How has Emma Stone blown off steam as her career's skyrocketed over the past few years? By acting crude, of course.
Make that Crood, as in the title of her animated feature, The Croods, a caveman-themed comedy from DreamWorks Animation. The film was co-directed by Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon, Lilo and Stitch) and Kirk De Micco (Space Chimps). (Read our Q&A with the directors here.)
"I'm a cave girl, yeah!" enthuses Stone, tall and skinny in a short, lacy slip dress and black-and-white checkerboard jacket during a recent L.A. interview. "So I got to go nuts, which was great. I like to not reel it in, and when you're a cartoon you can act as crazy as you want. I'd never done a cartoon voice before; it was really fun and exciting."
The story revolves around one particular cave family led by overprotective father Grug (Nicolas Cage) and caring mother Ugga (Catherine Keener). When an unforeseen event forces them out of their safe, secure, boring cave they stumble into a lush world of unimaginable beauty…and danger.
"They're from this invented part of history called the Croodacious Period between when people were living in caves and when they became nomads," explains 24-year-old Stone, best known for roles in The Amazing Spider-Man, The Help, Gangster Squad, Zombieland and Easy A. "So you're watching this cave family become nomads, essentially."
For Stone's character — the clan's teenage daughter, Eep — the journey into the strange, new, wider world is an intoxicating experience, as she discovers everything from fire to shoes ("I love them!") to a cute Cro-Magnon boy voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Making an animated film is much different than making a live-action film, of course — particularly the on-again, off-again schedule. Since she began work on The Croods in 2010, Stone's life has changed dramatically.Emma Stone attends The Croods premiere in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
"We started two-and-a-half years ago; I started it while I was doing Crazy, Stupid, Love, so it's kind of a cool process to see it all coming together from inception to now," she says. "And it's the best work! It is very easy; you go in once every four or five months and for a couple of hours just flail around and play a cave girl and you’re on your way. Then this incredible animated movie comes along with this hodgepodge of everybody's voices. It's quite wonderful."
Speaking of voices, a younger Stone might not have been so comfortable lending her low-register pipes to an animated character. Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, the little girl was self-conscious about the deep tone made by her vocal cords. Now, of course, that distinctive sound, alternately sexy and funny, has helped keep the actor in demand for roles ranging from film noir sirens to formidable romantic foils to, yes, cartoon cave girls.
"I'm a big fan of Lauren Bacall," Stone says of one famous, brandy-voiced predecessor. "Maybe because everyone was smoking more heavily then, but that raspy, throaty quality seems to be much more prevalent in those '40s movies. Mine was from colic when I was a baby."
Those dames, however, rarely got the chance to shoot zombies or swing around on a spider's web like Stone has — and, in the latter case, will do again, in the sequel (filming right now) to last summer's successful big-screen reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. In the new series, Stone portrays Gwen Stacy, girlfriend of Peter Parker, who's played by Stone's real-life boyfriend Andrew Garfield.
Stone is initially reluctant to give away any Amazing Spider-Man 2 specifics, but eventually proves too enthusiastic to reel it in.
"I'm in it," Stone starts with the obvious. "Andrew is in it. They just cast Dane DeHaan [Chronicle] as Harry Osborn, who is such a great actor, I think that will be wonderful. And Shailene Woodley as [Gwen's romantic rival] Mary Jane, who's also wonderful. So there's all that, and the script is very, very good. I'm very much looking forward to it."
The first Amazing Spider-Man was both a critical and box-office hit, neither of which were certain outcomes given that the previous Spider-Man trilogy had ended only five years earlier.
"I'm very happy that our first one was received so well," Stone says, again stating the obvious. "It'll be cool in the next one to see how Gwen and Peter bridge that distance that was between us at the end of it. I think the way it all unfolds is pretty neat. And I hope they continue letting Gwen be heroic. I think they might!"
If you were Emma Stone, you'd be this exuberant, too. But success isn't made up of endless good times, and it takes more than blowing off steam in a recording booth to keep it in perspective.
"It's been overwhelming," Stone admits. "It's been exciting, but pretty overwhelming. I hadn't worked since Gangster Squad [which came out this past January, but was largely filmed in the fall of 2011], so it’s been a year of doing press, which is really interesting, just that side of movies.
"But it's important not to spend all of your time doing movies, and just living. Just spending time with my friends and family has been so wonderful," she continues. "It's such an intense experience when you're making a movie and you're usually away from home and not really seeing anybody. As an actor, you're very lucky because you work for three months and then you get all that time off to do what you want. It's a great set-up, but this year was different than any time periods I've had off before. Things have changed a little bit in a very wild but strange way. I'm still kind of getting my footing."
Bob Strauss lives in L.A. where he writes about movies and filmmakers.