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The Help - Emma Stone interview

The Help

Interview by Rob Carnevale

EMMA Stone talks about some of the pressure and responsibility of playing a role like Skeeter in The Help as well as what she took away from the experience as an actress.

She also talks about the state of Hollywood and why she feels it’s sometimes harder for women to get strong roles.

Q. How much of a dual sense of responsibility do you feel to this material given that it’s such a well loved novel and comes from such a deeply personal place for both director Tate Taylor and author Kathryn Stockett?
Emma Stone: Did you say pressure [laughs]? I felt from the very beginning that there was a little bit of pressure because it’s my mum’s favourite book and she made that very clear at the very beginning. So, at home there was pressure. You always figure that your mum would be like: “I’m so proud of you!” But no, she was: “I don’t see you as Skeeter but maybe you’ll surprise me!” I’m just kidding, just kidding! I like being hard on her in public because she does it to my grandma and I finally have the chance to get her back. But I think you feel the pressure and the responsibility because it’s a beloved book and you love it too. But then you have to kind of put that aside and play the character in the best way you know how and do what you need to do in order to bring that character to life and not worry about the millions of people that you may be disappointing!

Q. Does the responsibility of taking on a role like this cut deeper because of the burden of representation? I mean, there are some really, really big issues being discussed and yet the story focuses on a white girl, which has been criticised in some quarters…
Emma Stone: For me, the political part of being an actor is very tough. To sit here and tell you why you should feel this way or that way about my character does not feel like my responsibility. It feels like the responsibility of the writer and the person who created it. I mean learning this kind of process of ‘let me tell you why you shouldn’t see Skeeter this way’ or ‘you’re coming in with this judgement of her being a white character who is supposed to be taken this way or that way’… I’m just focused on playing the character to the best of my ability. I didn’t see Skeeter that way as a reader, I didn’t see her that way as an actor, but I can’t tell the audience or reviewers how to feel and that’s something that Viola [Davis] has also pointed out. As an actor, you have to just think about the truth of your character. You have to think about how to play the character in the way that you know it needs to be played in your heart and why you were hired. So, it’s hard for me to sit here and go ‘see Skeeter this way’ and it’s hard for me to fight for that because I didn’t write the character.

Q. How does racism affect Hollywood? Does it manifest itself at all within the industry from what you’ve experienced?
Emma Stone: Well, as Viola has said, it’s all about making money and things become increasingly stereotypical and increasingly watered down as time goes on. I mean, one of your favourite movies is Network and that movie would never be made now. You don’t want t call people out on their crap! You’re sitting in a little room and you’re looking at your little TV and you don’t want to hear that anymore. You want to hear that it’s important, that it’s important to read your websites, and important to watch your TV shows, and important to stay in your own little word and escape. This is the stuff that you don’t want to hear, or you don’t want to be confronted with and so explosions are fun to watch! And I’m not saying that’s bad. It’s great. I love explosions. I love my websites and I love my TV. But I think that we also need to face the fact that we’re afraid to face ourselves a lot of the time and that’s why a lot of this is happening.

Q. So, would you say that Hollywood is getting more and more conservative?
Emma Stone: There’s so much censorship it’s insane, even in comedy in the sense of not being able to curse. I saw Fast Times At Ridgemont High for the first time two weeks ago and that movie would never be made now… a 15-year-old having sex with a 30-year-old. You would never see that in a movie now and that was 25 years ago. I mean, it’s just increasingly, increasingly… you take an R-rated movie and you make a PG-13. There’s not as much censorship on the BBC, I know that. Or when you go to Canada everything’s not blurred. But in the States, everything is bleeped, blurred, cut early…

Q. But would you say that a film like this and maybe Bridesmaids over the summer has maybe changed the scope for prominent female films? And do you see that as something that will last based on the success of these?
Emma Stone: Well, what did we have to refer back to before this? You know what I mean? There’s no other reference points before this where someone can ask how a female-driven film will open. I mean, if you look at Sex In The City that was an incredibly popular TV show, so that doesn’t really fit. And Mamma Mia! was a show on Broadway. These are two things that came from, firstly, a book adaptation and, in the case of Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig’s genius mind. But I think in a comedic sense and in a dramatic sense, these two films are going to become reference points, which is fantastic because there aren’t many of those up to this point.

Q. The Help has a big gay following in the US. Is that something you’ve noticed and are pleased about?
Emma Stone: I think that gay people in the States are facing a tonne of inequality right now so that was a major reference point for me, having not lived through the time period depicted in the film, to see that as an example of people, American citizens, that are not being treated equally. So, I think that is also a resonant point.

Q. Why are there so few funny parts or character roles for women in Hollywood?
Emma Stone: Well, we’ve talked about the audience already but I think it has a lot to do with a fear of women not looking their best. I know a lot of women who prize their vanity over looking like a moron. It takes away from your sex appeal. I think one of the reasons we had so much fun on this movie was because we were surrounded by women and we didn’t feel the need to look great all the time. But that need to always look your best is something that Skeeter is even facing in this movie. She’s not considered cute, so she’d better find something she’s good at otherwise how is she going to get married and have kids? Her mum is constantly trying to fix her up and make her look better. So, that’s the goal. And it’s not just Hollywood. But the idea that you can’t be attractive and funny at the same time is something that I hate.

Q. Have you ever felt like an outsider in the same way as Skeeter? Or wanted to fight for a cause like she does?
Emma Stone: Well, yeah, but I don’t believe that everyone else really cares what I do all the time. I think in general you have to follow your own path and your own heart and not worry about what everybody else wants you to do. They should be worried about what they’re going to do. So, yes I’ve always kind of worried about what I want to do. I’m not worried about what everybody here chooses to do next. I trust that you’ll figure it out on your own and I hope that people trust that I will to.

Q. You started out very young as an actress, so how do you feel you’ve developed professionally and personally since then?
Emma Stone: I’m just learning every day and I hope to continue that until the day I die. I’m just trying to learn and experience as much as I possibly can. This movie was a huge turning point in my life in terms of how I look at acting, at how I look at being involved in this job and living my life and prioritising. So, I’m learning every day… hugely!

Q. Is there anything you can remember that you took away from your peers on this film?
Emma Stone: I learn from every single person all the time. All I’m doing is soaking, soaking, soaking… That’s all I feel I’m able to be at this point in my life – a sponge. React, react, react… that’s all. I’m only as strong as the other person… ever! And I’m still not going to be as strong as the other person [laughs] so I’m just taking in as much as I possibly can.

Read our review of The Help

Read our interview with Viola Davis