Emma Stone is once again back on the big screen with Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel to the 2009 original that would go on to become a cult favourite. Ten years later, Stone returns to her role as Wichita, part of the zombie-killing crew that includes Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who have formed a makeshift family in the aftermath of the zombie attacks that brought them together a decade earlier. Double Tap also features a slew of new cast members that includes Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Dan Aykroyd and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley).
“I love being back with everyone,” Stone said of her return to Zombieland duty. “It feels so good getting to hang out with my buddies again.”
With the zombie apocalypse still upon them, family Stone and co. will need to draw upon all their resources in order to quell the walking dead. Along the way, audiences will be treated to more serio-comic scenes of zombies being shredded en masse as the battle unfolds. In the intervening years, the zombie population has mushroomed and civilization is in ruins.
“Acting is something that helped me overcome a lot of my anxiety and doubts in life”
For her part. Stone has fond memories of her original Zombieland experience, and recalled how co-star Woody Harrelson would kid her about her husky Lauren Bacall voice. Stone had no idea what he was talking about: “On Zombieland Woody started calling me Betty, which was Lauren Bacall’s real name. He’s like, ‘You sound like Betty.’ [Laughs] And I was like, ‘Who is Betty?’ And he said, ‘Betty Bacall.’ And so I looked her up, and I found the High Point commercial. And it became our favourite. I mean, Woody can do the whole commercial, too. It’s so damn good. She opens up the curtains and says, ‘My favorite time of day is night.’” [Laughs]
The 30-year-old Emma Stone is one of Hollywood’s leading actresses. She won the Best Actress Oscar for her enchanting performance in 2016’s critically-acclaimed La La Land and earned rave reviews for her work in The Favourite, the Oscar-nominated drama in which she played Abigail, an ambitious chambermaid in the employ of her Royal cousin, Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne.
Stone lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend of the past year, Dave McCary, a former SNL writer who now directs segments for the hit NBC late night comedy show. They are rumoured to be engaged.
After turning 30 last November, Stone was asked what lessons she had learned thus far in life. She replied: “It’s okay if not everybody likes you. That was a major lesson, not falling over myself to win over the unwinnable. Nobody knows what they’re doing! We’re all just a bunch of people trying to figure out how to get through the day.”
With regard to becoming a zombie-blasting warrior, Stone observes how Zombieland was the first time she had ever been called to fire a gun: “I hadn’t shot a gun before. In one scene I got to butt a zombie in the head with the back of my shotgun, and it was kind of horrifying and terrible…I went to the gun range and learned how to shoot guns. That was pretty interesting, getting to shoot all the different guns and learn about the safety of weapons.” [Laughs]
You made your mark as an actress at a fairly young age?
ES: Even as a child I knew that I wanted to act. I couldn’t imagine any other life for me. I grew up wanting to make movies similar to those I loved watching so much. I lived in a very hot place (Arizona) and because the sun was so strong and I had such light skin I had to stay inside a lot of the time.
As a child I discovered that film was this parallel world into which I could dive into. I still remember all the film comedies I would watch on TV with my father. That’s how I started to watch movies all the time and wanted to be part of that world. And it’s been such an incredible joy for me to have been able to work as much as I have and fulfill that dream.
You’ve spoken in the past that acting had a calming and almost therapeutic effect on you?
ES: Acting is something that helped me overcome a lot of my anxiety and doubts in life. I was an introverted child, pimply and I suffered from panic attacks. The theater allowed me to live in a world of my own: on stage my problems vanished.
Did you have any favourite comic actors?
ES: I was a big fan of Steve Martin and also of Bill Murray. I loved watching the skits from Saturday Night Live and I’ve always had a natural affinity for comedies. I got to work with Bill Murray on Zombieland and then again on Aloha. He was so great to me on that film. I wasn’t feeling that well on the set and almost every day he would bring me these little gifts. He was so great.
“It’s been such an incredible joy for me to have been able to work as much as I have.”
You arrived in L.A. with your mother to pursue your career when you were only 15. How tough was it for you in the beginning?
ES: I lived with my mother in a small apartment in La Brea Park. I never went out by myself. I would always go out with my mom and we spent a lot of time going to the movies. I wasn’t going to school and I didn’t have any friends, zero social life, and I basically just studied at home and watched a lot of movies and tried to learn as much about acting as I could.
Sometimes I felt lonely but my mother was so good and supportive so I felt very safe and supported and that gave me the confidence I needed to go to auditions and deal with all the rejection and the fear of not being able to make it. But I never gave up and slowly I was able to build my career.
You’ve spoken in the past about how your voice, which is now your trademark in some ways, was your biggest obstacle when you were starting out?
ES: (Laughs) Nobody wanted to hire a 15-year-old actress with a deep and raspy voice. I sounded much older than I looked and I hated my voice at the time. But in another way I was glad I sounded older because I never liked the idea of being a child. I was a precocious child and I couldn’t wait to be an adult. And at one point my voice really began to fit with who I am.
When you were trying to establish yourself in Hollywood, how determined were you to succeed?
ES: Your teenage years can often be very difficult, but I was very lucky that I knew that as soon as I started doing it that this was what I wanted to do with my life. So that gave me a lot of drive and ambition.
But even after you start getting bigger parts and you’re getting more and more recognition you never really feel secure. You’re always worried about getting the next good role or how your last film did.
I think that acting is the kind of profession where you’re always a bit worried about the future. You can be playing in one great film after another and still feel anxious about being able to find the same kinds of good roles. That’s the nature of the business.
So success hasn’t cured your anxieties?
ES: Success hasn’t solved them for me at all! I always thought: “Once I grow up I will have everything under control, I won’t suffer from those fears and worries anymore. But that never really happened. Today I deal with things differently, but fear and anxiety will always be a part of me. Basically they’ve made me who I am: a warrior. I haven’t slept through the whole night for five years, but I know I’m not the only one…
Life asks you to make painful choices. We all need to find balance and I’m working on it. It also helps me to have my younger brother around who’s very close to me. He is the most grounded human being I have ever known and whenever I feel lost he manages to calm me and bring me down to earth with his intelligence and humour.
“I’m a very vulnerable person. It’s easy for me to feel hurt.”
You bring so much sensitivity to your work. Is that your greatest strength as an actress?
ES: I’m a very vulnerable person. It’s easy for me to feel hurt. But that’s also what enables me to be very expressive and I hope convey deep emotions as truthfully as possible. I have a pretty good sense of humour about myself even if I can be very self-critical at times. But that’s how I push myself to do the best work I’m capable of and to give my best.
And whatever personal qualities I’m able to bring to my characters, whether it’s my loud laugh, my hoarse voice, or my unpredictable nature, I owe a lot to Diane Keaton who has been such a major influence on me and once told me that I should just be myself and not worry about what anyone else thinks.
“Fear and anxiety will always be a part of me. Basically they’ve made me who I am: a warrior.”