Sure, Emma Stone can give you longing. But isn’t it more fun to plan a little instead?
Since winning the Oscar four years ago for the winning romantic musical “La La Land”, 32-year-old Stone has been interested in walks on the wild side. “The Favorite” has proven it can play stinginess as brightly as innocence, and now Stone’s nascent penchant for villainy is getting a full-blown showcase in “Cruella,” which is a live-action genesis story for Disney’s animated enemy introduces “101 Dalmatians.”
“I loved the character of Cruella – I don’t mean I love the things that drove her because she’s obviously a very sick woman, but I found the character very interesting,” said Stone.
In this tale, Cruella de Vil hasn’t become a puppy poacher: instead, we meet her as an orphan named Estella, whose rise to the top of the British fashion industry – ruled by a haughty designer named Baroness (Emma Thompson) – requires tapping into one dark alter ego she’s called Cruella.
The story overlaps in an unexpected way with Stone’s own genesis: To get ahead, Estella first dyes her hair red, like Stone, a natural blonde, once did to land her breakout role in “Superbad”. And Stone also treats her public role like an alter ego: “I divide up a bit – also because my name is actually Emily. When someone calls me Emma, it’s easy for me to know that it has to do with work. “
And while Stone avoids Cruella’s methods, she could at least relate to the character’s ambition: In Stone’s own genesis, she put together a PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents that she should work as a teenage actress in Los Angeles. Did her career even go the way she did back then?
“Oh my god, I would never have imagined or dared to think of such a situation,” she told me on a recent phone call. “I just wanted to play the daughter in a sitcom!”
These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
You were associated with “Cruella” for several years. What attracted you to this project for the first time?
I was just about to shoot “La La Land” when I first heard about “Cruella” and it was so exciting to think about playing an unquoted villain because I had the only role in that before I felt kind of bad playing Sally Bowles on Cabaret [on Broadway]because she’s a drug addict and makes decisions that are kind of wild. She’s not like someone I’ve ever accessed before.
That was really exciting and I’ve since played other roles like “Maniac” and “The Favorite” where these people knew what they wanted and they weren’t pretty about it. I really loved that phase of playing these women who care much less about what people think of them and at the same time worked on it myself in my life. It was definitely a nice symbiotic relationship.
In the way Cruella plans her rise from a low scrubbing position, she reminded me of Abigail, the polite 18th-century courtier you played in.The favourite. ”
Absolutely, but I think Abigail has something interesting that Cruella doesn’t quite have, which is that Abigail has this spell offensive: she’s playing the Ingénue in a way. I don’t see that in Cruella and there is something so liberating about it. Cruella is just who she is and she’s mad that she denied it for so long to survive.
Have you ever felt pressured to play the Ingénue in your own life?
Aside from just being an actress, I think this is probably a question for people who are socially adaptable: are you someone who tries to make people laugh or someone who sits back and watches? For me personally as Emily, my natural state is people-friendly, I want to laugh along and make people feel good. I don’t even think it’s intentional – it’s exactly what my wiring is. But as you get older you feel more comfortable not having to wear this all the time.
That’s part of the reason it’s interesting to be an actor, look at characters that put it on, and then ask yourself, “OK, what makes me do this?” It’s not that it’s taking the place of therapy – I’d rather go to therapy than play a role – but over the past five years I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about this charm offensive or ingénue idea in my own life. How do I try to smooth things out when I don’t necessarily have to? And that was helpful. Did that even answer your question?
Look, I’ll try that for people – please again.
How do you make Cruella a character to take root for while preserving what’s evil about her?
She’s not bad, she’s the bad one! We don’t quite get to a place where this woman is molting puppies, but it does explore what it means to be “bad” and what the difference between being rebellious and thinking differently from everyone around you.
One way they enjoy that difference is through fashion.
Fashion is written off as frothy or ruffled or not very important in some ways, but I think for a lot of people it is really an act of self-expression that can make you feel more like yourself. Getting dressed is really important – and I don’t mean high falutin couture, I mean getting dressed every day.
As a character, I think Estella sensed this from the start: This is her way of expressing herself when she doesn’t feel like she is in control of her life. She changes who she is every time she gets dressed and when I stepped into that hair, that makeup, and that clothes, the only way I could really feel like Cruella because it feels pretty silly in your house, to work on it and over on that Tallulah bankhead laugh and voice without being quite Cruella.
When she faces the Baroness, Cruella chooses her look almost like putting on armor. When you get dressed for the real glove that is the red carpet, is there a similar feeling in preparing for battle?
It’s so surreal, it’s not real life. The only time it ever feels quite comfortable is when I speak to you where it feels like I am speaking as myself. When I’m on a red carpet it’s like I’m on the set. It’s a wild experience, but I consider it a pleasant aspect of the job to dress like this. Otherwise you’d just take it too seriously and be unhappy, “Oh God, I’m so scared and everything is so horrible.” Pssh. You’re an actor on a red carpet. How annoying can you be It could be a lot worse!
One aspect of Cruella’s looks that didn’t make the leap into live action was her iconic cigarette holder. Was that one of the things that no longer feel very family-friendly?
That is not allowed in 2021. [Laughs.] In a Disney movie, we’re not allowed to smoke on the screen. It was difficult not to have that cigarette holder.
But did you have the mental feeling that you were still brandishing a long cigarette holder?
Yes! I was so excited to have that cloud of green smoke there, but it wasn’t possible. I don’t want to encourage smoking, but I’m also not trying to encourage puppy skinning.