 49-year-old Jim Carrey leans into a home camera and sweatily proclaims his desire to provide her with “chubby, freckly babies.”
“Ahahahahahahaha.” Stone shakes her head and laughs when I ask her if she’d thought about taking out a restraining order when she saw it. “Noooo,” she howls. “I was so flattered I can’t even tell you. Honest!” she adds, when I give her a look that says, Dude, come on. “I was really flattered, I really was!” She rests her hands over her heart. “It was actually the weirdest thing: Right before that video came out, we were at the MTV Movie Awards. Jason Sudeikis hosted—I’ve known him since I was 18, we were in The Rocker together—and we were all staying at the same hotel … There was like five of us, and we just went on this tangent of talking nice behind Jim Carrey’s back. Jason was talking about how great [Carrey] was when he went to Saturday Night Live and how he was just like a comedic genius. Everyone was kind of weighing in, like ‘He’s the best. He’s amazing.’ And so when that happened, we all kind of talked to each other like, Weird, that was the guy we were lauding for, like, 30 minutes.” She takes a sip of peppermint tea. “Have you ever done that?” she asks, looking at me earnestly. “Just all sat around a table saying nice things about one person? It was the greatest thing. You walk away, and you were just like, That felt so good, to talk about how wonderful someone is.”
Stone had it happen to her a few weeks back. When MTV gave her a Trailblazer Award this year, a group of her former co-stars, including Sudeikis, filmed video mash notes for her. Carrey showed up near the end. “This is our baaaby,” he said, waving a plastic baby doll. He’s not the only middle-aged dude who has a thing for her, either. In March, I saw her in a live reading of The Apartment, in which James Woods, the predatory Sheldrake to her Fran Kubelik, leaned in hopefully every time the stage directions called for a kiss, only to be neatly rebuffed by Stone. “All in a day’s work,” she jokes. “No, um … I don’t even want to say this, because it could be completely misconstrued,” she says hesitantly. “But I’ve always had like weird connections with men in their forties and fifties. I mean, not in a creepy way. I’ve never been attracted to them. But I have always become, like, pals with guys in that age group.”
Stone’s co-stars often refer to her as an “old soul”—“This is definitely her third or fourth time on Earth,” says Sudeikis—although Spider-Man director Marc Webb has an alternate theory. “I think she actually is a 48-year-old man,” he says. “She’s a 48-year-old man who has figured out how to create the perfect woman.”
Stone claps her hands. “Maybe I’m just an old man! I love that. I can use it to be grumpy whenever I want. And wise.”
More like she feels they’re kindred spirits. “I grew up looking at, like, old comedy guys,” she says, slurping an oyster. “My heroes were like Lorne Michaels.”
There aren’t a lot of 23-year-old actresses who would say that, or say, as Stone does, that Diane Keaton’s is the career they most admire. But growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona, Stone suffered from intense anxiety attacks. While other kids were having sleepovers, she would stay home with her parents, watching reruns of SNL and movies like The Jerk and Reds, and she still identifies more with the baby-boomer generation than her own, as evidenced by her acceptance speech at the MTV Movie Awards. “The trailblazers I’ve looked up to and been inspired by are people like Gilda Radner and Bill Murray and John Candy and Charlie Chaplin and the Beatles and J. D. Salinger,” she said, as the camera incongruously panned over Taylor Lautner, beefcake star of Twilight. “Maybe he’s a Franny and Zooey fan too?!” she e-mailed me later. There probably weren’t a lot of fans of the bitter, sad books of Joan Didion in the audience, either. “Have you read those?” Stone asks. “Damn. I just finished The Year of Magical Thinking, and I’m doing Blue Nights now. Year of Magical Thinking is the saddest book I’ve ever read.”
Acting and improv classes helped soothe Stone’s anxiety. Getting into the heads of other characters was an “escape,” she says. But she’s still pretty high-strung. “I project things onto situations that aren’t necessarily happening,” she says when I ask what her worst quality is. “Oh, yeah,” she says. I must look surprised: I was expecting a joke about a vestigial tail or something. “I’m really going to go there. This is like a historical ‘I have dealt with it in therapy’ type of thing. I’ll think that someone is saying something or thinking something, and I’ll react emotionally as if that were the truth. Sometimes I think someone is whispering to someone else about me, and I get sad, and then I’m reacting like I’m sad for hours when it really isn’t happening.” She pauses. “For the rest of the night, I’m going to think about how I told you that.
“I’m like an antenna,” she confesses, waving a finger in the air. “That’s partly why I’m an actor, I guess. Those antennas are all. Out.” Much has been made of Stone’s equal facility with comedy and drama, although to her there’s not much of a difference. “Comedy is for the most part played as drama, which is why I always think it’s funny when people act like it’s this big leap,” she says. “You know, if you’re playing it like, ‘Oooh that’s so silly,’ it’s not very funny. You have to be very earnest.” (A case in point was Stone’s recent appearance on SNL as a character who brings inappropriate gifts to a bridal shower. “He’s a human toilet, Mrs. Malone?” she explains to the elderly mother of the bride. “We can go to the bathroom on him?”) Still, when Marc Webb first told Denis Leary, who stars as Captain Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man, that he wanted him to do some improvising with Garfield and Stone, who plays his daughter, the comedian was skeptical. “I am such a judgmental, knee-jerk old guy,” he says. “I thought, What if these kids can’t do it?” The early exposure to SNL, it seems, paid off. “To be honest, I was playing catch-up. She was coming up with stuff in character, in the scene. We would call ‘Cut,’ [and] I would look at Marc, like, I gotta bring my A-game.”
Stone is unsurprisingly uncomfortable with discussion of looks. “The pretty thing … It was never a value to me growing up,” she says. “I always thought I was like the goofy, wonky one.” While she’s more often than not asked to dye her hair red so as to look less like “someone who will steal your boyfriend,” as Sony Screen Gems head Clint Culpepper puts it, in real life she is as blonde and tall and naturally thin as your average supermodel. Although she plays the ingenue on the red carpet, stuffing her coveted feet into sky-high heels, and recently signed a contract with Revlon, she’s not in this to be a mannequin—if there is a part that requires a frizzy wig or glasses or an unflattering pair of pants, Emma Stone will not hesitate to put them on. She says, with full sincerity, that she signed with Revlon because she wanted to show young girls they didn’t have to look like models. The spicy hominy arrives at the table, and Stone picks at it. “It’s weird,” she says of the image that has been created of her over the past year. “I don’t actually recognize the person that’s out there. It’s like there’s this outside person, and there’s me.”
This story appeared in the June 25, 2012 issue of New York Magazine.