Emma Stone: Spider-Man's new girl

This week Emma Stone was named as the arachnid superhero’s co-star. But first she stars in a comedy inspired by Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Gill Pringle meets her.

Basking in the glory of being Hollywood's latest overnight "It" girl after her comedy Easy A became a recent surprise US box-office hit, previously little-known actress Emma Stone is today weighing up her considerable options.

Already set to feature in five major movies over the next 18 months, she was this week named as the next Gwen Stacy in a reboot of Spider-Man, which already has Andrew Garfield attached as Peter Parker, in the superhero franchise's next three films.

Snapped up by comedy star-maker Judd Apatow three years ago, Stone's sparkling debut in his Superbad enabled her to step up through the sparse ranks of female comedy actors, today starring in her own movie, Easy A, which boasts a supporting cast of better-known comedy veterans, including Stanley Tucci, Lisa Kudrow and Thomas Haden Church.

Playing a clean-cut teenager whose white lie about losing her virginity hits the rumour mill, and transforms her into the most popular/reviled girl in high school – depending on which way you look at it – you'd imagine that Stone 21, has all the answers.

"I'm actually the last person to ask about school. I kinda ducked out at 12, before all that stuff might have happened. I left school after sixth grade and was basically home-schooled after that," says the Arizona-born actress who, when she was just 15 years old, convinced her mother to take her to Hollywood and temporarily dump her father and younger brother.

"I know what you're thinking – that I'm some kind of Hollywood brat – but it wasn't remotely like what you might imagine," teases Stone, who has since fine-tuned her comedic skills with roles in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, The House Bunny and Zombieland.

The daughter of a contractor father and home-maker mum, she's amazed today that she actually pulled off her dream. "I can't imagine how I'd react if my own child came to me with the same notion that I had. My parents are both very funny but they're also relatively soft-spoken, normal human beings while I'm just a lunatic. I don't know where this loud, ballsy, hammy ridiculousness came from. I'm just glad I followed my goals and my parents did too. It's not like we even had a plan when I dragged my mom to Los Angeles," reflects Stone, whose adult-sounding, deep, husky voice guaranteed she was never going to be your average cute, Disney, teen actress.

After months of languishing with her mother at their rented Los Angeles apartment, rarely being offered auditions, she pulled an "Amy Adams", dyeing her blonde hair a brownish-red. "When I first moved to LA, I had this agent who thought, because I was blonde, that I only wanted to play cheerleaders. So she'd send me out for all these parts where they thought: 'What a weird 15-year-old. Its not going to work out!' I don't know if anyone necessarily underestimated me as a blonde – I think I just had a crappy agent. So one day, in a fit of trying to do something different, I just dyed my hair dark brown and got my first role a week later, after which I thought: 'People are closed-minded, man! Like a different hair colour changes everything!' Then, for Superbad, my hair was brown at the test, but Judd said to dye it red, and I've mostly had red hair ever since."

As Easy A's overlooked straight-A high-school student, Stone's character suddenly finds herself at the centre of attention when a white lie about losing her virginity gets out; it parallels Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Just as Clueless, Amy Heckerling's high-school parody of Jane Austen's Emma, made a star of Alicia Silverstone 15 years ago, then Easy A, with its literary references to The Scarlet Letter, has done the same for Stone. But the similarities don't stop there for, shortly after Clueless's unparalleled success, Silverstone went on to snag the role of Batgirl in the super-hero blockbuster Batman & Robin, so Stone is Spider-Man's next Mary Jane.

While Stone's Easy A character utilises social networking to advance her popularity and financial standing, in real life, she recently cancelled her own Facebook page. "I used to do Facebook but you get a little too wrapped up in that stuff. Its more distracting than anything so I don't any more. I left it behind. I detoxed! But don't blame it on the movie, it was just more of a personal choice."

Ask if there's any particular rumour she'd like to spread, and she laughs. "There's nothing exciting I can think of. I always want to be honest about who I am because, as many rumours that may happen, I think its better if you know that you can ask the person if its true and they're not going to be like: 'I don't want to discuss that. My life is private!' I think it changes things when you're honest, and that's also Olive's thing in the movie, that once she tells the honest truth, good or bad, people are like: 'You're a human being. I can relate to you. That's cool. I've been there too.' So I guess I want to spread truth, instead of rumours."

Of course, she may just as easily have quit Facebook in order to protect her new-found powerful Hollywood friends, given that she presently has five movies in the works, including an as-yet untitled collection of comedy shorts featuring Kate Winslet and Gerard Butler; Crazy, Stupid, Love with Julianne Moore and Steve Carell, plus her first drama, The Help, based on the best-seller of the same name, and set in the Deep South of the 1960s, with Sissy Spacek and Viola Davis.

"Two days ago I broke up with Justin Timberlake on screen for Friends with Benefits. Not bad for a day's work!" laughs the actress who counts country singer Taylor Swift among her closest friends. "We met at a Young Hollywood awards a couple of years ago, and we've stayed in touch ever since and got closer. Its not hard to spend time hanging out with her. I mean she has security and stuff so you can't really walk close to her when you're out so usually we just stay in together."

Suggest that comedy is a notoriously tricky genre for women – particularly pretty women – to pull off, and Stone agrees: "There really aren't many parts. It's an unfortunate thing and something I hope will change, but never has, and who knows if it will? I think Saturday Night Live, starting in the 1970s, really gave women an outlet to be funny. A lot of those women went on to have film careers, from Kristen Wiig now to Tina Fey and Gilda Radner.

"Nowadays it seems like the real goldmine is in creating your own characters and teaming with a good writer, but its not easy. It's a scary thing for a woman to put yourself out there and look like an idiot. Look at Lucille Ball. She always said, 'I'm not funny when I'm not as brave'. The comediennes I admire are the bravest people who aren't afraid to look ridiculous. Maybe that's a harder notion for women – the fear of not looking their best."

With her mother returned to the family home in Scottsdale, Stone has since left Los Angeles for a new life in New York. Having previously dated musician-actor Teddy Geiger, her co-star in The Rocker, she's keeping quiet about her latest relationship.

If her dance-card is full right now, she doesn't plan on keeping up the dizzying work pace. "I realise I have a lot of amazing opportunities, but I don't know how you can play a human being going through real human experiences without being able to walk down the street. If you can't live a real life, how do you play a real person? It always confuses me when actors work back-to-back-to-back with no break. If you live your life on a film set, how the hell can you relate to real people? You don't know what its like to not have people fussing over you all day, and that's not life – that's silly movies. I will always want to take breaks and I wouldn't be OK with losing that."

'Easy A' opens on 22 October

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